5 New Year's resolutions for your project management career

The key is to think about what the business needs from you

The end of the year is often jam-packed at both work and home, and New Year's resolutions either fall by the wayside or get restricted to the same ones every year - lose weight, exercise more and get healthier. While these are certainly important goals, getting a better job or keeping the one you have is right up there. With that in mind, it might be smart to get a jump on some New Year's resolutions for your career that might just help make your annual performance report a little brighter.

1. Think ROI: Your goals need to inspire you, your team -- and your management. As you look ahead; make sure that your goals are clearly aligned with corporate strategy and have a return on investment that you can demonstrate. Develop a mix of both short-term goals that can provide early wins and longer-term goals that add value for the company. When thinking ROI, don't forget that the goals you propose can be opportunities for team members to learn something new, demonstrate a new skill or otherwise develop their talents in a way that benefits them and the company. Thinking ROI in depth is also a valuable habit to develop when requesting new investments in technology to stay ahead of the curve. A well-thought-out proposal that spells out the advantages in terms of time, money, manpower and customer satisfaction has a much better chance for approval.

2. Track time and dollars: Dollars always matter, but when times are tough, they matter even more. It's hard to make decisions about where to cut costs if management can't clearly identify where they are. When you can show your bosses exactly where you are, both in terms of time allocated and actual dollars spent on a mission-critical project, you're speaking their language. To be truly fluent, though, you should be prepared to show how additional savings can be generated with the least impact on results.

3. Reconsider deadlines: In reviewing the past year and looking at the year ahead, how were deadlines handled? If they were missed or revised, was it because of mission or project creep, a change in the competitive landscape, insufficient resources or an unrealistic or overly optimistic time frame? Did intermediate deadlines just measure progress or did they serve as an open forum for discussion about what was and wasn't working on a team or within a project plan? When you understand what impedes meeting your deadlines, you can get answers that not only put your project back on track, but save your organization time and money. Make sure the deadlines you set are a realistic assessment of how long it will take to create a result that will satisfy the requirements of the customer and the market -- and don't forget to build in contingency time.

4. Leverage existing resources: Too many people mistake documentation as busy work instead of using it to get at its real value. When looking back and looking ahead, think of yourself as a gold miner, digging out valuable information for your team and your company going forward. When you close out a project, don't put it to bed. Instead, ask yourself: Were enough resources allocated? Were the time frames realistic? At what points did this project falter and why? Was there a cost variance between the original budget and actual budget, and if so, what caused it and how can it be remedied? If you can capture all the intelligence in your documentation, understand it and share it, you can create a huge opportunity to make you and your team more productive, effective and efficient. You will also demonstrate how you have leveraged existing resources in the past and how the company can benefit in the future.

5. Demonstrate continuous improvement: More and more companies are trying to pinpoint what skills will be needed to position the company for future growth. Continuous learning is the order of the day, and it's not enough to be good. You have to be an expert. Don't skimp on new training and development, and keep your present certifications current. Remember: Project management is the skill that keeps on giving, helping you to tackle challenges with confidence in any economy.

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is the founder and CEO of Cheetah Learning and author of the books Cheetah Negotiations and Cheetah Project Management.

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