If you’ve ever worked on a project that was led by a project manager, you might’ve marveled at how they stay so organized, maintain calm in high-pressure situations, and keep everyone on schedule. Project managers use a variety of skills and processes to plan and oversee a project’s many moving pieces and keep things running smoothly. And while some people have a natural inclination towards organization and structure, these are also skills that you can learn and develop on your own.
No matter your role or experience, honing project management skills can help you work more effectively. “Knowing how to break a project down into the steps that need to get done and who needs to do those steps — even if it’s just yourself and one other person — is transferrable to almost anything anyone needs to do,” says Maygen Keller, Senior Project Manager at Codecademy.
Before joining Codecademy, Maygen worked as a Stage Manager for theaters in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Theater work lends itself well to most other industries since it involves collaborating with many other people, she says. The skills she developed as a Stage Manager translated directly into her current role in tech. Ahead, Maygen highlights three project management skills that will help you keep your assignments on track, be a standout contributor, and maintain motivation to reach your individual goals.
Project managers need to synthesize tons of information for different audiences and stakeholders. For example, Maygen regularly meets with our curriculum developers, the experts who create lessons and content for courses and paths, and our marketing team that promotes the content. “I have to be involved in conversations where various experts are coming together to strategize,” she says. “But I also have to be the expert on the project as I’m talking to stakeholders who aren’t experts and don’t really need all of the information.”
Knowing how to adjust your messaging according to your audience is a key skill in any job, and it’s crucial as you start taking on more leadership roles. Here are a few examples of how this might look in different tech roles:
- A lead designer providing features and layouts to be built for a website to the design team and explaining how these choices will influence conversion rates to the wider company.
- A content marketer providing assignments to a team of freelancers and explaining to their manager how the resulting articles will help them appeal to audiences with relevant interests.
- A product manager making a case for developing a new app feature and proposing a budget and timeline to the CEO.
Managing one person’s workload is a full-time job, let alone multiple people’s responsibilities, which is why project managers need strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These skills help with breaking a project down into specific tasks, allocating resources, setting timelines, and removing barriers so team members can fulfill their requirements. “People often find that administrative things distract them from the work they actually do,” Maygen says. “I like to look at it as getting things out of the way so people can focus on what they’re there to do.”
Want to learn effective problem-solving strategies? Sign up for our upcoming soft skills session on November 9. A management and leadership expert will break down the essentials of creative problem solving and show you how to present your ideas and information with impact.
At the core of all the deadlines and moving pieces are real people with emotions, external stressors, and lives outside of work. “You have to find risks and blockers, and it’s all very analytical and tactical so it’s easy to lose the humanity of it,” Maygen says. “The classic example is that human beings are often referred to as resources in the project management world, which is so dehumanizing.”
Of course, the group of people involved in a project are much more than just resources, which is why humanity and empathy are crucial to effective project management, Maygen says. Effective project managers assign people to the work that suits them best, and they’re also mindful of the human element and remain conscientious of their team’s needs.
For example, a big part of a project manager’s job is to identify blockers and come up with solutions. “A blocker doesn’t have to be technical,” Maygen says. “You could be really sick, or have trouble context switching, or just have too much on your plate. Those are all very real reasons why a project could be delayed.”
Build your project management skills
If you want a full sense of the responsibilities and methods around project management, Maygen suggests talking to (or shadowing) a project manager you know. Even if they’re not in your industry, you can learn a lot about the career and what it takes to succeed. You can also seek out opportunities to take on project manager responsibilities without the official title of project manager. For example, volunteer to formalize a process for your team or introduce a new way to manage calendars and deadlines. Start learning the ins and outs of project management in our free course Introduction to Project Management.
And if you need help building your communication, problem-solving, and empathy skills, don’t forget to sign up for our upcoming three-part soft skills series. We’ll explore the most important soft skills you need for a tech career and teach you how to start building and practicing them. In the second session on November 9, we’ll show you how to effectively plan and prioritize tasks for the next project you participate in or manage.