As the President of a firm specializing in project management, I’ve seen how complex and varied this field can be. There are more schools of thought, tools, resources, and certifications than you can shake a stick at. And psychology and personality play a major part in any successful project.

Yet a lot of you out there don’t have a business card with the words “project manager” on it…but you’re managing projects nonetheless. You have a goal, a budget, and the buck stops with you, but you don’t have time for “all that project management stuff.”  In this, as in all projects, keeping your approach as simple as possible to meet the need will make everyone’s life a little better.

So, for all of you “accidental project managers” (or APMs) out there, here are the top three simple things you can do to maximize the success of your projects.

Tip #1. Define the Project in Writing and Share it

In the PM world, we call this the project charter or the project definition. It’s basically a shared understanding of what you are trying to achieve. 

  • Name your project and agree on what you need to hand over when it’s all over (deliverables). This sounds really simple, but it’s the best way for you and your team to know if you’ve been successful.
  • Also include the key people and their responsibilities, the available budget, the milestones along the way, as well as the final deadline for the completion of the project.

If you think you don’t need to do this because everyone on the team should already be aware, I promise you, you absolutely do. And if it’s not articulated in writing, then I guarantee you don’t completely understand it or the assumptions other people are making about it. As the PM on the project, assumptions are your worst enemy.

Tip #2. Develop a Combined Status/Action Item List

A manager lead once told me a story about one of his project leads. She had assigned several tasks to her team, but when he asked her for an update, she couldn’t give him one. Her response was, “I emailed out the task list. I shouldn’t have to babysit them.” When it comes to project management, it is essential to have regular cadence meetings to check on the progress of the project. This is not to “babysit” or micromanage anyone, it is meant to make sure the project is moving forward as planned.

  • Keep a shared list of stuff to be done that everyone has access to, and use that document during a weekly or bi-monthly meeting.
  • Keep a running list of action items, who owns them, and check on their status at each meeting. These meeting should be as short as possible.
  • Update due dates or assignments when things change.

Believe me when I tell you, no project is going to go exactly according to plan. That’s ok. With a regular cadence of meetings or checkpoints, you can make adjustments along the way.

This approach isn’t babysitting. It’s holding people accountable. It’s being proactive, and it reflects way better on you as a project manager than finding out when the deadline hits that you all fell short.

Tip #3. Keep a Running List of Issues and Risks

While you are running those weekly or so meetings, issues will come up. Don’t risk losing track of them by breezing over them during the meeting. Instead, keep a running list.

  • I actually prefer to have a combined Risks/Issues list where I keep track of things I want to avoid (Risks) and things that have gone wrong that need to be fixed (Issues).
  • Assign people to address these and follow up on their progress during the next meeting. Not only does this type of list help you stay on top of threats to your project’s success, it also avoids misunderstandings on your team.

A fellow PM once shared with me how during a technical implementation project, a configuration issue was identified. One team member thought the problem had been fixed. The technical expert didn’t think it was a big deal and minimized it. Another team member working directly with the client reported that the client was extremely upset and considered the entire project in jeopardy.

Everyone had their own ideas about the problem, who owned it, and what was happening with it. I suggested that a running risks/issues log that everyone could access that provided a single source of information, reducing thrashing. It worked to help with that issue and reduce drama with others in the future.

Keeping It Simple

To summarize, when you have something to get done and you don’t have time to do all that “project management stuff,” focus on these three things:

  1. Define your project with your team in writing to have a shared picture what success looks like.

  2. Stay on top of the project with action items and regular status meetings.

  3. Identify issues and risks, keeping track of them in a running list.

You can do “project management,” and you can do it well. Even if your business card doesn’t have any extra letters behind your name.

If you want to learn more about project management, consider taking one of our classes, such as Best Practices in Project Management or the PMP certification preparation course. Learn more about us at Solarity.com.