Business Basics: What you need to know to improve project management

We speak to Francis Miers of Automation Consultants about leadership and project management

24 October 2018

Our Business Basics series, a collection of Q&As, advice and insights from business and industry experts, continues as we delve into how best to improve your approach to project management.

In this instalment, we’re talking with Francis Miers, from software development lifecycle company, Automation Consultants. With a wealth of leadership and project management to his name, Francis and his team have lent their expertise to all manner of telecoms, finance and infrastructure blue chips, using their technological know-how to improve software development and automation.

He will be sharing his insights into improving project management from concept stage to campaign completion.

At the outset of a project, what are the essential things that the project manager should do?

One of the most immediate and important responsibilities is simply getting everybody on board – and this support needs to be present from the outset. It’s often a major challenge, and it goes beyond the people who have authorised the project and other members of senior management; you need everyone from administrators to the individuals who control access to physical facilities to get involved.

It’s also vital to assemble a qualified and capable team. No project is ever going to go 100% according to plan, but experience, skill, and transparency can go a long way towards ensuring that it runs relatively smoothly.

What approaches should a successful project manager take when communicating with their team?

When it comes to communication, a successful project manager is, above all, transparent about expectations, milestones, and the work that the project will inevitably require. Simply being straight and direct with your team will help win their trust.

As project manager, it’s also up to you to cultivate an environment where employees are straight and direct with you. If they notice a problem, they should feel comfortable coming to you with it: an issue spotted in advance is always an issue that’s easier to solve. Openness, transparency, and two-way communication are paramount.

How important is it to manage expectations whilst working on a project?

Managing expectations is part of the job. A project rarely goes exactly to plan, but as long as it’s moving forward steadily, it shouldn’t adversely affect team morale – or cause undue concerns for customers.

Treat setbacks as something natural, because they often are. Unless they’re unusually devastating, your team will encounter them, work through them, and complete the project regardless. If stakeholders are told to expect incremental progress – and for the plan to evolve – then they’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Do you prefer a hands-on or hands-off approach? Does the type of project dictate the management style?

A project manager shouldn’t be a micromanager; their responsibilities are too diverse for them to engage deeply with every aspect of the project. Delegation is often highly advisable. Give your best people the chance to demonstrate their capability – more often than not, they’ll seize the opportunity.

In terms of management style, I’ve found that agile – where the project is separated into discrete, manageable chunks – is suitable for most circumstances. With short delivery cycles, there’s less time spent documenting every step and more time spent actually doing the work, and it’s much easier to identify and fix problems, and change course if necessary.

Originating in the software development sphere, the agile methodology has outgrown its roots to move into other areas of business practice. This is because if done correctly, it’s often faster, more streamlined and the results are closer to what the customer wants, so the quality of your project is improved.

What can you do to manage risk if a project starts running into any problems?

As above, manage the problem in small steps – and manage it quickly. It’s not going to go away by itself, so there’s no point in continuing to move towards your project’s goal at the expense of the day-to-day reality. When a problem arises, prioritise it.

It’s also essential to make sure it’s handled calmly and practically, and that it doesn’t demoralise or discourage your team. As we’ve said, setbacks happen: it’s how you handle them that determines the success of your project.


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Do you have any tips on how the manager should handle stakeholders over the course of a project?

A project manager can’t assume that the time and goodwill of all stakeholders is a given. 

The reality is that you aren’t likely to be their priority – so you need to make sure anyone whose involvement is required for successful completion can provide the necessary resources. This is often a matter of simply doing your homework. If you’re working from a customer’s site, for example, it’s necessary to work out whether you can get on their systems, whether they can spare the desk space for your team, and whether they can offer any ongoing support. Forward planning can eliminate many of these potential bottlenecks as a result.

For more insights and knowledge to help improve how you run your business, we’ve listed several related Business Basics issues below:

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The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.


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