As companies are increasingly expected to deliver projects of all kinds more frequently and quickly, agile project management is emerging as an increasingly important process (and skillset) across an array of industries.
I learnt this lesson after having spent five years as an executive assistant in a corporate setting for a pet-care company. My boss would give me projects to organise and a team to manage to deliver results.
This gave me initial exposure to project management and I quickly recognised how invaluable those fundamental skills became in my job. It made me want to explore project management further to understand how else it could benefit and propel my career.
I decided to enrol in an online Master of Science in Project Management programme, which allowed me to work and study at the same time.
Not too long after I began the programme, my manager noticed that not only had my skills improved, but my confidence as well. This led him to recommend me for a promotion – and a challenging career change – to the corporate affairs department.
As a new communications manager, there was a lot more to learn. However, I also realised there were plenty of transferable and applicable skills I was bringing to my position as a result of my previous experience in project management, as well as everything I was learning in my online programme.
So what are the key things I’ve learnt through applying a project-management mindset to a communications role?
Communication is key
Working on a creative brief or communications project usually means you have to bring together different internal and external functions and teams. Perhaps you’re managing a group of agencies or individuals that provide specialist skills (such as film-makers or event support).
Collaboration is essential to ensure successful delivery, and communication is the crux of this. The first thing I do is step back and make a note of all the different people or teams involved, and reach out to them individually to discuss the project face-to-face, if possible.
Engage stakeholders to set expectations
Some may question the need to sit down with everyone separately. On paper, it may not appear to be the most effective use of time when you could be getting the ball rolling on project activity.
However, individual meetings help build vital rapport and ensure all stakeholders involved understand what is expected. I discuss what I need and how they’ll be involved, and we also come to an understanding on what they can gain from the project, making sure everyone is aligned from the beginning.
One aspect that can be overlooked, and can often become challenging, is making sure other department leads are on board and understand where their resource (whether an individual or equipment) is being used.
This is especially the case for projects delivered within a company using internal resources. It’s critical to make sure everyone understands roles and responsibilities as part of the project, including how the whole team and overall business benefit.
This upfront understanding – and reminders, as necessary – will help when team members are asked to do something outside their normal responsibilities.
Look beyond your immediate team
Beyond your immediate team, think about which other stakeholders could be anticipating results from the project too, and make sure you take the time to discuss the project with them and understand their expectations.
These steps can help to make sure you’re aware of the individual expectations and goals of all involved – which could differ from the project’s overall objective.
When the project is ready to begin, bring the team together to make sure everyone is aligned and clear on the project’s common goals.
Then, as the project moves forward, make sure you have continuous review sessions so that everyone is clear on what’s been completed and what remains to be done. Make sure you also extend this to the additional stakeholders mentioned earlier, so they are always aware of what’s happening.
Share continuous feedback
Finally, share feedback on the project with the team so that everyone involved can continue learning from their successful endeavours and understand how to improve.
This also applies to sharing feedback on individual team members with their department heads, so that their contributions are recognised, in the hope that positive comments will mean team members will want to work with you again.
Building a positive rapport can mean projects in the future will be even more successful.
In the past, I felt that even when I knew there were issues with the projects I worked on, I didn’t know how to dissect or solve them. Now I know where to look for help and how to communicate with others efficiently to complete tasks.
Some of the key skills I’ve learnt include the importance of proactivity; problem-solving; and resourcefulness. Consistent, clear communication is also imperative. By having all these skills available to me, I have the confidence to own the projects I work on and ultimately progress in my career in the communications industry.
Beverly Ding is a communications manager working in China. She has an MSc in Project Management from the University of Liverpool Online.