Part of my job is to manage projects here at Createful. This means I am the professional nagging machine and task chaser. It is my responsibility to keep on track of things and to monitor the progress of our client’s projects. I could write a long list about all of the things I’ve learnt since becoming a PM. Instead here is something a little different, some tips on how not to be a Project Manager.

Make false promises


The best way to keep a client happy is to say yes to everything and promise to fulfil all of their wildest dreams. Anything for a quiet life right? You’ve got a happy client, that’s what’s most important… Except the client’s dreams aren’t always possible, or highly recommended against by the expert minds in your team.

Imagine telling a child they can have a pet unicorn and then having to break the news later, when they chase that promise, that unicorns aren’t actually real. But they can have a horse with a cone on its head instead. Just be honest from the start or you will end up delivering a project below your client’s expectations.

By being honest, even if it’s not what your client wants to hear, they know exactly what to expect. Saying ‘no’ isn’t always bad, clients often learn from the advice given. Your colleagues know their stuff, that’s why they were hired in the first place.

When a client questions you about something you’re unsure of, it is always best to speak to your team. As a project manager, you won’t know all of the answers to technical questions and always know what is possible. Talk to your team before promising something you’re unsure of.

Project managers won’t always know the answers – talk to your team before making promises to clients.

Don’t write down lists


Waste of time, ink and paper? If you have a digital list what is the point in writing these down too? So time consuming and difficult to share quickly!

I disagree, physically ticking off something on a list is such a good feeling! I always include something already achieved in all the ‘to do lists’ I make. It may sound crazy, but it makes the list less daunting and pushes me to accomplish all of the other tasks. I’m also more likely to look at a list on paper, right in front of me. Whereas a digital list is easy to lose and forget about amongst 500 tabs.

Include an achieved task in your to-do list, to motivate you to complete the other tasks.

I’m aware this method may not work for everyone, but it is important to find a way to document tasks that works for yourself and your team. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not against digital lists. When it comes to sharing tasks at Createful, we use Teamwork. I spend most of my day using it and without the power of Teamwork my job would become very difficult!

Don’t communicate


You know what the client wants and they have chosen you from a pile of proposals, what else do you need to know? Don’t bother your colleagues, they’re busy designing and developing the project! Constant communication just slows down the project, no one wants that.

Pfft, communication is the most important factor of a project. Projects are constantly changing, initial plans often change and the only way these are discovered is by communicating as a team and with your client. It is extremely rare that nothing changes from your initial meeting.

Without communication, you end up assuming a lot. This can cause problems further down the line, making the project go on forever, which is exactly what you were trying to avoid! If unsure what your client is requesting, or what a colleague means, it’s always best to check. You don’t want your team to end up doing the wrong work or telling your client incorrect information.

When communicating with our clients through email or Teamwork I remember these points:

  • Keep messages detailed

This shows that you are genuinely interested in the conversation and have spent time responding in detail.

  • Watch out for exclamation marks

These can change the tone of a message in a way you hadn’t desired, use these carefully.

  • Proofread

‘Typos’ much like the above, can change the tone of a message and portray laziness.

  • Avoid technical terms

Messages should be easy for your client to understand. Internal conversations may use lots of jargon that means absolutely nothing to your client. Adapt to your reader.

  • Summarise

Use headings, avoid the reader having lingering questions, make sure the point of your email is clear. Always ask yourself, “what do you want to leave the reader thinking?”

Don’t track time


Timesheets are a waste of time, ironically. No one likes filling them out. As long as the work is done, who cares how long it took and what time was delegated to each aspect of the project?

You should! Your client is paying for this work based on time, so shouldn’t they know exactly how this time is being spent? Time tracking is also very useful internally, if a project is over the estimated time, you need to know why and how to avoid this in the future.

At Createful we use Harvest to track time. This is very useful when creating Account Reports for our clients. We like to send over a summary of how time has been spent each week. This gives our clients an insight into how much time is being spent on each factor.

Estimating time is very important. When approaching a new project, potential clients need to know how long they can expect it will take until their project is complete. You wouldn’t ask someone to build you a house without having an estimate of how long it will be until you can move in. Without tracking time on previous projects, it would be very difficult to estimate how long a new similar project will take.

Don’t reflect


Once a project is over, it’s over right? Why would you bother spending more time by having a meeting based on a project, which is finished?!

This is why, it is the ideal time to reflect on how the project went. This is when time tracking becomes useful, was the project over time? What aspects and why? Was everything delivered? How do the team and client feel? This is your chance to improve!

It’s natural to look back at your own experiences and learn from them. When you go out for a meal and the waiter tells you “be careful, the plate is very hot”, you have to touch it don’t you? Just to know how hot it actually is, then after scalding your hand you don’t touch it again.

It’s not so natural to look back at choices we make as a team. It’s definitely still good to look back at how you personally handled a project, but it’s also important to reflect as a team. You weren’t working on this project alone, everyone involved has a different outlook and each view is crucial in understanding a project. This is also why it’s useful to involve the client in a ‘sign off’ meeting, seeing how you are viewed by you clients is the best way to improve.

Now you know how not to be a project manager, it’s your choice – give these tips a try or avoid these methods at all costs.

Big thanks to Toby for the brilliant illustrations!

If you have any of your own tips, please share them with us. Join the conversation on Twitter.