9 Powerful Trump Cards to Win the Project Game

How to Successfully Manage Projects

Interesting questions come my way. A recent one was “What are the top 10 skills to be a successful project manager?”

9 Powerful Trump Cards to Win the Project Game - Mike Russell

My answer was to focus less on specific skills that the outcome of good project management.  Below are some of my responses.  Even though the points are phrased as what concept trumps another, the concepts are not “either/or” but “both/and.”  Some just generally have higher value to PMs.

  • Mindset trumps skills.  All the skills in the world will not matter if not employed appropriately and as needed.
  • Risk management trumps other skills.  The point of project management is to reduce risk below what it would be without project management.  The other skills are mechanisms to do that as needed.
  • Delivering value trumps finishing the project.  Completing the project is not the end goal, only an indicator of when we anticipate the real end goal: value.  Learn how to identify and clearly define value propositions.  Then keep the focus on developing and refining value, even if that means altering the project.
  • Value trumps the triangle.  Project managers can easily become mired in managing project management triangle (or “iron triangle”) details of scope, time, and cost.  However, stakeholders want their needs satisfied first.  They don’t care if you delivered the project on time, within budget, and to scope unless you have first sufficiently met their needs.
  • C.E.O.S. trumps pure financial focus.  To be REALLY successful, projects should delight all stakeholders:  Customers, Employees, Owners/shareholders, and Significant other stakeholders (like vendors).  Just thinking through how to balance success for each stakeholder group will help improve value and unlock more options for better results.
  • Simplicity and the small trump complexity and the large.  Find ways to reduce complexity and size, the twin killers of larger projects.  Incremental, integrated, deliveries of value help tremendously.  Those deliveries also provide feedback to guide further work and keep the focus on value delivery, not finishing an arbitrary “project.”
  • Independence trumps dependence.  Don’t just manage dependencies; eliminate or reduce them.  This reduces both overhead and complexity.  The impact is often not linear but disproportionate.  Eliminating key dependencies can make a significant positive difference in the “iron triangle.”
  • Motivation trumps compliance.  Leverage intrinsic motivation based on purpose, autonomy, and mastery.  Communicating the value proposition helps establish purpose and focus beyond grinding out tasks from some apparently arbitrary (and apparently endless) list.  Reducing dependencies, especially between teams, increases autonomy.  Focusing on value and end result also helps reduce micromanaging tasks, further increasing autonomy.  Projects should deliver two “products”:  the “product product” – the traditional project deliverable; and the “team product” – a team that has increased capability, capacity, etc.  A better team builds better current and future products.  Paying attention to the “team product” also builds and supports the mastery component of motivation.
  • Planning trumps plans.  Remap frequently during storms that change the landscape.  During change and uncertainty, planning becomes even more important than the plan.  Replanning – reviewing and adjusting plans – is necessary at a frequency that matches or beats the rate of change.  Otherwise, the project will become O.B.E.: overcome by events.  Better to salvage/reuse some work in a different direction that to have all work become obsolete before even delivered.

How many trump cards do you hold?

By Mike Russell