At VisionPoint Marketing, our account services team is anything but lazy, but they were challenged by project management guru and author Peter Taylor this year to, well, work less. To be fair, they’re still putting in hours at the office, but you might say they’re working smarter, not longer. Here's how:

Taylor starts his book "The Lazy Project Manager" by telling us that a project is not like a dinosaur. There are a lot of reasons why a project is different than a giant prehistoric animal, but the most important distinction for project managers is its shape. A dinosaur (think brontosaurus) is small at the head, big in the middle and small again at the tail.

It may be natural to approach a large, complicated project in a similar way - start slow and work more during the middle stages. But that's exactly what Taylor argues you shouldn't do. Working hard and spending a lot of time to get organized, setting expectations and preparing at the projects “head” will allow project managers to be what Taylor calls “productively lazy” during the middle phases of their projects. Then, by allowing their carefully-laid plans to run, project managers should spend a lot of time and effort at the end of the project to make sure everything is delivered as promised.

Here are some additional tips from our account services team so you too can be productively lazy:

Ashlee Little, Senior Account Manager

Ashlee is a veteran VisionPointer who’s managed many of our large-scale projects. Her general approach aligns very well with Taylor’s dinosaur philosophy, but she has a few gems of her own that she’s learned along the way.

First, she says, start strong so you can finish strong. For her, that means she wants to see an organized, formal hand-off between the sales team and account services.

"€œWe start from the beginning educating everyone on the team who will touch the project at any point on how and what they need to do,"€ Ashlee said. She establishes assumptions, expectations, scope and protocol with the internal team, as well as with the client, and tries to anticipate challenges that might confront her project.

That meticulous planning, she said, keeps everyone on the same page and pays big rewards later in her projects when benchmarks are achieved on schedule and within budgets.

“In the middle, the project basically runs itself,” she said. Writing a comprehensive project plan sensitive to the scope, budget, challenges and opportunities is how Ashlee rests easy at night. She knows what's coming next.

Then, at the end, the project requires a lot of attention again to wrap up details and make sure everything is ready to launch. The team gets together after projects are completed for "post-mortem" meetings. We take that time to learn from the experience and plan for the future.

“It's great for everyone to be able to celebrate a job well done and to know what everyone else is doing around the office,” Ashlee said. “It boosts morale and gets the team excited about what's coming next.”

Diana Tong, Senior Account Manager

Diana has years of experience working with different types of clients, companies, institutions and organizations, and she knows some secrets that make her successful at what she does. Most important, she said, is doing everything in your power to know more about the client, their business goals, internal and external challenges and opportunities. With this high level of understanding, a project manager can nurture the development of not only a great project, but a real, trusting relationship with the client.

"€œIt’s not just about managing a project," Diana said. "Developing and maintaining a relationship helps us find real solutions to achieve our clients’ goals."

When it comes to the benefit of that understanding, she said it's all about anticipation.

"I try to address questions and concerns that clients may have - hopefully before they even think about them,"€ she said.

In his book, Taylor emphasizes the importance of using the right kind of communication. He says picking the channels to use is paramount to good communication. Being honest and open about you and your team’s needs and progress is foundational. But simply reporting progress is not genuine communication. Using a one-way communication flow misses critical opportunities to clarify unknowns and exchange feedback. At VisionPoint, account managers schedule weekly phone calls with client contacts to maintain their projects’ momentum and to create a forum for exchange.

Working with a client on a long and ongoing project was an opportunity for Diana to put that philosophy into practice. When VisionPoint was hired to consult and build a site for a large university client, Diana said getting to know their team, as well as maintaining strong lines of communication, served to build a strong relationship.

"€œIt's that care and attention to detail that makes a project really work for a client,"€ Diana said.

Carissa Niederkorn, Project Manager 

VisionPoint's young gun, Carissa, is a recent college graduate and had a lot to learn when she joined the team last year. The biggest lesson she learned was to look ahead and to know what's coming next. Adapting the study skills and techniques that got her through college, Carissa learned the trade of Internet marketing by using what we call a proactive learning plan.

â€"When you have a lot of processes, it's important to break down what you need to learn, start somewhere, and come back to fill in the gaps,"€ Carissa said.

At the beginning, Carissa had a lot to learn about the internal processes that VisionPoint uses, but also a crash course in industry expectations and our clients’ specific needs. She learned that to keep up, it’s was better to think a week ahead of everyone else involved.

"€œOne of my goals as a project manager is to think as far ahead of the resources, client, and looking out for problems and challenges that might face the project and heading them off in enough time,"€ she said.

Taylor says that a good project manager will “get the upper hand” early in process. This doesn’t just include preparation, but it’s also about attitude. Sometimes setting the team up for success can be as simple as having a consistently positive and encouraging attitude. Carissa said that attitude helped her get the upper hand on the learning curve, as well her account services responsibilities right away.

“Just because you have the baseline, it doesn't mean you stop there,” she said. Carissa continues to follow trends and leverage others knowledge to increase her value to the company and clients.

And that's what has made all the difference for Carissa as she's become an integral part of the team.

Back to the dinosaur...

To put it simply, everyone knows that managing a project large or small relies on organization, keeping the big picture in mind while simultaneously being a stickler for the details and ultimately making sure that work is completed on time and on budget. Great project managers, however, can be productively lazy when they plan ahead, know their clients and proactively develop their own knowledge base and competencies. We thought “The Lazy Project Manager” was a great read. Let us know what what you’ve read lately by Tweeting to us at @vispoint!