Embracing Your “Geeky” Side to Become a Highly Effective Project Manager

A Project Management Article by Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, Chief Cheetah and Founder of Cheetah Learning

The most recent 2015 Pulse of the Profession study from the Project Management Institute (PMI)® found that the ability to acquire and keep highly talented employees is one of the best predictors of an organization’s success. As they authors explain in their conclusion of the report, “Organizations continue to recognize the value of people who are versatile, have deep strategic insight, and who champion knowledge development and knowledge transfer as essential to performance improvement and competitive strength” (PMI 2015). In today’s competitive job market, what does it mean to be “highly talented” in Project Management?

In previous issues of this publication, we’ve written about the importance of “soft skills,” such as interpersonal communication, social capital, and emotional intelligence, for becoming a more effective Project Manager. These skills remain as crucial as ever. However, they are not the whole story of what it takes to be a great Project Manager. Excelling in PM also requires you to develop some more technical proficiencies - what we like to call “geeky” skills. As the Pulse of the Profession report shows, talented employees are noteworthy for their versatility, “deep strategic insight,” and commitment to ongoing education. Embracing and developing your “geeky” side in these areas may be just what you need to bring your PM skills to the next level.

There is no one correct path for becoming a “geekier,” more effective Project Manager. The skills you choose to hone will depend on the nature of your career and your own unique, innate strengths. Developing a mastery of web-based technological tools, perfecting your planning and time management skills, and continuing your education are three key areas in which you can “geek out” in order to become a better (and, in turn, better-paid) Project Manager.

Getting Excited About Technology

There’s no shortage of Project Management-related gadgets, software, apps, and other tech to integrate into your PM processes. Even better, many of these new PM technologies are free (or very inexpensive)! To start, you may find it helpful to set up a web-based PM application that works for both your computer and smartphone. Apps such as Trello, Smartsheet, and Asana provide tools to organize your projects, tasks, deadlines, and even create Gantt charts. Asana has the additional feature of incorporating communication into its functions, allowing users to assign tasks to other project team members, for example.

If you’re not quite ready to integrate one of these complex Project Management suites into your operations, there are smaller steps you can take to make better use of technology. Here at Cheetah Learning, we make constant use of the Google Business suite - email, calendars, drive, and documents. Sharing Google documents - as opposed to sending attachments back and forth - has been particularly helpful in allowing us to effectively and efficiently collaborate virtually. Unlike attachments, Google docs make it so we can work on the same documents simultaneously, seeing other team members’ edits and contributions in real time and tracking who made what changes to the document.

A third, maybe unexpected way you can improve your PM skills with some tech “geekery” is through infographics. What do infographics have to do with Project Management, you ask? Plenty, we say. Infographics can - and should - be used as a communication tool, whether it’s for communicating with external project stakeholders or just within your project team. Infographics are the easiest way to transform a dull technical report or presentation into something that will grab your audience’s attention and get them excited about the project. In addition, infographics allow you to create a visual representation of complicated data analyses - so by using infographics, you can help ensure that all project team members and stakeholders are on the same page about the information being presented.


Source: PMI® 2015 Pulse of the Profession

Just as with other PM apps, there are plenty of free web-based programs you can use to get started with making infographics even if you do not have a background in Graphic Design. Some of the best include Vizualize, Easel.ly, and Piktochart. Making use of the best web-based Project Management programs the Internet has to offer can enhance your ability as a Project Manager to facilitate communication and collaboration among project team members, as well as to keep your project tasks organized and on-track for completion.

Becoming a Time Management Ninja

The first and most important step to take toward becoming a time management “ninja” is learning to prioritize. You heard that right: not planning, prioritizing. We put so much emphasis on “priorities” because all plans should be organized around prioritized daily tasks. Use the first 20 minutes of your day to write down the top six tasks you need to accomplish that day - put these as both the columns and rows of a table. Beginning with column 1, compare task 1 to the next five tasks below it; if task 1 is more important than this task, put an “x” in the box. Column by column, look at each task and determine if it’s more important than the other tasks above and below it. You will see pretty quickly which are your top three tasks for the day. For this example, task 1, 4 and 5 are the top three tasks (you will see in the first row that no tasks are ranked as more important than the SC meeting)

Tackle those high-importance tasks first. This may sound obvious, but when we don’t prioritize our tasks we generally tend to put off those more difficult or tedious tasks until the end of the day (or the next day or week), even if they’re the most important things we need to get done.

