As a project manager, you might be surprised to learn that you’re squandering valuable hours every day. It’s not the usual suspects like meetings, emails, and chats that are the culprits, as they are an integral part of our professional lives. Instead, the real time and stress savers in your daily project planning lie in task automation, effective communication practices, and project management hacks that can make your life smoother.
Over the years, I’ve gathered a wealth of tips and tricks, both from personal experience and my peers, that have significantly boosted my efficiency and streamlined my daily workflow.
1. Master Tool Automation
Whether it’s Slack, Google Calendar, email, or other tools, becoming proficient in the tools you use and their automation capabilities can save you a tremendous amount of time. By setting up integrations and optimizing settings, you can seamlessly synchronize information across platforms, eliminating the need for repetitive checks and notifications. For example, I’ve integrated Slack with Trello, Dropbox, and Google Hangouts to streamline file sharing, communication, and notifications.
But the magic doesn’t stop there. Slack commands are a game-changer. With the Google Hangout integration, creating a hangout is as simple as typing in “/h” and pressing enter. Additionally, Slack can automatically pull in images shared via Dropbox links, saving you the hassle of uploading files and your team an extra click to view shared content.
Beyond Slack, there are plenty of automations you can explore outside of this platform. For instance, configuring Dropbox as your default screenshot preference on your computer can automatically sync images to your account and copy shareable links to your clipboard. Google Calendar offers robust notification preferences, allowing you to schedule reminders well in advance, sparing you the trouble of remembering crucial dates.
2. Embrace the RACI Matrix
Utilizing a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RACI matrix) for every project you manage can prevent task-related confusion and set clear expectations from the start. Whether it’s outlining responsibilities, roles, or ownership, these matrices save time and ensure everyone knows their role. You can customize your RACI matrix to match the complexity of your project, from high-level overviews to detailed workflow breakdowns.
Creating a RACI matrix can be as detailed or as simple as you need it to be. The key is to make it work for you and your project. Consider crafting a spreadsheet template for future use or going old-school with pen and paper for quick brainstorming sessions. I often employ RACI charts for various Project Management needs, from defining overall project responsibilities to mapping out content management workflows, launch requirements, and more. On complex projects, breaking down RACI decisions into multiple charts can provide the necessary clarity.
3. Daily Team Engagement
Establishing daily communication with your team and colleagues might seem obvious but can have a significant impact. Building a positive rapport and creating open channels for casual conversations foster trust and encourage team members to share concerns and ideas informally, preventing potential roadblocks.
To check in casually with the full team regularly, I default to striking up conversations at the end of most weeks in my team’s Slack channels. It’s often as simple as asking about upcoming weekend plans, which serves as an easy conversation starter. On a personal level, I make an effort to chat with individual team members once a week or so when I’m working on a project with them. I ensure to say good morning and ask how they are doing, without immediately following up with work-related needs or questions. This approach creates a friendly and motive-free opportunity for us to get to know each other a bit better. Ultimately, my goal is to build a sincere habit of communication so that either one of us can reach out to the other more easily if it’s needed.
4. The Art of Saying “No”
Learning to say “no” gracefully and firmly is essential for project managers. It helps protect your team from unnecessary stress, maintain project health, and prevent overloading yourself. Identifying when to say “no” requires an understanding of your Project Management boundaries and priorities.
The hardest part is knowing when to decline a request. I’ve improved my “no” game over time by understanding my project boundaries, but I also maintain a mental checklist. Here are some instances when saying “no” is appropriate:
- When what I’m being asked to do can only be achieved by breaking a non-negotiable promise, a major priority, or will impact the non-flexible priorities of others.
- When what I’m being asked will jeopardize the project’s health.
- When what I’m being asked will force my team to work in a way that is neither productive nor ideal for their work.
In each of these situations, I ensure to explain my reasons for declining, rather than delivering a blunt refusal. For example, when a client asked my team to add an Events function to their site just two weeks before launch, I politely declined. I explained that this request had more implications than just adding an Events page, involving ticket sales, user tracking, checkout processes, and more. The client quickly understood that it wasn’t an ideal use of our time so close to the launch, and together, we opted to link to a third-party event page as a workaround.
Tip: Setting clear project and team goals makes it even more apparent when to say “no” during a project.
5. Embrace Every Project Management as a Learning Opportunity
Each project offers a unique chance for you and your team to learn and grow. Treat every project as an opportunity to acquire new skills, deepen your knowledge, face challenges, or refine your communication style. Conducting project retrospectives after each Project Management can provide valuable insights for future improvements.
I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge from successful projects and have learned from past mistakes as well. The easiest way to set yourself up for learning on new projects is to conduct a project retrospective after the current one concludes. Retrospectives have helped me understand what I need to do better as a PM, what my team excels at, what processes work or don’t work for us, and offer insights into areas I might not otherwise realize.
Ask the following questions during your project retrospective:
- What were our initial project goals?
- What actually transpired during this project?
- Why did certain events occur?
- What can we do differently next time?
