I don’t purport to actually keep people happy, but I do believe that Focus Lab’s project management works as well as it does because we’re afforded the opportunity to make happiness-based decisions.
As a long-time PM in the design space, I am hypersensitive to this role being, IMO, epidemically overlooked and undervalued, and I think this might be my One Big Chance to win some converts to the not-so-dark side of managing, planning, and organizing, so please, no matter your role, give this post a chance!
“We design project management processes around the actual people who are filling the various roles involved.”
In my experience, project management is comprised of a number of smaller and widely varied mini-projects and purviews, and it is in achieving competency and balance across these areas where PMs can excel. Taken at the highest level, however, project management principles should be able to be applied to just about any industry, because what forms the foundation is—much like big ol’ Life itself—that you can design and apply process until the cows come home but there’s still always the People factor. At Focus Lab, with People over Profits as one of our Standards in both principle and in practice, we design project management processes around the actual people who are filling the various roles involved in our work.
Scoping and Scheduling
The first step to beginning a project is gaining a VERY thorough understanding of the work to be completed. We’ve instituted a very successful Discovery period before most projects that allows us to get very specific about both the tasks and the people needed to complete them.
We look at what the client wants (desires, goals, metrics, etc.), how the client communicates, what we don’t know about the project (strategy outcomes and such), who of our team is best to complete the work, etc., and then we document those findings at a very granular level, down to the line item. One thing we also include is calling attention to steps in the process that illuminate a need for additional work. Doing so allows our clients to know from the very beginning where the potential for scope creep is high.
We also send this documentation and rough associated timelines to the strategists, designers, and developers who’ll be completing the work, which gives them a heads up as to the work to come but also allows them the opportunity to call attention to items we might have missed.
All this to say that once we have a clear picture of how the project will go, it becomes easier to schedule each piece of a project and have confidence that the project will remain on course.
We use Basecamp for client communication and deliverables, and that is all we use it for. Basecamp is great for keeping track of messages and files, ensuring that message are not lost in email, and allowing the entire team to participate in project conversation. This last piece—empowering the entire team to communicate with the client—saves time and allows for direct communication. It’s not appropriate all the time, but it ensures that the PM doesn’t become a communication bottleneck but also allows him/her a view into a project at any time.
“Empowering the entire team to communicate with the client saves time and allows for direct communication.”
Choosing a task management tool has been, and will probably continue to be, one of the more difficult things about managing a team of people across multiple projects. When I joined Focus Lab, we were using Trello, but I found we needed a better, more detailed way of tracking a single project throughout its lifecycle because the in-between tasks (hand-offs from one person to another, communicating status, etc.) weren’t really happening.
That’s an important point: as a project manager, you have to be able to anticipate what should happen at the end of a task on which another is dependent. You have to be able to think about the people involved—how they work, how they communicate—and do what you can to set up a process that supports that, even improves it if need be, and/or sets the stage for a successful next step.
You also have to make that process a reality. I found that Asana allowed me to create those person-to-person workflows more intuitively than Trello, and so we switched a few months back; here’s my post about that.
To be clear, I’m not a people-manager, per se. As in, at Focus Lab, project management falls into a “support” type role versus a managerial role. So “people management” in this post is what is more often referred to as “resource management.” We just don’t like that that causes our people to be called something so cold as “resources.”
But yeah, I’m talking about people, skills/tools, and time. We map those out, based on those Discovery findings, in a wonderfully simple app called Float. It’s a few-frills way of viewing your team members (people), which projects they’re assigned to, and in what capacity (skills/tools) across the calendar (time).
If we didn’t use this or a similar app, we’d be lost in terms of knowing what work we can commit to, knowing when our multidisciplinary team members will have availability, knowing when the next projects will begin, etc.
I could write for days on the intricacies of juggling simultaneous people and projects, and how we foster happiness in the workplace, but I hope I’ve given you enough to work with for the time being, and that I’ve started to answer Gavin's question. Feel free to reach out if you have specific questions, and thanks for reading!