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Ten New Rules for Project Managers

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By Hal Macomber, Project Reformer

  1. Projects are wonderful opportunities to learn.

    Adopt practices for exploring a variety of perspectives.
    We think we see what we see, but we don't. We really see what we think. Remember the blind men and the elephant. Make it your habit to inquire what others see. You'll see more together.

  2. Stay close to your customer.
    Clients' concerns evolve over the life of a project. Take advantage of that to over-deliver. Stay in a conversation with your client to adjust what you are doing.
  3. Take care of your project team.
    We've come to accept that the customer comes first…the customer is always right. We can't take care of the customer if we first aren't taking care of our project team. It's a challenge. While there are some things we can do for the whole team, it comes down to taking care of each team member as the individual that he or she is. And to make it more difficult, then we must bring their various interests into coherence.
  4. Keep your eye on the overall project promises.
    Project work can be difficult. It is easy to loose sight of what we are doing and why we are doing it. Remind your team and yourself of the overall promises and how you are doing fulfilling those promises.
  5. There is far more that we don't know and can't know than what we can anticipate.

    Build relationships intentionally.
    Project teams come together as strangers. To do great work…innovation, learning, and collaboration…all take people who like and care for each other. Don't leave that to chance. Start your projects by building relationships among team members.

  6. Tightly couple learning with action.
    Projects are wonderful opportunities to learn. Don't put that off for the after project lessons learned. Make it your habit to incorporate learning loops in all your project activities. Your team will appreciate it. Your customer will benefit from it. And best of all, it will make your job easier.
  7. Coordinate meticulously.
    A project is an ever-evolving network of commitment. Keep that network activated by tending to the critical conversations. See that people are making clear requests, promises that have completion dates, and share opinions that advance the purposes of the project. Without attention to those critical conversations the project will drift.
  8. Collaborate. Really collaborate.
    Make it your rule to plan with those people who will be the performers of the plan. Don't wait 'til the project has gone south to get their help. Start out that way. Continue collaborating as the usual way you work through the project.
  9. Listen generously.
    People are able to say what they can in the moment. For the most part, people are well-intended. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Take the time to listen. Ask questions. Seek others' opinions. And while you're at it, don't be so harsh on yourself.
  10. Embrace uncertainty.
    Expect the unexpected. There is far more that we don't know and can't know than what we can anticipate. Be resilient to what life throws at you. Anticipate that your team will learn something along the way that can and should change what you have promised and how you can deliver on your promises. And when you take a set-back — we all do sometime or another — review the other nine rules for how you can work your way out of it.

© 2004 Hal Macomber. Reforming Project Management www.reformingprojectmanagement.com Share freely with attribution.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark Bick April 15, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Hal, thanks for the list, well thought out. I am glad to see that all the rules are related to people or more correctly the relationships between people and not a project management methodology or structured process. Refreshing. Thanks.

2 Brad Edmonds June 6, 2009 at 11:07 am

These are the so-called little things that are often over-looked or neglected. One cannot simply say, “I followed the project process.” You can follow the project process from a procedure standpoint but if the little things are not grasped and regularly followed, the project is at risk of going South. Project management would be the perfect profession – if you can eliminate the human element.

3 Andy December 17, 2009 at 2:53 am

Very good rules, particularly rule 3: One cannot overemphasize the importance of project collaboration as a mean to get both visibility, and accountability for the stakeholders.

4 Andy December 23, 2009 at 4:08 am

I also agree that it’s good the list is about the people / emotional / team side of the project. Too often a project methodology is embraced almost as a religious philosophy, a panacea if you like for “making projects work”. Often what is missing from the project are the softer / fuzzy elements. Projects almost always involve change and you as a Project Manager need to understand the emotional impact of the change and guide your team and the stakeholders and onlookers through this change.

5 Bruno Ciano May 3, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Very good rules.

6 Robert May 4, 2010 at 7:57 pm


While I enjoyed the list, I was a bit embarrassed. Each point was spot on and so easy to implement, but I have missed some here and there. This is a good one to post on the wall… a reminder.


7 IT Support May 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Useful list – No. 7 is a key one for me, it easy to loose track of why the project was undertaken in the first place

8 Geoff Crane May 20, 2010 at 5:38 pm

What I love about this post is that it speaks so clearly to the softer side of project management. There’s so much stuff on process and earned value and math and reports, but the elements in this list are the very things nobody talks about…and the very things that can make a project successful! Thanks for this!

9 Bill Duncan October 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Hal — GREAT list! Funny how much of this as actually in the original PMBoK Guide, and how much of it has been lost as PM training seems to focus on preparing for the PMP exam rather than for life as a project manager.

10 waqar January 14, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Hm, well your list giving me taste of relationship management instead of project management. However your list is valid but not complete in case of project management.

For example I would like to highlight one element of project management, “SCOPE PLANNING”, which is very important element and restricts your customer to stay in boundary and wait for changes. Many others like RISK MANAGEMENT, CONTROLLING are missing from list.

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