Finding something that works — whether it is a process, methodology, or system — can be a defining moment. It means we have succeeded in our hard work to develop an approach that is in alignment with our core beliefs. If the quality of outputs increases because of a tried-and-true process, who wouldn’t be happy?
But project management doesn’t stop there. Never settle for what seems to work. Instead, pat yourself on the back, and then get back to work at refining.
Good project management processes, methodologies, and systems maintain an expected level of quality, but the excellent ones — the ones no one can match — continually strive for new levels of quality.
Achieving excellence is obviously no easy feat, but the path is there, and the only way to begin traveling down that path is by adapting what I call the three pillars of learning.
Learn from your mistakes
So you made a mistake on a project. Maybe it was a small slip up, or maybe your mistake had dire consequences. Excellence does not equate to perfection. Rather, mistakes are an ingredient of excellence. If you never know what is wrong or improper, or what doesn’t work, how can you know what will work? Mistakes give us the clarity to see better processes, methodologies, and systems — and once you reach a better way, you’ll discover more mistakes, which will allow you to jump to an even better approach.
You should never be afraid to make mistakes. How can you apply this to your current project load?
- Notate things that went wrong or didn’t turn out as you anticipated — keep a log.
- Break the mold. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or try new methods. Trial and error is a type of learning you can only gain through experience.
- Develop a response plan to your mistakes. If you make an error that affects your client, know in advance what to do.
- Have fun. If you feel your mind is engaged in this process of trying new things out, you have the capacity to achieve excellence; otherwise, you’re just straining yourself and probably working a tad too hard.
Learn from clients
While learning from yourself is a great avenue toward advancement, it’s not entirely objective or conclusive. For that, you need a feedback mechanism — the client. As the end user of your project management style, clients can give you valuable input and feedback on your processes, methodologies, and systems. Ultimately, they are the ones who decide to give you money, so what they say should be of the utmost importance.
Project management doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Learn from your clients. How can you apply this to your current project load?
- At the end of a project, conduct “exit” surveys to gather some quick feedback on what your client thought of the experience.
- During the project, casually ask the client for feedback on particular parts of the project, and perhaps, whether or not it met their expectations.
- Establish metrics to help quantify client experience. Tools such as time trackers and surveys can give you statistical feedback on how things are going.
Learn from others
Left alone, you can probably come up with some great ideas, which — when bounced off clients — can further be refined. However, ideas generated from isolation don’t have the benefit of real world experience. For this, you’ll need to turn to others — people who have practiced new and different processes, methodologies, and systems, and have written or spoken about it, either in a book, article, blog post, podcast, or presentation. The ideas of others can spark a new flame of creativity within you that will fuel even more refinement of your original inspiration.
The outside world has done much of the hard work for you. How can you apply this to your current project load?
- Subscribe to RSS feeds and read blogs of not only project management and web professionals, but of a variety of fields, such as technology, business, self management, productivity, and so forth.
- Read books — business books, project management books, technical books, philosophy books, and so on.
- Network with other people. Find meetups, conferences, and workshops taking place in your area.
- Start a blog and talk about your project management methods. This can help generate conversation with others, leading to the sharing of ideas.
And finally, what about learning from team members? I approached this topic from the solo project manager standpoint, who also wears the hat of the designer and developer, but for larger organizations, there often exists others who specialize in certain aspects of the project work. These people — your team members — can also serve as a vital source for growing your project management techniques, but I will hold that off for a different post.