Carol Smith manages communities, programs, and partnerships. She has previously worked at GitHub managing partnerships and most recently at Google managing google summer of Code. She has a degree in Journalism from California State University, Northridge, and is a cook, cyclist, and horseback rider.

Project Management for the Rest of Us

I’ve written on this blog before about how to work with others if you are a project manager, but here are some things to think about if you’re not. You may not realize it, but you are probably using project management in your day-to-day life right now. People use project management to manage their households, to take control of their email inbox, and to look after their finances.

Project management has two simple parts to it: a negotiation and a system of organization (sometimes not in that order). Ever heard of Inbox Zero? That’s project management. Ever read the article Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule? That’s project management. We don’t think of those things as project management, most likely, because they make inherent sense to us. Take a second to look at the different areas of your work and personal life and think about where you are acting like the project manager. Remember, all there has to be is some sort of system of organization and some negotiation.

We don’t like those project managers at work who look over our shoulders and tsk tsk when we haven’t delivered on time, and so we tend to assign the dirty words “project management” to the person or the things that interfere with us getting things done at work.

Happily, it’s ok if you don’t want to call what you’re doing in your everyday life “project management.” You can optimize a lot of the project management in your life simply by following a few basic tenets:

  1. Use common sense. If you’re trying to get someone to do something for you, if you’re trying to figure out why something’s not getting done, if you’re working with someone who’s already stressed, use common sense when you’re approaching the relationship. If you’re emailing them and they’re not answering, don’t just keep sending emails. If things aren’t getting delivered on time, don’t just keep asking why it hasn’t been delivered, try to get a bigger view of the problem and figure out other solutions.
  2. Be a poop umbrella, not a poop funnel. This concept isn’t actually mine, but I love it so much I use it all the time. A good project manager is someone who protects the people she’s working with from outside “poop” and makes sure they all have what they need to get their jobs done.
  3. Get to know the people you work with and understand what motivates them. I had a colleague who used to put tiaras on the heads of a couple of the engineers she worked with whenever they did a great job on something. She didn’t do that with everyone, though: she knew the engineers so well she had a way to motivate each of them individually. Some of them she bought beer for and some of them she simply sent a kind “thank you” email to. Figure out what makes your colleagues tick and use that to motivate them.
  4. Reduce waste and stress. It really doesn’t matter what the subject or area is, if you are working as a project manager, your job is to reduce waste and stress however you can. Even if all we’re talking about is getting your inbox to zero, examining the mailing lists and people that send you email will help you reduce waste. If you are at work, consider what’s stressing your colleagues out and if there are ways to help them out of those situations.
  5. Learn some negotiation skills. This might be the most “difficult” idea I will suggest to you on this blog. But I have to say, it is also the most important. I cannot emphasize enough how much you will improve your day-to-day life if you work on your ability to negotiate effectively with others.

Imposter Syndrome and Why Project Management Isn’t a “Real Job”

Managing a Community is Hard to Do