After prioritizing your tasks and figuring out what you need to complete first, you can take advantage of other time management practices to help you work more efficiently and with better focus. Here at Cheetah, our favorite time management “hack” comes from Agile project methodology: a practice called “timeboxing.” Timeboxing is the practice of focusing on one project task without distractions for a short, pre-defined period of time. (It has a lot in common with the Pomodoro technique, which advocates taking a five-minute break after working on a single task for 25 minutes). Agile methodology originally emerged as a PM approach specific to software development, but has since evolved to work for projects in a variety of industries. Timeboxing starts with the principle that value should be delivered to customers in increments - not just all at once when the project is completed.

Timeboxing also influences how project teams, not just individuals, work as a whole. Short but reasonable deadlines help curb procrastination, since project tasks typically take the amount of time that is allocated to complete them. Short deadlines also help keep the project team’s focus on creating value rather than getting caught up in the nitty-gritty details of the project scope. By staying focused on the “big picture,” project teams can avoid getting delayed by a problem related to a non-essential feature or detail.

As a Project Manager, you can make timeboxing a norm in your projects by implementing daily “sprint” meetings with your project team. These short meetings (15-20 minutes) should be held at the beginning of the work day to help get your team members motivated and focused. Here at Cheetah, we often set up two-week sprints to boost our marketing efforts. Each morning for these two weeks, we all join a video conference to brainstorm new marketing ideas and review the success of the previous day’s efforts. Each day of the sprint involves multiple project tasks, and our daily sprint meetings are used to both plan and review these activities. A “sprint,” however, does not represent an entire project - our marketing sprint is just part of our ongoing, larger marketing project.

Used together, prioritizing, timeboxing, and sprints not only increase your own efficiency in your job - they set a new standard of performance for your project team, bringing everyone on the same page about the “big picture” of their current projects.

Back to School

The third area of “geekery” that you should embrace in order to boost your PM skills is education. In the PM world, education and credentials matter: most employers either prefer or require a Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification when hiring people to lead their projects because it speaks to the capability of a new employee to hit the ground running with minimal hand-holding. As you may know, for a few years now the US Federal Government has been among those employers that require a PMP® certification for the Project Managers it hires.

Having the right credentials is not just important for getting your foot in the door - it is also tied to higher compensation. The career with the highest reported PMP® salary in the United States, according to PayScale, is IT Program Manager; people in this position make, on average, $148,381 annually. Across all industries, Project Managers who hold the PMP® credential have an average salary of roughly $100,000 per year. The PMP® credential makes the difference in how much you make, as many countries report a $10,000 salary advantage over their non-PMP® counterparts.

Beyond the PMP®, other credentials such as the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner, Risk Management Professional, and Program Management Professional can bring your PM skills - and salary grade - to the next level. In other words, it is worth the investment of your time and energy to “geek out” over these continuing education and certification opportunities in Project Management.

In this article, we’ve reviewed three major skill areas you can develop to become a more effective Project Manager who is sought out as one of those “highly talented” employees who drive organizations’ success. Whether you choose to master a web-based PM software program to organize your tasks, perfect your time management management, or pursue further education in your field, any or all of these skills will help you improve your ability as a Project Manager to deliver value fast and consistently to your organization. Paired with highly developed “soft skills” in communication and collaboration, your “geeky” skills will make you stand head and shoulders above everyone else when opportunities arise for you to advance your career.

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, Chief Cheetah and Founder of Cheetah Learning

Michelle LaBrosseMichelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 50,000 people have become “Cheetahs” using Cheetah Learning’s innovative Project Management and accelerated learning techniques.

Michelle also developed the Cheetah Certified Project Manager (CCPM) program based on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality profiling to help students master how to use their unique strengths for learning, doing projects, and negotiating. CCPM graduates are able to choose the right projects and complete those projects “cheetah fast” based on their personality. They also learn how to leverage others’ strengths which significantly improves overall project team performance. When an employer has a cadre of CCPMs on staff, they achieve whatever they set out to achieve in record time. This is why over 90% of Cheetah's clients experience an increase in both profitability and revenue within the first year of retaining Cheetah Learning for their Project Management training needs.

Honored by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Cheetah Learning was named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI® Global Congress. A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle is recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

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