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How to get on top in project management

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Man With Crowd

Project managers who have been around for a while will, I am sure, recognise some of the techniques below as being the critical skills needed to succeed in the cut-throat world of projects; others who are just starting out – take note and always try to practice the following*:

Try to work well with others

Surround yourself with a team of really talented people, making sure they are less streetwise than you; this way you can personally take the credit for their good work, while demonstrating your excellent leadership skills. And ensure you get at least one project director (or other really senior person) to buy into whatever initiative you are working on; this way you can always get colleagues to fall in line by dropping the hint that ‘X and the board are really expecting this to happen…’ – No-one will dare to dissent.

Always remember that at the heart of all decisions there is an emotion, and your job is to make sure that emotion is either fear or anger, especially if the decision isn’t yours to make – this will stand you in good stead later during the inquest.

It’s OK to be completely ruthless with colleagues, but always be aware that the toes and fingers you step on as you climb the ladder of success may be connected to what you have to kiss on your way down.

Use deadlines to your advantage – and here there are several subtips:

  • Get your tame director to believe that the deadline is achievable (even if it isn’t).
  • Make sure everyone knows the dire consequences of missing the deadline.
  • Even better to make it really soon – this leaves no time for other options.

Use tools the right way

If you produce a report or technical paper, always make it as long-winded as possible with the critical decisions or bad news well-hidden; always send it for review by the most senior people possible – this ensures that they will never get round to reading it, but you can record it was sent to them for review (and they didn’t have any comments).

If possible, always communicate your project material using PowerPoint rather than peer-reviewed papers (these are for wimps); everyone loves a slideshow, especially project boards and you will appear more professional when you present it. Ensure that you keep one step ahead of everyone who gets a copy of the slideshow by updating it immediately after hitting the send button; when questioned later about errors, you can put down the smarty-pants by saying they are reading an old copy.

If there is an opportunity to use social media to run your project, then grasp this golden nugget with both hands; there is absolutely no audit trail so you can’t be held to blame, and you can call out the dinosaurs who don’t use it.

Whenever you create a report or presentation, make sure you are skilled at producing eye-candy graphics; people only remember how good they looked, not the bad news they were telling. The spin-off is that other teams might ask you do theirs as well, which is easier than working for a living.

If there’s an opportunity to introduce visualisation techniques, this is a great way to get things done, since after an hour of standing around in a huddle squinting at multiple A4 reports pinned to a notice board 3 metres away, people will agree to anything as long as they can sit down and have a cup of tea.

If you include hyperlinks to evidence documents, make sure these can never work – this allows you to blame the other person’s IT setup, while claiming ‘…it works fine on my system’.

Cultivate the culture of dashboards at all costs

This will earn you considerable brownie points with the board (who don’t have time to read long reports) and at the same time will allow you to grow your team significantly in order to produce them; to leverage this even more, make the dashboards weekly or daily, and introduce multiple variants.

Make sure the dashboards contain plenty of optimistic graphics but ensure that dire caveats are written in dense blocks of unreadable 2-point text (you told them, they should have seen it.)

Don’t be afraid to invoke the powers of darkness (AKA software updates); no one will ever be able to prove that the massive mistake in your outturn costs wasn’t entirely due to a bug in version 4.1.

Learn to be jargon and standards-savvy

When you find yourself in a in a difficult spot, citing a critical standard can be gold-dust; no one will feel brave enough to question it, and if you can actually quote sections from it, you will achieve rock-star status.

If anyone mentions the Iron Triangle of cost/time/quality, just remember that ‘done beats perfect’ and of course no one will mind if you completely sacrifice the Cinderella of this trio – quality – in order to finish on time and in budget. Conversely, simply invoke the Iron Triangle if you need more time or budget, insisting that without increases to both, you can’t deliver a quality product.

Use phrases like ‘Float’ and ‘Critical Path’ gratuitously (there is no need to learn the maths behind it as no-one will ever ask); when other people wise up and start using the phrase, cunningly switch to another, perhaps ‘Critical Chain’ in order to stay ahead of the game.

Project managers need to know all about risk – and the most important thing to learn is that the risk needs to be everyone else’s, never yours. Don’t forget change control. You don’t need to do anything, but just remember the phrase.

When you have absolutely no idea how to proceed, introduce the term ‘Agile’ into everything you do – this will allow you to try out lots of things until something actually works.

Leave a legacy

Cultivate the ability to always name-drop your ‘Last Big Project’, as this will give you gravitas while silencing others without such an illustrious pedigree. No-one will remember that your Last Big Project was a total disaster.

On the keyboard of life, always keep one finger on the Escape key: always choose the moment of your departure for pastures green to coincide with a bold new initiative you have just introduced; you won’t be around when it all goes belly up and you can impress your new employer with your ability to produce bold new initiatives ‘that make all the difference’.

*Above all else, remember that blogs are just opinions, nothing is as it may seem and the sure fire way to get through any project is to maintain your sense of humour…I promise.

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  1. Troy Freeman
    Troy Freeman 22 February 2021, 12:59 PM

    A great read, Tim, as ever. Removing tongue from cheek, it does hit home how often the opportunity to flatter and invoke arises. I was at a branch meeting way back when someone, on their presentation debut, decided to wax lyrical about float. Up went a hand: "What do you mean by float?" someone opined. In response, with the presenter now clearly floundering under the challenge, the retort was "Well slack. Slack. I'm talking about slack". After 5 seconds of shoe gazing, they then nodded sagely in unison; a blind checkmate if ever I saw one

  2. sulmann lioo
    sulmann lioo 27 August 2021, 04:03 PM

    good post like it