Thinking a Step Ahead of the Project Owner

one step ahead
One step ahead of the program manager

In my early days of managing projects, the tasks ran the show. I was the man with the to-do list. I filled it out every night before leaving work. Every morning I religiously reviewed it, verified the priorities, and executed each item for a successful day.

The disappointment I felt if I wasn’t able to complete the list was measureable. It wasn’t just my own tasks that I managed that way. Every member of the team had their tasks, if not for the day, at least for the week. I felt it was my job to make sure everyone got their tasks done for the good of the project.

The tactical mind

By following that task-mastery approach, I know that I got a lot done. The team got a lot done. I felt like I was managing the project effectively by following this tactical approach. And to some degree I was. I was identifying what needed to get done and driving it to completion.

The problem was in my selection of tasks. I thought in terms of the here and now. I completed the things that needed to get done today. I would worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

I wasn’t thinking about how it all fit in to the big picture and I wasn’t staying one step ahead.

Strategic thinking

A project manager usually reports to a project owner who is in a very strategic position. This person has a vision for the end result of the implemented project. The entire project is simply a piece to a much larger puzzle that will help her achiever her future goals.

The project manager needs to understand the entire puzzle to accurately understand how the project will accomplish those goals. The project plan tells the project manager what needs get done. Knowing the strategy behind the project helps the project manager do two things. First, the project manager can better identify and assign sequencing of tasks. It’s not just a matter of knowing that task A is dependent on task B. The PM knows how they both contribute to the project in a specific way.

Secondly, having an understanding of the project’s role with a broader view allows the PM to determine how tasks should be accomplished. Perhaps it should be completed by another team member. Perhaps it needs to be handed off to someone when completed in order to help with another effort. The situation may have changed and it may not need to be completed at all.

What does this accomplishment mean?

The tactical project manager will generally report accomplishments for a status report that are a list straight from the project plan. Often, it is a means of listing off tasks.

Switching to strategic thinking, the PM who understands the puzzle piece approach, provides information for the status. Rather than a rote list of accomplished tasks, the goal should be to inform the project owner how the week’s accomplishments helps her to achieve her higher level goals.

Providing this type of information allows the project owner to make informed decisions on the major puzzle. It is the difference between checking things off of a list and knowing exactly where you stand.

Conclusion

Managing a project involves a lot of attention to detail. There are plans with tasks and assignments that have to be completed.

The ultimate goal of the project manager should be to stay one step ahead of the project owner. If you can anticipate what the project owner is trying to accomplish, what she is thinking, you can provide her with the information to make her successful, while achieving success yourself.

What steps to do you take to stay one step ahead of your project owner?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

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