What’s selling have to do with project management? It may not be obvious, but strong project management skills are essential for top performing sales people—both for helping our customers buy and for effectively leveraging our own resources in the process.
Think about it, a moment. Our customers have a project–not a buying journey. They need to implement a new financial system, acquire new machine tools, implement a new IT infrastructure, design/build/ship a new product.
Each of these is a collection of projects. They have defined goals, a deadline for completing the project, a lot of activities required to complete the project, and perhaps milestones, by which they measure their progress. They create a plan by which they manage all these things to achieve their goals/on time. (If this sounds a lot like a buying/selling process–those are just forms of projects.)
There are various methodologies organizations may use in approaching projects. Some use lean/agile project management approaches, or phased, or critical path, or iterative. There are a variety of tools–GANTT charts, PERT Charts, Critical Path Diagrams. The approach may be informal or formal–though research shows a more formal approach to project management is more effective.
Regardless, how one approaches project management, there are some fundamental principles of great project management.
- The only reason to have a project in the first place is to achieve a goal. Whether it’s to launch a new product, or a new initiative, or a new strategy, or to solve a problem, the project has a well defined goal that everyone involved in the project understands.
- All projects start with the end in mind. There is a specific goal/objective the team is trying to achieve–and that goal is time based.
- That time based goal is sacred. Great project managers will do everything they can to maintain the integrity of achieving that goal. The worse thing they can do is to continually slip that target date. (more on this later)
- They have a road map that guides them to achieve that goal. They look at all the things that need to be done, developing the plans on how to get them done. Many activities are done in parallel, some must be completed before others are started. But they outline these, seeking to compress them as much as possible. They think in terms of completion.
- They have milestones to measure progress. Since meeting their goal is critical, they have to have a way to measure progress against that goal. It may be something as simple as a calendar with tasks that have to be completed by certain dates, it may be more complex.
- They recognize the project plans have to be dynamic–but not random. There are two principles here, they have a plan, they just don’t let things happen, hoping to achieve the goal. They know what they have to do to achieve the goal. They recognize that sh*t happens. Things don’t go according to plan. Things slip, unanticipated things occur, mistakes are made. They recognize they have to continually adjust the plan, based on what the learn and what happens in the process.
- They always adjust with the end in mind. Remember, the target completion goal is sacred. Great project managers will do everything they can to meet that goal. They recognize the plan will need to change and be adjusted through the project, so as they adjust their plans, they start at the end and work backward. Re sequencing the activities, adjusting the milestones, but doing everything they can to keep the target completion and goal constant.
- They recognize everything can change—but the end goal. I’m repeating myself, but great project managers are goal driven. They recognize if they continually slip their completion date, it impacts their ability to achieve their goals. The very last thing the project manager wants to change is that completion goal.
A lot of this may sound familiar. These are the same principles great sales people leverage in helping customers buy, helping them navigate the buying process, achieving their goals, and enabling the sales person to achieve her goal.
Is your organization teaching your sales people about project management? Are you showing them how to leverage project management principles, skills, tools to help their customers get things done? Are your people helping your customers more effectively manage their projects? Are you setting the example by effectively managing and executing projects within your own companies.
Our customers think in terms of projects, perhaps we should too.