Great Project Leadership: 7 Best Practices

May 26, 2016 Jen Frost

I admit, I am not the best project manager. I attribute this deficiency to my flea-size attention span and utter lack of organizational skills. Luckily, I have the good sense to surround myself with people who excel in these areas. Over the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a number of really amazing project managers. I always admire their confidence in moving a complex project forward, fearless ability to broach difficult subjects and think creatively within the confines of the requirements outlined.

Last year, One North worked with Jason Pammler, a tremendous project manager for Tishman Speyer who partners with companies like ours to build out new office spaces. The parallel between what he does and what One North does for clients are quite striking, despite our vastly different industries. We’ve recently introduced a new Learning Labs series at One North, during which we bring in speakers, like Jason, from diverse backgrounds to help us stretch our thinking and consider new viewpoints.

Here are seven project management principles Jason discussed that can be helpful in any industry:

  1. Deliver bad news early. Remember when you were a kid and you spilled milk in your room and you didn’t tell you parents? That milk starts to smell bad real quick and suddenly something small becomes something pervasive. Jason said whenever he gets even the smallest hint or gut feeling that something is going off-base, he addresses it and has the hard conversation. 
  2. Have a contingency plan. In the building trade, you never know when you open up a wall what you are going to find. You might find bad wiring, old structures or some other unknown. For this reason, when doing any project, you need to have a contingency plan— and often a contingency budget. 
  3. Something is going to happen. Similar to above, something is always going to happen. Being resourceful is a must. As a project leader, it is in the moment of surprise or crisis, that you need to assert yourself and drive the project forward.
  4. It’s not just the build. Jason doesn’t see his job as just building out the space. He sees himself as being responsible up until the moment the tenant actually take the keys from him after they have moved in. He actively helps clients plan and think through their move, and stay with them until the last flat-screen is on the wall and computer plugged in. Good project managers think proactively and anticipate future needs.
  5. Be your harshest critic. Jason says he has a reputation for being one of the toughest critics—even with his own work. He checks and double checks building sites with a fine tooth comb. As the project leader, he feels it is his responsibility to find things before clients find it. 
  6. Know your resources. Working with and relying on the team around you is of utmost importance to successfully accomplish a project. Know the strengths of your different team members and select those resources accordingly. 
  7. Constraints can be a good thing. Jason said his most successful clients are those that have constraints. These constraints forced decisions, drove timelines and inspired creativity. Although we all dream of having endless budgets and timelines, sometimes when we have those, the project becomes unwieldy.

With these seven principles in mind, I’m hopeful that my project management skills will improve. If not, I’m lucky that Jason works right across the hall from our new office.


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Jen Frost Managing Director, Marketing

Jen Frost is Managing Director of Marketing at One North. She works closely with the Digital Strategy, Experience Design and Technology teams to develop and enhance One North client communication and exterior messaging strategy. In addition, she provides general marketing direction for One North and promotes internal culture.

  • Favorite season: Fall is my favorite season. Probably because I used to live in Massachusetts, and it is just beautiful there in the Autumn.
  • Favorite Chicago spot: The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool hidden in the middle of Lincoln Park.

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