5 Ways to wow your sponsor

Posted by Elizabeth Harrin

When you start working with a new project sponsor it’s important to make a good impression. Here are 5 ways to wow them with your project management prowess.

1. Hit your deadlines

Project sponsors – and all managers when you think about it – appreciate someone who delivers what they say they are going to deliver. Hit your deadlines.

If you can’t manage to make your deadlines and deliver your project actions on time, then at least have the courtesy to let them know. It’s poor stakeholder management if you let the dates drift without reporting back that a significant task has passed and you’ve done nothing to notify them.

2. Manage risks away

Risks bother project sponsors. They don’t like risk because it makes the outcome of the project less predictable. They do like project managers who can proactively look at the risks on the table and come up with ways to mitigate them.

Active risk management makes the project much less risky overall. That in turn means it is more likely to meet its objectives and deliver something of value of the stakeholder. It’s unrealistic to expect you to be able to manage away all project risk, but you can have a go! Read more »

What skills do PMs need to lead complex projects?

Posted by Elizabeth Harrin

According to PMI’s Navigating Complexity: A Practice Guide, there are 6 skills that project managers should develop in order to excel at managing complex projects. Let’s take a look at what they are and how you can get them.


Complex projects benefit from a project manager who has domain knowledge. Subject matter expertise can really help as it’s based on real-life, practical experience of this industry sector or discipline.

How do I get it? Expertise is gained over a long period of time. It relies on carrying forward the learning from one project to another and working in a domain for a while. You can speed up the process by getting a mentor, reading and researching lessons learned from other domain experts and working on several projects concurrently. But really, expertise comes with time. Read more »

How to spot a priority project

Posted by Elizabeth Harrin

I was on the train recently and noticed the sticker announcing that the seats near the door were for priority customers: those with mobility problems, pregnant women and those with infants. Then it went on: “Please remember that the need for this seat may not be immediately obvious.”

Priority projects might not look obvious either. The projects that are the top of the list may not appear that exciting from the outside. Here’s how you spot a priority project.

They enable something else

Some projects aren’t glamorous in themselves. Think, for example, of a network upgrade. That doesn’t sound very “priority”. It’s infrastructure, it has probably been planned for a few years as the relevant team would have been aware that the kit was coming to end of life. It’s not wildly expensive or likely to make headlines.

But without the network, the underlying infrastructure, you can’t deliver anything else. That e-commerce project would fail as response times for customers would be too slow. The secure project management tool you want to roll out wouldn’t perform well and project teams would get frustrated, going back to their old tools and wasting the investment. There are plenty of other examples I’m sure you can think of too: without the network to enable the other projects, the other projects are dead in the water.

That’s why enabling projects can be the top priority. Read more »

5 Amazing Planning Techniques

Posted by Elizabeth Harrin

How do you plan a project? I see many project managers sitting down with sticky notes or a laptop and trying to collate information from emails and conversations into one plan.

There’s nothing wrong with sticky notes and laptops, by the way. It’s the ‘trying to do it all yourself’ part that is a problem. If you want an amazing plan, you have to use amazing planning techniques, and it is virtually impossible to do that alone. Let me explain more, and share another four tips for creating a great project plan as well.

1. Work as a team

It’s really important to realise that as a project manager you don’t have all the facts to hand. That’s why you have a team. A project team is made up of the experts who will actually be doing the job. Why wouldn’t you ask them for help when it comes to calculating how long the work will actually take?

Get your team together and invite them to take part in building the project plan. By working together you’ll be able to work faster, be smarter about how you create your plan and you will have a lower risk of forgetting to add tasks in. Read more »

Should You Go Freelance? Can Project Managers Make a Living That Way?

Posted by Rachel Matthews

There are definitely benefits to being hired on as a full time and permanent project manager. Job security, obviously, is one of them. Being able to really bond with your team as you move from project to project within a company is also great (provided you like everybody). At the same time, because of the nature of the work, finding a permanent/full time gig is rare. So what do you do in the meantime? Do you just allow a series of layoffs to hang out on your resume while you scour job boards and volunteer, living off of your severance pay or unemployment? This is certainly one approach.

