The Accidental Sales Project Manager

Jason Morio

We’ve heard it before – if sales were easy, everyone would do it. Between creating new opportunities and following through on existing ones it can be tough to tackle it all. This includes unexpectedly taking the lead on multiple accounts and owning status updates, inevitably resulting in added stress and tasks on top of daily deliverables. The large majority of people who end up managing projects do so without any formal training. There are two types of project managers: those who have completed courses to become certified project managers and the rest of us.

In a 2015 survey of 200 North Americans who manage or participate in projects, two out of three participants lead projects but are not project management certified. It has become the new normal and with or without the formal title and experience. However, with proper strategy and planning, sales professionals who face the challenges in playing this accidental project manager role can avoid chaos and work smarter. In fact, these accidental project managers can achieve success without being an expert on all the subtleties of completing tasks. Here are the tips needed to manage like a pro and navigate through projects while balancing timelines, quality and cost:

Encourage collaboration
The flames of chaos can be fueled when one or more members are managing too many tasks at once. Just one overworked team member can jeopardize the whole project. Sharing responsibilities and assigning joint ownership can ensure work is evenly distributed. Visual task management tools like Kanban boards can help. These allow everyone to see what tasks are being worked, where they stand and with whom, in order to keep things on track. Creating a virtual project space around these Kanban boards can establish a community feel and ensures all important plans, documents and tasks are easily available to team members anywhere.

Ensure the workload is even
Establish daily catch-ups with team members if needed to but keep it brief. It’s also important to remember not to do everything yourself. The main trick is to prioritize and delegate as not all tasks are equally as important and focusing on the right ones will help to accelerate toward the goal. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else on the team to take something off your plate. Feeling overwhelmed won’t help and accepting that you can’t do it all yourself will improve your work life.

Communicate the end-to-end plan
Make sure all team members involved in the initiative know the end goal and the tasks to help get there. Gantt charts are one way to showcase this as an alternative to a plan drawn up on a whiteboard. It’s important to have a bird’s eye view of which tasks are currently in motion, which are running simultaneously and if any tasks depend on the completion of others. This overview will avoid any sense of confusion and lay it all out. This will also greatly assist with communications to stakeholders, as keeping them up-to-date and informed during a project is crucial to success.

Remember: Plans evolve
Every plan is a reference for change, and it is likely scope and timeframes will require adjustments along the way. Being agile and responsive is important to keep things moving as unforeseen changes are thrown into the mix. A strategy based on overall objectives and a project timeline can help. In the end, clarifying the goal and allowing the team to do what they do best will carry the group through. Trust your team members to fulfill their roles and leverage their specific skill sets to contribute toward reaching the finish line.

Change how you communicate
Communication doesn’t always have to be through email, on the phone or face-to-face. Using a cloud-based tool that enables collaboration within the project can greatly facilitate communication among team members that may be working on different schedules and from different locations. This will also enable stakeholders to see real-time progress and allow them to contribute and chime in when needed.

With about 45 working days wasted per year in U.S. organizations, a lack of formal project management training doesn’t mean sales professionals can’t get things done in a smart and efficient way. Sales can be stressful enough from pulling together a great proposal navigating the challenges of the sales process. Many accidental project managers are expected to oversee a plan, organize a team, delegate tasks and track progress without being taught how. With the proper knowledge and tips, sales professionals tasked with managing multiple accounts – who end up as accidental project managers – can lower employee stress levels and improve productivity for the whole team.

Jason Morio is director of product management at Projectplace by Planview a leading project portfolio management company based in Austin, Texas.