As a virtual project manager, you won’t be onsite ensuring the smooth running of the project on a day to day basis. You will be working remotely, ensuring the smooth running of the project, from afar. In order to do that, you have to have certain key skills:
- Leadership. The ability to motivate your team members, manage conflict resolution and make the tough decisions for them, all the while not being with them.
- Time management. You will have deadlines that you have to meet, and in order to meet them you are going to have to work with your team members to ensure they get their parts completed on time. You are going to engage with all key stakeholders up and down the chain. Let them know if they will have to play a part to make sure they know what and when they are required to play a part.
- Managing budgets. This is key to a successful project. You have to make sure that the project remains on track so that it stays in budget. Nothing gets people more worked up than when a budget is seen as guidelines rather than set in stone. Treat it respectfully and if you do have to slip outside of the budget, make sure you let the client know as early as possible, so they can manage it from their end too.
- Problem solving. You have a lot of plates in the air at once and spinning those independently is one thing, but if you then get an extra thrown in for good measure, you have to be able to think fast and adapt and overcome where necessary. You will most likely spend the majority of your time trying to ensure the smooth running of your project, so best to be able to roll with the punches in order to keep going.
- Communication. This is a key skill. Without effective communication, both up and down the chain, the project will either grind to a halt, or it will spin wildly off course. A communications plan should be something you establish as early on in the project as possible, preferably when you are working out the scope.
How to establish good communications with your client
Communicating with your team is one thing, but they aren’t paying your salary, nor are they funding the project. Your client should be the one person you endeavour to keep on side, and the best way to do that is with good communications and frequent check ins.
- Find out how your client prefers to communicate and attempt to communicate through those means.
- Don’t beat about bush. Start the with the bottom line, don’t end up there. Your client will appreciate the honesty and your straightforward approach.
- Speak of numbers if you have to quantify anything. People understand numbers.
- Establish how often your client wants to be kept in the loop – as soon as something happens, or do they just want the highlights at the end of the day? Do they want emails about every tiny detail or one briefing sheet, once a day?
- Don’t give your client problems, give them solutions. Or if you do have to give them problems, make sure you have several avenues for them to consider.
- Make sure your communications are thought through. You aren’t getting in touch with your client for a chat, if you have to talk to them it’s because you have something to report or something to ask. Be organised and don’t waffle on.
- Don’t feel you can’t talk to your client about anything project related. Chances are, they will want to know about business related stuff.
How to make your client happy
Once you’ve established how best to communicate with your client, you will be wanting to keep them onside. A good working relationship is a happy one, and so, looking up the chain, you will want to make your client happy. There are numerous ways to do this:
- Get to know your client and figure out how they operate. If you know how they like to work, you can establish how to give them what they want, and what information they require, in order to make their life easier.
- You’re all working towards the same goal ultimately, but your client’s goal might be slightly from yours. Find out what it is, and use that information to help guide you in your decision making.
- Don’t expect to be spoon fed. You have been brought on board to manage a project, so manage it. Don’t expect to have your hand held or to be told what is required of you. If you need these things, you aren’t ready for the responsibility of being a project manager.
- Beat your deadlines. Nothing is guaranteed to put a smile on your client’s face quite like you beating deadlines. Turning work in early is never going to be frowned upon, nor is it ever going to get old. It will only serve to make you look more employable, something you will want in your arsenal when the project is coming to an end.
How to find out where else you can add value?
If you are doing your job right, you should be ticking all the boxes and ensuring you deliver all deliverables on time and in budget. But that is what you are being paid to do, you shouldn’t expect to get a pat on the back or a mention in dispatches for doing that.
If you want to get noticed and make an impression, you want to add extra value. Be that to the team, to the project or to the organisation as a whole. But how do you go that extra mile when you work remotely, and usually for one client?
- If you want to add value to the organisation, remember the bottom line is always money. If you can save somewhere, be it on materials or in time, you will save money. And saving money is a priority for any business. Not going over your budget is one thing, but coming in under it is going to get you noticed. Seek out competitive quotes, negotiate furiously with existing contractors. If you can add extra value to the project, you will find you get extra too, be that in work or in remuneration.
- Efficiency is always a priority for any organisation, as ultimately it saves money. If you can, find a way to work efficiently, manage your team efficiently and/or communicate efficiently,
- Fix problems or prevent problems. If you can mitigate against disaster, you will be a hero. If you can put measures in place to prevent it from ever happening again, or if you can foresee issues that will need dealing with and you deal with them now, meaning they never develop into problems, you will be saving someone else, most likely your client, from a world of pain, further down the line.
How to earn more from a contract
Before your contract comes to an end and you have to start looking for another one, why don’t you see, before you finish working on this one, if it has arms and legs from which you could extract more work. If you have more to offer, make sure you offer it, you never know what you could stumble across.
You have skills that are easily transferable and aren’t just limited to project management.
In your time working with a client, keep an eye out and an ear open for areas that you could add value to, once your contract comes to an end.
- Do their communications as a whole need an overhaul?
- Do they need an office manager on a more permanent basis?
- Can you set up a new IT system for them?
- Can you develop their marketing strategy?
- Are they lacking in social media know how?
If you have something that they might need, let your client know. Also, at the end of every contract, let the client know how much you enjoyed working for them, and that you are open to more work. If you have availability, give them your dates too.
And never part ways without asking if they can refer you to any colleagues or businesses in need of a project manager with your particular skill set. Or at the very least, if you could get a reference from them, or a testimonial. It is amazing how powerful a great review can be.
So I hope you are able to get some tips on how to run the contract as a virtual project manager.
Finally, if you require further information, or you need to hire an experienced project manager, or are looking at getting coaching or mentoring in project management, then do get in touch.