I recently came across an article by consultant Melanie Nelson about project management and situational awareness. In the article, Nelson argues that project managers need to be more than just technically savvy.
They must also be able to see the bigger picture and understand the context they are working in—including industry culture, employee pain points and the other projects and business goals competing for attention in the company. They must hone their situational awareness.
Situational awareness is the ability to understand what is happening around you, why it is happening and what you need to do or not do in reaction. Some call this a soft skill, but I believe it goes further than that.
As rookie project managers, we learn about which processes and procedures are done in what order. However, project managers with situational awareness may question, for example, whether or not all steps in the process need to be completed, what processes must be changed to accommodate the needs of the organization or even if the correct methodology is being used.
For a software project, that could mean questioning if agile or waterfall is the best approach or if lean should be used instead. To paraphrase Nelson, she loves Kanban but she knows that it is not appropriate for all projects.
Situational awareness is a skill beyond understanding earned value management, creating status reports, or managing conference calls and client meetings.
It is about asking, for example, in those client meetings questions such as:
Do you have the attention of the client? Are the right people in the conference room? If not, why not? What will you do about it?
It is not easy and takes a lot of practice.
Do you have the situational awareness needed for your project?
Originally published on projectmanagement.com by PMI