5 principles of managing project teams effectively

Did you ever volunteer to organise a birthday party? Or a college fest? Or even a family holiday?Tthen you know how it feels when things get all mashed up in the last moment. The balloon vendor is saying he won’t come without advance payment in cash, and you only have cheques, or the hotel rooms have been booked in non AC rooms and your cousins are throwing a fit, or even that you forget to get a gift for the chief guest!

Project management is about getting things done, especially when the task at hand is large, complicated, has multiple people involved and lasts for weeks if not months. It requires planning, coordination, and lots and lots of teamwork.

Whether you are in the IT field, or marketing, or management, or a book publisher, or finance manager, or an businessman, at every stage of your career you will need to manage many different types of projects, and even many different projects at the same time. Your ability to execute on time, and on quality is going to be one of the key factors that determine not just your success, but also how well you sleep at night!

Based on my own personal experience working and leading many different types of teams, here are five principles that have made all the different between things not getting done they way they ought to have, and things getting done on time and on quality… everytime. So, here goes:

Principle no 1 - Know your freezing point.
Have you ever seen one of those old home made ice cream making machines? Imagine your mother is making mango ice-cream. She will mix mango pulp, condensed milk and sugar in the machine. The machine has a stirrer, which your mother will keep on rotating. The rotating action ensures that the mango pulp doesn’t settle and gets evenly mixed with the milk! But then, a point comes when the ice cream freezes. After that point, you cannot stir anymore, you cannot add any extra ingredients.

Most project teams, spend 90% of their time brainstorming, ideating and discussing. Only at the last moment, when they are almost out of time, they start taking decisions and moving into action. They end up feeling frustrated that so much time was wasted. Ideation and brainstorming is necessary, but after a point decisions must be taken. Things needs to be frozen, after which no more changes can be permitted.

In order to have more effective meetings, decide when the freezing point of the meeting should happen, even before the meetings starts. At that point, everyone stops giving new ideas, and moves into execution mode!

Principle No 2 - Vanilla is the mother of all ice creams.
Well, that not exactly true, but almost true. Whether its chocolate, butterscotch or strawberry ice-cream, it can be made with a combination of vanilla and chocolate, butterscotch flavour or crushed strawberry. The vanilla icecream is the base. Without that no ice cream exists. Not that the flavour is not important, but the vanilla ice creams is the essential foundation and the rest is flavour or toppings.

In you project team, the first focus should always be on the project essentials, without which the project cannot even exist. Do identify the toppings also, but first get cracking on the essentials. If you are planning an event, the essentials are the venue, the date and time, the invitation list, the budget and the activity plan. They need to be frozen first!

Focus on the essentials first and sort them out quickly. It will reduce the number of variables in your project and you will have time left to create some really killer toppings that will have the customers flocking in!

Principle No 3 -
I get all sorts of answers - from 1 to 20! But anyone who paid attention in geometry class will know that the right answer is 3. Three legs make a table stable. Thats why camera tripods always have 3 legs. A 4 legged table can always wobble. Depending on the size of the table, you may even have 6 or 8 legs.

In the course of your project, it is not always necessary for all team members to be present for every meeting! There are only two types of meetings in which you want to have everyone present - one is brainstorming or ideation meetings where you want many perspectives or opinions, and the other is celebration meeting when you want to share some good news!

For all other types of meetings, everyone is not required. Waiting for everyone to convene wastes precious time and costs too much coordination effort. So, wise up.. be clearly who is really needed for meeting. Fewer people means quicker decision and rapid action. Know how many legs make your table stable!

Principle No 4 - Dogs dont meow and cats dont bark!
Yup, thats right. Every species has their own way of communicating. They understand each other. In your project, you will have sub teams that are working on different tasks. The design team has to create the poster layout and hand it over to the venue team to print and display. When different teams are working on different tasks that need to be coordinated, their needs to be clarity and specificity in the communication. What size of poster is needed? In what format should it - pdf or photoshop? By what time do you need it? What kind of material should it be printed on? Will there be a stand or is that also needed?

There needs to be a clear language of communication and specific instructions that are agreed to even before the work starts! Else, the dogs will be attempting to meow, and the cats will be trying to bark, and mayhem is guaranteed!

Principle No 5 - this is an easy. It just has three words - Communicate. Communicate. Communicate!
Communications is the life blood that makes project work - or not. Communicating what worked is important. But communicating what went wrong is even more important. Many project teams shy away from saying NO if they cannot achieve a certain goal, or stating clearly that they will not be able to achieve the given milestones, or even that they made a goof up that will cost the project an extra day. When communication does not happen, the rest of the teams has no idea what is going on. Maybe someone could have helped. Maybe there was a solution. Maybe the team can learn something and prevent the next mistake even before it happens. But someone did not communicate!

Communicate what you did.
Communicate what you want to do.
Communicate what has given results.
Most importantly, communicate what could not do, or did wrong. Its a team project, after all!

So, there you go, the fives principles of effective project management…
Know your freezing point.
Vanilla is the mother of all ice creams.
How many legs make your table stable?
Dogs dont meow and cats dont bark!
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate!

Get out there and take on challenging projects. Get things done. Do. Create yourself!