Take the answers your team generates and apply them to your next project. You can even implement process changes based on retrospective findings.
6. Take Control of Notifications
I tend to be a proactive DPM, detesting notification badges or unread messages anywhere. I use this knowledge to my advantage when setting up new accounts or preferences on my tools. I utilize every notification setting available to me and am ruthless about muting or hiding unnecessary notifications. I know that these can easily draw me in, preventing me from batching my message checking. Instead, I am rigorous in setting notifications to work for me.
I primarily use Slack for work-related chats, and fortunately, Slack offers a wide range of customization options for notifications. I avoid dock notifications for anything social, mute channels that I monitor but don’t actively participate in, and set keywords for project-related accounts to avoid needing to catch up on chats if I don’t have immediate time.
Most project management tools may not offer the same granularity as Slack, but many provide email digests and project reports that you can configure on a per-project basis, bringing more sanity to your notifications. I also review and update my notification preferences every few months if I notice that I need something different or find myself sorting through more information than necessary.
7. Educate and Provide Context
Contextualizing your communication and project decisions for your team and clients is crucial. Explaining the rationale behind your actions and requests fosters transparency and understanding. Additionally, seek opportunities to learn from your team and clients, asking for clarification when needed.
Every few months, I ask the technical lead on my projects if I can schedule an hour or two to discuss concepts I don’t fully understand, especially if they are heavily referenced or used on my project. This proactive approach has allowed me to better plan what information I need to gather from my clients during a project. It provides a more accurate sense of when an expert’s input is required and enables me to identify technical red flags on a Project Management more quickly.
I’ve even invited design leads to regular weekly client calls to provide contextual knowledge about a project stage that might be especially opaque. While it’s essential not to overwhelm anyone with excessive information, practical education can enhance transparency and provide context for decision-making.
8. Embrace “I Don’t Know”
Admitting when you don’t have all the answers can be empowering. Saying “I don’t know” allows you to gather more information, seek input, and collaborate effectively with experts on your team.
Certainly, you don’t want to sound like you’re unsure of your abilities by saying “I don’t know” at the wrong moment. However, it’s easy to make this phrase work in the context of a meeting or call. Especially during a challenging Project Management discussion, it can be helpful to qualify your “I don’t know” statement with a few useful phrases. For example, “The development lead would have a much more accurate answer than I can provide—let me have them follow up.” Or, “I’m not the best person to answer that, but I’ll reach out to the design manager and have them explain.” In cases where you prefer not to admit that you don’t know, you can simply state, “The tech lead can answer that. I’ll loop them in.”
9. Harness Email Filters and Automations
I love using automatic filters and saved responses in email. Having emails automatically labeled or sent to a folder saves me lots of time just sorting and processing emails when I’m extra busy or out of the office. It allows me to get right to the important things when I go back to read and respond to emails once I have time. Templated, saved, or “canned” email responses are great for providing a starting point for certain types of emails you might send regularly.
For instance, I maintain a set of templated emails through Gmail’s “Canned Responses” feature to avoid rewriting the same content repeatedly. If your email client lacks a similar feature, a text document or notepad file serves just as well.
I use email filters to the fullest extent possible. Both Outlook and Gmail offer robust filtering options, allowing you to pre-define rules for incoming messages. I employ these filters to automatically categorize several types of emails so I can easily read and find them later. For example, client emails are automatically labeled by Project Management name and moved to my Priority inbox in Gmail, project tool notifications are marked as read automatically and shifted to a non-priority inbox (where I review them at the end of the day on my phone), and internal emails are labeled as internal and marked as read (for later review) if I’m listed as a CC and not the primary recipient of the thread.
10. Always Monitor the Numbers
Regularly monitoring Project Management data provides valuable insights into your project’s status and potential issues. Tracking metrics like time reports, team velocity, task completion rates, and budget utilization allows you to address problems proactively and maintain project health.
I work on various types of projects, including time and materials-based projects, one-off projects, and retainer-based projects. The type of project often dictates which reports I regularly pull, but the idea remains consistent across all projects. Here’s what I typically keep an eye on:
- Time reports
- Team velocity
- Number of tasks done/in progress/left
- Vacations and resourcing until the launch date
- Budget utilization or remaining funds
Keeping a close watch on these metrics on a weekly or even bi-weekly basis helps me identify trends that deviate from the norm early on, which often indicates a potential issue. It also allows me to ensure that no crucial information is missing or incorrect, preventing surprises that might surface if I only checked periodically. Pulling time and budget reports is particularly critical for identifying Project Management issues and conveying them to the client during the project’s progression. Additionally, examining task completion rates and team velocity helps me identify internal process obstacles, such as unexpectedly complex features or resource constraints.
Pulling and interpreting this data gives me a holistic view of the project’s health and highlights problematic areas before they reach a critical point.
Incorporating even one or two of these project management hacks can make a significant difference in your efficiency and productivity. If you’ve been managing projects for a while, you likely have your own set of hacks that work for you. Feel free to share your tips in the comments to help others streamline their project management processes.
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