Structure – the project manager’s mantra?

Posted by Arnt Eriksen in Nordic.Agency – April 16, 2015

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Structure - the project manager's mantra - Nordic.Agency

Nordic.Agency's Project Manager, Catharina Medin, has a few tips on how you can become more structured in your work - and some reasons why you really should!

Not the craziest statement and certainly not rocket science, but when I got home I started to reflect more about structure and it hit me that the word has gotten rather a negative tone, which is sad. I think it’s about time that we change this and finally give the word ”structure” the credibility it so deserves.

Project managers are often associated with structure and some people may even se us as square and dull people. I say they are wrong! I believe that you can be ”creatively structured”, or in other words be able to find all the gimmicks and tricks that will make your structured work practices seem both innovative and fun. Structure can be liberating because it reduced stress and makes us feel more balanced and happy. And what’s dull about feeling happy?

”Time is money” is a frequently used expression and today many companies live by that. They want to hire employees that are efficient and fast workers. To be able to cope with society’s high speed we need to find a good balance and feel that we are in control over time and not the opposite. When we lose that control that’s when we start to feel powerless which indirectly leads to stress. To take control over time is crucial!

A common misunderstanding is that structure requires a lot of time, but it doesn’t have to be like that at all. If you create a good working practice and find the right tools, structure will rather give back time than to steal it. Now I’m going to share some of my personal tips that we try to live by at Nordic.Agency:

Be curious and try new things. Read blogs, attend seminars or something as simple as discuss the subject with friends and colleagues. Find knowledge and inspiration so you can try what works best for you. Many people don’t reflect over how they could be more structured and efficient in their work, they are simply stuck in old patterns and habits. I believe that many times it’s just as simple as to stop for a moment, look up, observe, be curious, start thinking and try things, until you find something that works.

Be personal. Structure is personal, no one but YOU decides whether it works or not! What works for you colleague doesn’t necessarily have to work for you. Dare to ask questions! If the templates and routines doesn’t meet your needs, make your own. Why use something that’s awkward and difficult just because ”you have always done so”? Continuity is the key to a successful structure and to have the strength to use something during a longer period of time. Make it user-friendly, adjustable and keep it simple.

Make lists and create foresight. Write down immediately when a new task turns up, don’t wait! Write an actual physical to-do list, where you explain in your own words shortly what needs to be done. Prioritize right. I go by something as simple as a classic numbering system, where 1 stands for priority one, 4 stands for four etc. It can be a good idea to sometimes look ahead in the calendar. If your workload for some reason is on the lower side, start thinking about how you can plan ahead and if you can begin to work on any of the future tasks now. Few things are more pleasing that the feeling of totalt control and being ahead of planning. If you don’t finish the task today there is no major stress since the deadline is in a distant future. So being ahead of schedule minimizes stress. It’s somewhat important not to exaggerate and realize that just because you are ahead and have finished your tasks before deadline that doesn’t mean they will go away. New tasks will appear all the time, so it’s important so find a suitable pace that minimizes your stress level rather than increases it.

Stop multitasking. For me it works better to allocate my time for one task at a time rather than jumping between 2-3 tabs on the computer trying to be everywhere and satisfy everyone at the same time. If I focus on one thing at a time I will become more efficient and finish the task sooner so that I can move on to the next one. If a new task shows up, stop for a second and reflect, when does it need to be done? Is is real important or can you finish what you’re working on first? We tend to get stressed out whenever we get a new task assigned so we lose our focus from what we are currently working on and it takes a moment to find it again, which is both frustrating and not very efficient. That’s why I try to devote my full attention to one task at a time and take care of the rest later.

Communication equals structure. Communication is vital for creating a successful project. It doesn’t matter that you work structured and efficient if no one else does. You are a team and so you also have to work like one. Make sure everyone has access to information and knows about your goals and what is going on in the project. Find what channels works for you. Have weekly meetings. Be transparent – share documents and maps with each other. Communications is not all about talking, it’s also about listening. Be responsive and have confidence in each other. It will be scary at first but try to decontrol and you will become much tighter as a team and reach better results if everyone feels on board.

Maintain the relationship. Some project managers will only get in touch at the beginning of a project and when it’s time to deliver. I try to be visible and stay in touch during the whole process. Even though we haven’t made any major steps since last we made contact, I think it’s good to keep up a dialogue. We want our clients to feel that we are really there for them and not letting go after closing a deal. Like any good relationship it needs to be nourished. However, it’s important to think about the amount of information. ”Keep it simple”. What does the person «need to know» and what is a more «nice to know»? Always define the purpose of the information and it will get easier to screen out the nonsense.