10 Quotes That Make You a Better Project Manager

By Duncan Haughey | minute read

Don't be the same. Be better!

Over the years, management experts have come up with pearls of wisdom in the form of quotations that when given some thought, have a lot to teach us. Here are ten such quotations that when considered help to make us better project managers.

If it is not documented, it doesn't exist. As long as information is retained in someone's head, it is vulnerable to loss.

"What is not on paper has not been said", and no more so than in projects. If undocumented, a scope agreement can easily be disputed. An estimate may become a firm quotation if not written down. A delivery date may change of not recorded. You get the idea. Whatever you agree, make sure you write it down and circulate it to all relevant parties.

Why do so many professionals say they are project managing, when what they are actually doing is firefighting?

There is a big difference between managing a project and running around like a headless chicken alienating your colleagues and upsetting your customer. However, even today, this is a style of project management that is not uncommon.

Among the project manager's skills are the ability to plan, stay calm under pressure and manage a team to deliver a successful conclusion. I have never seen management by shouting, bullying and assigning blame in any list of project manager skills. If this is the way you manage your projects, stop! It is likely you are starting as many fires as you are putting out, and occasionally putting out fires you have started yourself.

Being a project manager means having a clear and well thought out plan. Calmly and thoughtfully leading your team to a successful conclusion while repelling anyone intent on upsetting your plans.

Get the right people. Then, no matter what else you may do wrong after that, the people will save you. That's what management is all about.

Regardless of the project management skills you have, alone they will not deliver a successful project. Your team does that. When selecting a team you must recruit the right people, and by right I don't mean the best. The right people for a project are those that can deliver quality products and services, on time and budget. Look for a mix of different skills and abilities applicable to your project. Don't be seduced by paper qualifications you will never need.

As well as the right skill mix; make sure your team members have bought into making the project a success and have the same energy and enthusiasm as you do. To quote English novelist E M Forster, One person with passion [on your project] is better than forty people merely interested. (Adapted)

You may con a person into committing to an unreasonable deadline, but you cannot bully them into meeting it.

Agreeing is easy — anything for a quiet life. But wait, if you agree to unreasonable deadlines you are in trouble. Either, you are going to work your team night and day, risking burnout. And, they will probably not want to work with you again. Alternatively, you will deliver late and risk the wrath of your customer. Not an appetising choice. Alternatively, you could stand your ground when faced with an unreasonable deadline and show the customer why you need longer.

When confronted with an unreasonable deadline make sure you have worked out an alternative date, checked it, and gathered all the evidence required to back it up.

Agreeing to unreasonable deadlines creates a lose-lose situation and is the cause of many sleepless nights.

Don't do anything you don't have to do.

As human beings, we often put off difficult tasks because we prefer easy tasks we enjoy. We procrastinate and find reasons to do anything other than the tasks we should be doing. On projects, this can be costly. It is important to have a clear plan, with regular milestones along the way.

Carrying out any tasks that do not deliver the plan wastes time and money and puts your project at risk.

Ensure your documentation is short and sharp and make much more use of people-to-people communication.

We have all received a large, unwieldy document when busy. I am sure you recognise the tendency to put it aside to read later when you have more time. Nine times out of ten, the document goes unread, is filed, gathers dust and is finally discarded during your annual spring-clean.

Keeping your documents short and to the points means they are much more likely to get read. Learn to say what you need to say on one page. Take the opportunity to talk to people. In this age of email, instant messaging, Twitter and Facebook, good old-fashioned telephone calls and trips to the water cooler still work.

Keep it clear, concise and clarify in person.

A well-constructed project management workshop should give people a solid foundation to build on.

It never fails to surprise me how many projects start without a proper kick-off workshop. "We don't need a workshop, everyone knows what needs doing," comes the retort. Often, people hearing this find themselves wondering what their role in the project is? How it impacts them? When it will deliver? Who the other players are and many similar questions.

Starting a project without a kick-off workshop may save time now, but puts your project in jeopardy before it starts. The kick-off workshop could be the most valuable meeting you have for your project.

During the workshop, you can communicate the project objectives, roles and responsibilities, review a draft milestone plan and make sure everyone is on the same page. It gives the opportunity for all participants to ask questions, and to clarify any misunderstandings before they cause problems.

A task is not done until it is done.

I have lost count of the times I have sat in status update meetings to hear the project manager run through a list of partially completed tasks. A task that is 60% complete is no good to anyone. It is unfinished, whether 10%, 50% or 95% complete. Tasks are either complete or incomplete. This information is all that needs reporting.

Remember; nearly there is not there.

Project proposals, business cases or cost-benefit analyses are probably being massaged (either by underestimating costs or timeframes or by being very optimistic about the benefits) so projects will be approved.

Getting projects approved at all costs is short-sighted. In fact, massaging the figures to gain approval suggests a belief the project will not obtain approval under normal circumstances. Be less than honest now, and you will get found out later. The best policy is, to be honest about your project, and it will be approved if it has merit.

Know when to cut your losses if necessary. Don't let your desire to succeed be the enemy of good judgment. If Napoleon had left Moscow immediately, he may have returned with a salvageable army.

Most organisations have defined processes for initiating projects; however, most stop after initiation. Few have procedures for evaluating projects mid-flow. This lack of mid-flow evaluation leads to many questionable projects continuing long after their value has evaporated.

All projects should include regular review points during their lifecycle with questions such as:

  1. Is this project performing well?
  2. Will the successful delivery of this project produce the expected benefits?
  3. Will any other projects have an adverse impact on this project?

Without the right answers to these questions, you need immediate action to bring the project back on track. If that is not possible, you need to close it down promptly.


These quotations teach us a lot. They are the compressed wisdom of countless years experience. Keep them in mind and let them help you navigate your projects to a successful conclusion.

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