6 Ways to Be a Project Manager When You Are Not a Project Manager

You are very good at what you do. You may be in marketing, finance, operations, or even sales. Your peers recognize and appreciate you for the contribution you make to the team. You keep everyone on the same page, serve as a subject matter expert in areas that few people have answers to and love digging into the details. You keep the team motivated, compile a project report when asked, serve as a listening ear when people need someone to talk to, and make sure the best ideas are not overlooked but implemented in the department going forward.

Your peers talk about what a great project manager you are. There’s only one problem, however. You’re not a project manager! That’s right….that’s not your job. You came on board as an SEO guru or accounts receivable expert, or training manager or pre-sales coordinator. You don’t know anything about work breakdown structures, milestones, deliverables, work packages, project reporting software, crashing a project, resource allocations, or cost overruns. But, you do have the innate ability and gift to keep people organized so the work gets done and out the door.

What to do? While it is extra work, you do enjoy keeping people organized. And, truth be known, it makes your life a little easier as well. You work with some chaotic types that, let’s just say, are not as encumbered by organizational skills as you are. They’ve never even read a report generated from any reporting software. Keeping them on track makes your work that much easier to accomplish since you depend upon them to finish their job before you start.

If you enjoy this type of work, don’t mind putting in a little extra time, and have even considered transitioning over to a project manager position…then the following 6 tips will help you be a project manager even when you are not a project manager.

#1. Get input from everyone

6 Ways to Be a Project Manager When You Are Not a Project Manager

6 Ways to Be a Project Manager When You Are Not a Project Manager


A lesson project managers learn early on is that if they have not included the thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes from all stakeholders then their project will fall on hard times.

The first time a project veers off track and inconveniences one group or another you will hear phrases like “they never asked me”“I knew that was a problem but never got the opportunity to tell them”, or “that’s the first time I heard about this.” This is typically followed by a commensurate level of not wanting to help fix the problem. Make sure to ask everybody if they have any thoughts about the endeavor that is about to get underway. Even if their answer is “No”, then they have had the ability to provide their input.

#2. Start tracking with a spreadsheet

If you are not an MS Project aficionado or an expert on another piece of project reporting software, then playing the part of a project manager can start out as simply as tracking the agreed upon tasks (from step 1 above) in a spreadsheet.This may be sacrilege to some project managers. We are not talking about using a spreadsheet in perpetuity. However, a spreadsheet is a great place to start to quickly compile and update a list of tasks, owners, due dates, status, and associated risks. This can then be used as the foundation for a basic project report as well as serve as the source of activity that can feed into a full-blown project management system.

#3. Compile and work from your daily to-do list

6 Ways to Be a Project Manager When You Are Not a Project Manager

6 Ways to Be a Project Manager When You Are Not a Project Manager

Now that you have received input from everyone, have the big picture captured on a spreadsheet (or similar) program, you can now start putting your daily to-do list to work from.

You know you need to follow up on a particular part of the project that is due today, have a project report to compile for the owner’s of the company, and a meeting scheduled to get approval on a new technology that is being implemented. Not all of these will be spelled out on the basic spreadsheet tracking plan from step #2, but this plan is what feeds into your daily to-do list. This will help keep you and your team on track.

#4. Use the classic 4-blocker as a simple project report

While PowerPoint may have its negatives (way too many presentations with bullet points that are read word for word), it also has some positives as well. The Classic 4-Blocker is one of those positives. This is when you take a PowerPoint slide and divide it up into four sections. You will end up with two blocks on top and two blocks on the bottom. This is a great format to use for your project report.

The top left block is called Week’s Accomplishments and speaks to those items that have been completed over the past week. The top right block is called Next Steps and is a chronological, high-level plan of the immediate next steps (approximately 4 weeks ahead) along with a brief description. This can be pulled directly from the project tracking spreadsheet in step 2 above.

The bottom left block is called Risks and highlights any problems that have the potential of preventing the project moving forward and associated mitigation in case the event occurs. The bottom right block is called For Discussion / Issues and provides an opportunity for any topics that need to be discussed or issues that have surfaced that are problematic for the project.

That’s it. This basic report provides a glimpse into the recent past, shows what’s next, answer the question of what could possibly go wrong (and what to do when it does) and allows for general discussion. A great and simple tool to be used as the basis for a weekly project report.

#5. Document changes

This is one area new project managers don’t realize is critical until they have been burned once or twice. Document changes! It doesn’t matter if they are big or small, just keep a log of who, what, why, where, and when as it relates to the change.

Who requested the change? What is the change? Why is there a reason for the change? Where will the change be made (what part of the project), and when or how long will this change take? This powerful “memory jogger” will save many an argument and eliminate misunderstandings that could arise from one team member not knowing what another team member (or even they themselves) changed on the project.

#6. Acknowledge and celebrate success

Even though you may not be a full-time project manager, this is an area that often gets overlooked. You don’t want to take it for granted that the team really pushed the envelope to make things happen. Give credit where credit is due. Let everyone know that someone went above and beyond. Make a big deal out of the team reaching a goal to your manager and acknowledge that commitments were met.

Acknowledgment could range from an email to everyone with specifics about the success of the project, to a nice dinner, gift cards, or even something as fun as taking the whole team bowling after work. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it really falls squarely into the category of “it’s the thought that counts.” Your team will appreciate you are thinking about them.

If you have been thrust into a situation where you are playing the part of an ad hoc project manager, then make the most of it. Your workmates recognize the fact that you are organized, detail-oriented and can keep everyone on track. Follow the 6 principles above and you will soon find your way towards making an even more positive difference to your team and company.

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