The other approach is to go full-time freelance.

This sounds a little bit counter intuitive. Especially, as noted in this diary of an anonymous freelance project manager, most companies think of project management as some superfluous thing that isn’t really needed. Indeed, the same diary makes a point of telling us that this particular project manager usually goes into a company to do something else: a writing job or something else. Then, as he stealthily improves the communication flow (or whatever), they notice that things are better with him around so they hire him to turn their botched situation around completely.

Still: because most projects are temporary in nature anyway, being able to bounce from company to company has some definite benefits:

  • You make a lot of industry contacts that you might not have otherwise made.
  • You can charge more for your services than you could as a regular employee.
  • You can choose with whom you work.
  • You make your own schedule.

So how do you do it? How do you start freelancing as a project manager?

Step One: Register as a Temp

Working through temp agencies and placement firms is a great way to start building your network and generate word of mouth promotion. Do a great job at a few temporary engineering jobs and project management placements and you can bet that people will be contacting you directly to come in and work for them on their projects.

Some project managers even choose to simply stick with their staffing agencies and temp recruitment companies. This way they are still sort of freelancing but the staffing agencies and temp placement companies do all of the marketing and selling work for you.

Step Two: Background Check Yourself

You likely did a version of this before your last job interview. Now it’s time to kick it up a notch. These companies will be inviting you in and trusting you with, often, confidential and highly sensitive company details. You can bet that they are going to do their due diligence on you. Therefore, you must make sure that there is nothing eyebrow raising for them to find.

In this business that means more than just making sure the photos from your frat days are erased from Facebook. This means doing a thorough background check on yourself including things like checking your credit.

If you find anything that would make you hesitate to hire someone else (try to be as discerning as possible here) in your self-research, take pains to fix it. This means hiring a credit repair agency if your credit history is less than perfect. It means making sure that your online reputation is spotless.

Step Three: Put Out Some Feelers

When you are confident that a background, reputation, and credit check will come up squeaky clean, it’s time to start contacting previous employers and team members. Let them know that you’re “going rogue” and setting up your own freelance operation. Ask if they know of anybody who might need a good project manager or leader. More importantly, ask them to refer potential clients to you when they do hear about these jobs.

Step Four: Get Certified

There are lots of opinions as to whether or not you really need PMP credentials. On the one hand, actual experience from “the field” is invaluable and not something that can be recreated via a certification course. On the other hand, obtaining (and maintaining) your certification shows a commitment to project management. It establishes you as a pro instead of a dabbler who thinks that project management is a great way to get paid to be bossy. It’s also important to note that if you are relatively new to the field, PMP can help open doors that ordinarily only be opened to those with extensive resumes.

Step Five: Make it Official

Each state has strict laws as to how a freelancer can operate his or her business. In some states, as long as you report your income, you are free to take on whatever projects you like. In others, you must register your status with the state and your county and get certain types of licenses before you can start taking on clients and projects. It’s a good idea to make an appointment at your local SBA office and find out what you need to do to make everything official. Think of it as your first project!

Step Six: Branch Out

Remember when we talked about the diary of the freelance project manager and he said that he often got Project Management jobs via other types of jobs? This is a good idea for you too. If you have other skills that you can leverage and market, do that! The freelance writing jobs or coding work you take on can help bridge the gap, income-wise, between project management gigs. This way you won’t be so desperate that you take whatever comes along. You can hold out for the jobs that will work best for you and for the career you’re trying to build for yourself.

The point is that it is possible to become a freelance project manager. The temporary nature of the work lends itself fantastically to freelancing anyway and, of course, you can always simply freelance while you look for your next permanent gig, right?

Rachel Matthews is a freelance writer with a background in business who’s been relying on her entrepreneurial skill set since she was in high school.  She enjoys writing about anything from health and beauty to current political news.