Project Management 101
Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. In essence, project management is an art and a science. The science is understanding the tools and methodologies while staying current on best practices. The art is tailoring those to meet the needs of individual teams across projects of different scopes and sizes. In the end, strong project management is critical for initiatives to be completed on time, in scope, within budget, and achieve the desired outcome.
Hybrid Work’s Impact on Project Management
Hybrid work has made a definite impact on how projects are managed, particularly when it comes to communications and connecting. When everyone is in person, weekly or daily check-ins were relatively simple to conduct. Take a Scrum meeting for example. There is a specific way of communicating that is facilitated through an in-person setting. With more of these meetings happening over Zoom, with some people present and others virtual, the dynamic naturally changes, leaving leaders to make sure in-person attendees don’t dominate and virtual team members are heard.
The virtual or hybrid work environment has also led to the adoption of new project management tools. Traditionally, project managers lived and breathed with Microsoft Project. Today, Asana and Trello have gained a foothold, while Microsoft Project has added new layers of functionality. This requires project managers to ensure team members not only stay connected but determine the best tools for their organization to do so.
And while that may sound intimidating, it’s actually an opportunity. Project managers can re-imagine ways of working, develop new best practices, and shift to a project management style and tool that best meets their organization’s needs now.
The Pros and Cons of a Hybrid World
Let’s tackle the easy part first. Piggybacking on what we talked about above, I believe the collaboration piece has actually gotten easier. Despite the physical distance, the mechanisms to make sure that people are kept in the loop and have the information they need have advanced rapidly. A great example is business travel. We’ve all experienced canceled or ineffective stand-up meetings when a leader is traveling. With the modern tools mentioned above, people’s comfort level with working from anywhere, and overall experience with the virtual world, collaborating is simply easier.
Even though keeping people informed has gotten easier, keeping people engaged has become more difficult.
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. When teams don’t see each other regularly, insight into the OTHER projects each member is working on often gets lost. As a team leader, these conditions make it more difficult to coordinate priorities with other leaders. When this happens, maintaining engagement on your project becomes more difficult.
This makes Project Chartering more important than ever. As part of that project charter, it’s critical to name that we are now operating in a hybrid work environment and incorporate what that means for how the team operates. This includes setting ground rules for ways of working, communications, and collaboration expectations.
The Most Notable Change in Project Management in a Hybrid Work Environment
In project management, there are two basic approaches: waterfall and agile. Waterfall describes a linear approach to a project where things happen in a particular order. This approach doesn’t lend itself well to flexibility. Agile refers to phases of project work happening iteratively or in concert and modifying the plan based on learnings as the project progresses.
Even before COVID and the rapid shift to virtual and hybrid work environments, we started to see a swing toward the agile approach that has only picked up momentum since the pandemic. We attribute this rise to faster delivery — agile allows the ability to gather feedback earlier in the process, and the ability to iterate on that feedback to deliver a better outcome.
As a project manager myself, I think the move away from the centralized location of the office to a distributed workforce has simply helped people get more comfortable with the idea of different people working on different facets of a project in different places. Add in the advanced project management tools discussed above and much of the past apprehension I have had about not following a linear path has been lessened.
The Clearing’s Approach to Hybrid Project Management
The Clearing approaches project management with a mix of art and science. To elaborate on this point, I reference my colleagues Gracie Meisel and Anna-Ruth Beckman’s piece on balancing empathy and accountability in the workplace. At its core, project management IS accountability. It’s all about ensuring a group of people do what they say when they say they’ll do it. However, it’s still a group of people, with different needs, motivators, cultures, and in the hybrid work environment world, locations. So how do we make it work?
We start with the art, acknowledging that every engagement is different and that people are at the center of each one. That’s why our consultants do the legwork to understand the situation and determine the project management style and tools that will work best for each unique group.
This is where the science comes in. I am just one of many Clearing consultants with a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. That means we’re well-versed in foundational project management, with the expertise required to select the right tools, evaluate the timeline, and keep a project on track. When combined with our extensive experience working with remote federal teams over the past decade, we are uniquely suited to helping teams of all types achieve their objectives in a distributed environment.
Finally, while we have dedicated project managers, we also have a number of change practitioners holding PMP certifications. This has been helpful as more clients come to us for help in transitioning to a hybrid workplace. With change practitioners who specialize in workplace transformation and hold a PMP certification, we have been able to effectively hybridize (pun intended) our project leads. We have recognized you can’t have change management without project management – and having one expert project lead cuts down on required coordination, often saving time and adding efficiencies. This approach also simplifies projects for our clients, reducing points of contact and streamlining communications.
How Project Managers Can Maximize Hybrid Work Environment Outcomes
I know we already mentioned this when we talked about The Clearing’s approach to hybrid project management; however, our number one recommendation is to remember to put people first. Because in addition to the technical skills required, the other key skill is managing people.
This includes mentoring, motivating, and empowering others to give their best, which becomes even more important in a hybrid work environment where you may not be meeting face-to-face on a regular basis. A few essential skills project managers must master include empathy, emotional intelligence, communication, and leveraging strengths (for individuals and teams).
In addition to the above, here are a few more steps I recommend to maximize outcomes.
- Communicate early and often. Ensure you are communicating with authenticity, transparency, empathy, and agility. Connection becomes even more important in a hybrid work environment, so consider leveraging tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams to stay connected. This kind of asynchronous communication has become critical for project management in a hybrid work environment world.
- Realign hybrid workforce with project needs. Establish a project charter and include ways of working that account for a hybrid work environment. This will open a dialogue to create healthy boundaries and alignment on how individuals and the team can work most productively to maximize individual and collective strengths. Focus on outcomes, not output.
- Leverage technology and tools to complement the team’s ways of working. Remember, the tool is not the solution. Once team norms and ways of working have been established, determine which tools or technology can help maximize the team’s efficiency and productivity. Identify ways to provide maximum flexibility and access to the necessary tools to be successful. A few tools to consider include Smartsheet, Asana, and Trello.
In closing, while it’s clear hybrid work environments have transformed project management, modern tools and ways of working have evolved, too. In the end, it is still about finding the balance between art and science to drive your project and team to a successful outcome. If you need help getting a project off the ground or wrangling an existing one, I’d love to chat – you can reach me anytime at Clifton.Johnson@dev2021.theclearing.com.