Let’s get real for a moment… A project’s success is a reflection of the PM in charge.  Sure, it would be easy to blame someone within the team, or the client, but we are PMs and our job does not allow the luxury of finger-pointing.  Sure, there are some things that happen that are out of our hands and that we can’t control, so let’s go deeper into looking at what we can control and manage:  Project Management is a trade which takes daily action and consistent follow-up, especially in EPC Projects.  EPC projects include having to manage multidisciplinary undertakings which need tight monitoring and controlling to ensure project success.  And here, while there may be many excuses as to why certain action items weren’t completed, or why the project wasn’t met on time,  having self-discipline is necessary to initiating and completing a successful project.  After all, a team leader, AKA PM, sets the tone for the rest of his or her team.

Having systems and procedures in place does not mean the project will be on time or within budget.  Sure, they may help, but it comes down to individual responsibilities.  As a Project Director (PD) and the head of PMO in my organization, running multiple projects in parallel I have daily challenges to get the project teams to follow up on their activities and follow through with their action items.  And it is of the upmost importance that I make sure they do what they need to do because the success of the project is a reflection of me, my company and our reputation.

The biggest challenge I have is ensuring that each individual manages him or herself constructively and follows through completely with their action items. It can come down to the way they take notes, the way they record actions, the way they listen and understand the necessary to-dos and how to do them efficiently. All of this depends on the way I lead – as Robin Sharma says it – and pave the way forward to get the project done.  A project’s success is a direct reflection of the Project manager managing the project.  If I don’t have any self-discipline and if I don’t set the example for my team, it is silly of me to expect it from my team.  If I start pointing fingers and laying blame as to why certain things happen, I am no longer the project manager for that project, and have become instead part of the problem.  And PMs are supposed to respond to and manage problems, not BE the problem.

When I ask team members about the progress of a specific activity, often what happens is that I end up hearing all the reasons they can’t complete their job.  I hear that we have to wait for feedback from the supplier, from the client or from the sub-Contractors and so on. This is a typical block for progress and one that I have encountered in almost all of my projects.

A good practice to move forward is to find activities which can be done while waiting for the input or the answer from the client, the supplier or whomever.  It is silly to stop the whole project while waiting for one person’s feedback on an item.  There is always something to be done. Furthermore, it is important to set a reminder to follow up with the client or supplier regularly to keep things on schedule. If there is still no answer after a certain amount of time, then it is time to call for a meeting either via Skype or face to face with whomever is holding up the sequence of actions.  Perhaps they are facing a challenge that also needs to be rectified.

The above may seem like common sense, however doing this for multiple projects and over many years, this is usually where the challenges begin. In other words, there are multiple inputs for daily actions, meetings and deliverables. If one key person is not coordinated and disciplined, or doesn’t take notes and record actions, challenges and hold-ups can and will happen.

To avoid a hold-up that could compromise time and money, it is important to create awareness in the team that they have to show personal leadership and take notes and record actions with clear definitions, due dates and responsibilities.  You don’t have to micro-manage them, you need to empower them as the PMP on board.  And this is where note-taking and listening skills are critical.  If one person is weak in taking notes and forgets one role in his or her job function, it can hold up the entire project.  This is where I request, from the beginning of the project, for everyone to take records or notes in bullet point form which can be translated into minutes of meetings or actions later on. These duties must be clear upfront so that you set your project and your team up for success.

The next step is to define the tools for note-taking and action-planning in the form of self-management. During the good ol’ days (back before our smart-phones, tablets and PM apps), we had paper books with calendars, action lists and notes.  We had to literally write and record everything down.  Today it is built into every smart phone, tablet or computer software. I am a fan of my iPad which is small and practical to take to every meeting.

SOME HELPFUL APPS:

I am using Evernote for note-taking which is synced with my smart phone and my computer via cloud. It is a really great tool to record text, files, pictures and voice reminders.  You can even set alarms and personal reminders as well.

For the task management side of things I am using OmniFocus, which provides comprehensive functionality for action-planning with reminders also.  Most of these apps can be synced with all your technologically advanced devices.
From the notes and actions I have, I then add it to my calendar to follow-up as scheduled.

In short, these are the key principles of self management: To make it habit of listening and taking notes, to train yourself into weekly planning and daily review and to make it your self-leadership discipline a number 1 priority in your career.

Again, a project’s success is a direct reflection of the project manager and his or her ability to lead the team.  We do not get paid to lay blame or justify shabby results.  We are expected to deliver.  And if you want your team to have good practices, you must demonstrate them yourself first.  As a PM, set the tone so that you set you and your team up for success.

Peter Wyss is an expert on: Railway Projects, System Integration, Renewable Energy Projects, Project Management, Scrum Master, Agile Project Management, Risk Management, Rescue Troubled Projects, Contract Management, Project Consulting, Project Management Office, Project Management Training, Project Assessments, EPC(M) Projects, Program Management, Project Management Coaching, Virtual team management in Global projects. You can find him at his website and Linkedin.