You need to be well organised to be an effective project manager

How well organised are you and how well organised do you need to be to be an effective project manager?

This was a question raised on one of our recent project management courses by one of the participants and caused a lot of discussion and problems for some of those present.

Problems for those present; this was because several did not feel they were well organised. They were surprisingly open and honest and cited:

• desks piled high with papers
• creating to do lists and losing them creating further lists (effectively wasting time and doing ‘busy work’
• having a reputation for being late – at meetings, at delivering key milestones and checking on team members delivery of tasks

Two people in the project management course were very quiet and when I brought them into the discussion they said they felt they were organised, had good systems (including diary management), and in general felt that this contributed to them being effective project managers.

So, I issued a challenge to the quiet ones on the project management course; why not help those on the course who said they were not very well organised? They readily accepted the challenge and I left them to work out how this could be done. I did however ask for feedback. The results were encouraging (3 weeks after the course ended):

I now have a diary management system which I have just about got used to. It will help me plan my time much better

• I am no longer late for meetings. In fact I get there too early

• My desk is a lot tidier and I am aware of the need for paperwork to be filed and kept to a minimum

The bottom line message was that they felt better organised.  Like any project the impact of these changes may take a while to come through, however, as one person said: “I now feel I will be a better project manager.”

So, what do you think? Are your organisational skills helping or hindering you to deliver your projects and do you need to be well organised to be an effective project manager?  

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11 Responses to You need to be well organised to be an effective project manager

  1. Hi Ron – good discussion topic. I’m glad you followed up with the course participants to see how things were going. Yes, you must be well-organized to be a good project manager. There are few job fields where you can operate better out of chaos – these involve highly creative people who have their own method to their madness. With pretty much everything else, unless you are organized you cannot do your job well. A PM has to have excellent organization skills. Those who attended your conference and said they didn’t have these skills may have been pushed into the field without proper training or experience?

  2. Cheryl says:

    I must dis-agree. My desk is piled high, nothing is filed “appropriately” yet I know where everything is, know exactly what it is that needs to be done on my projects and when, and by whom. I am not late to meetings unless it is out of my control. I consider myself extremely organized, despite the condition of my papers. I really regret those that try to push us “not clean deskers” into a “your desk must be clean or else how can you work” mentality. It just doesn’t fit all of us you know. Clean desks do not equate to organization or to poor performance. Am I effective? I believe so. It is the people skills that I most focus on for effectiveness (and those, I am trying to get better at, the heck with the filing).

  3. Ron says:

    Thanks for the comments from you both.

    Laura you raise the point…”Those who attended your conference and said they didn’t have these skills may have been pushed into the field without proper training or experience?”

    More than likely as this is the world many find themselves in. The purpose of the course is to give them some project management skills however not the personal organisational skills we are referring to here.

    Cheryl. I’m delighted you see yourself as organised. I am not trying to push you or anyone into having a clean desk. This is essentially a metaphor used by those who came along to our event (and indeed said by many many more who have come along to other Project Agency events) that it does not contribute to being organised. I have personally coached individuals and they have come up with the need to be better organised and cited a badly organised desk as a key issue….cited by them!

    The key point is that project managers need to well organised and some believe they are not as well organised as they should be.

  4. Nilesh says:

    Hi Ron,

    One quick suggestion is to follow what I call Plan Monday and Review Friday technique. I would be happy to share this if people are interested in this.

    Nilesh Joglekar

  5. Ron says:

    Nilesh. Why not share it with us. Sounds interesting.


  6. David Green says:

    I think one thing missing for new project managers is that they come from a direct work background and are thrust into the completely different world of management without matching training. Direct work is characterised by relatively few ‘loose ends’ at one time; management is characterised by constant loose ends, problems to identify and resolve, people to contact, follow up and negoatiate with, organisation issues to address, etc., etc.
    Appropriate software well used can assist (thinking of Meridian’s Prolog, or Zoot PIM, for example, not MS Project), but then it comes down to diligent use of diary, meeting agendas, making task lists (I find Microsoft Outlook v. helpful in this). There are lots of internet resources on this, such as Dave Allens ‘Getting Things Done’ and Mark Forsters ‘Get Everything Done’ blog.

  7. Ron says:

    Thanks David. I think you use important words:

    for new project managers ……are thrust into the completely different world of management without matching training. I think project management training does help. However, what will also help is training in a variety of management topics including finance – see also which suggests that there are other ways to develop (project management) skills.

  8. Great discussion guys. I have to say with a guilty look on my face that I am on the “organised chaos” side of project management.

    However, I am constantly told that my bandwidth is a little like the M25 and just keeps getting bigger to accommodate so I’m not going to beat myself up too much. I am known for high quality delivery but not for a neat desk.

    I spend most of my time on projects working with the team, talking to stakeholders and resolving issues. Meanwhile, paperwork, lists and logs get done as a secondary consideration.

    Other project managers work the other way around and both methods are equally viable as long as the end result is a well managed project.

    If you are a project manager who elegantly delivers a neat filing system, a well-defined multi-million pound project and a happy team on time and budget with no quality issues then come and work for me!


  9. Ron says:

    Thanks Steph for being so honest….”I am constantly told that my bandwidth is a little like the M25….” quite a quote.

    But, you go onto describe your way of working and I have no problem with this at all.

    The key is knowing what works for you. The interesting thing is they work for you whereas in the course I ran there were people openly saying that their poor organisation was having a negative impact on the project. That is honesty!


  10. Pete says:

    I think “organised” here can mean different things to different people in reality as long as you’re not bouncing round in different directions and changing peoples focus you’re probably more organised than you think just not in the traditional nice and tidy everything written down sort of way.

  11. Ron says:

    quite correct Pete. The issue is when pesonal organisation gets in the way.

    Many thanks for your contribution.


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