One Simple Thing…

to Improve Projects & Project Management

I’m a PM Minimalist and I’m on a quest!  I’m looking for answers to this question: 

What’s one simple thing that can improve projects and/or project management?

* What tool…?
* What “best practice…” ?
* What change in the workplace… ?
* What senior management support…?
* What “one little thing…”

… can improve projects or project management?

I Want to Hear From You!

If reading that question above starts your brain’s synapses firing, then I want to hear from you!  If you are a weary and battle-scarred project manager (or project team member) who has a clear vision for making PM better, then I want to hear from you!  If you’re a PM expert, consultant, author, or PM product developer who has “seen it all” and you “know one thing for sure,” then I want to hear from you!

And I Want to Amplify Your Voice!

Specifically, I intend to collect your thoughts and share them as follows:

  • (At minimum…) In the Comments at the end of this blog post
  • (If you’re feeling like making a longer rant…) By featuring your brief or extended article as a blog post, right here on this website. I’ll include your photo, links to your website, and other promotional information so readers can follow up with you.
  • (If you’d prefer to share a video or audio…) By embedding your brief (under 5 minutes?) video or audio here or by linking to it at your media host.
  • (If you will allow me…) By incorporating your ideas (properly credited with your contact info, links to your website, etc.) in an upcoming revision of The Project Management Minimalist or as a free-standing anthology-type publication called (let’s say…) One Simple Thing to Improve Projects & Project Management.

This is a Work in Progress, So Help Me Shape It!

What you see above is about as far as I’ve taken this concept so far. But I’ve got a feeling “in my bones” that this is really worth pursuing. What’s more, I know from decades of running custom PM training sessions in all sorts of industries that there is much wisdom out there that has yet to be captured in all those formal PM textbooks and competency guidelines.

Finally, I know that when you ask a seasoned PM veteran or insightful PM newbie to name that “one thing” that will make things better, something magical happens. Their brains start to churn, their unique life experiences kick in and they start finding and filtering ideas drawn from their PM wars. What emerges is their unique wisdom.  And that’s what I know we can capture and collect here.

Next Steps

Post your Comment below or email your idea for a featured blog post, video, etc. to I look forward to hearing from you!

[Scroll down to see COMMENTS — > ]

– – – – – – – – UPDATE – – – – – – 

(January 11, 2011)

Whoo hoo! A whole bunch of smart PM people have accepted the challenge! Check out these guest blog posts:

Coming soon… at least 2 more guest bloggers will tackle this question. Stay tuned… ! 

– – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – –


Posted: November 4th, 2011 under Announcements, One Simple Thing, Project Management.
Tags: , , , ,

The Project Management Minimalist eBook


Comment from Project Management Tools That Work (Bruce)
November 4, 2011 at 8:36 am

My regular refrain is “get the schedule right.” This is something that is much more doable than most folks believe.

Get the Project Management Schedule Right!

How To Avoid Optional Chaos In Your Project

I’ve more, but I don’t want to set off the spam filter!


Comment from Margie Shoop
November 4, 2011 at 8:36 am

The best tool is yourself. You need to be confident, communicate, ask questions, follow up and have no fear.
Our company talks about the tools and the process we need in place. I assist in those efforts. Yet when it comes to making a team to achieve the results – we look at the person and their integrity, capabilities and passion to manage this project well. Anyone can use an ink pen – but not everyone can write a great novel. Tools assist the person who can truly make the project a success.

Comment from Michael Greer
November 4, 2011 at 9:47 am

Thanks, Bruce! Your article “Get the PM Schedule Right” is quite comprehensive. Then it’s up the to the project manager to “sell” senior management on accepting that carefully-planned schedule. However, if planners do all the homework you suggest in your article, that discussion with senior management would be much more effective (supported by evidence, history, etc.). Great insights!

Comment from Michael Greer
November 4, 2011 at 9:49 am

Thanks, Margie! You’re absolutely right, it’s the people who make things happen!

Comment from Raechel
November 10, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I posed your question to some of our PM contacts on Twitter/Facebook and here are some of the responses that I got:

“Cutting out the boss that has no idea what he/she talks about and sets up ridiculous timeframes.”
“Stepping away from the office and spending time with the team contributing to the project”
“Cash flow linked to successful transition in defined ‘gates’ in the contract.”

I hope those answers can be of some use to you. As for me, the one thing that continues to come to mind when I consider your question is to “lose the ego”. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s a very “simple” thing, or more people would do it! But I firmly believe that more problems would be solved, communication would improve, and teams would function more harmoniously in environments of mutual respect and trust if all parties involved in projects could grasp that one small concept.

[Editor’s Note: You can visit Raechel here: -MG ]

Comment from Michael Greer
November 12, 2011 at 11:10 am

Thanks so much, Raechel! These are really insightful.
[Readers: Visit Raechel’s website here: ]

Comment from Susanne Madsen
November 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Hi Michael,

Wow! That’s a challenging question. I can think of a number of things, of course, for instance the 15 I have highlighted in this article, “15 Principles of Project Management Success” but one single thing..?

I would be inclined to say “Keep things simple” as the one biggest tip – but a more substantial tip may be to “Focus on People”.

Acquire the most driven, experienced and best qualified people for your team and focus on making them thrive.

Value them, protect them from internal politics and give them the training, tools and working conditions they need to apply their talents.

Find out what motivates each individual and find a way to tap into their hidden potential.

Cross train staff, facilitate knowledge sharing and have succession planning in place. Ring fence resources where possible so that you do not have to share them with other projects.

Nurture the team and make sure that working on the project is a worthwhile

Also have a look at my piece on managing and motivating the team

Kind regards,


Comment from Michael Greer
November 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Thanks so much, Susanne, for the links to your tools and for your thoughts on the importance of focusing on people. I strongly agree that it’s all about the people! All our lovely life cycle diagrams, PM artifacts, charts, and plans can’t generate deliverables or complete your project. The creation of deliverables results from all those little choices made by the people on your team. Without their engagement… their good will… their effectiveness… we simply have no project outcomes! The points you make above shine a light on how project managers can achieve all these in their teams.

A special note to some of you a-social techies about this “people stuff:” I know you guys well. I’ve had you in my classes for decades. And I know that you’d rather be left alone to generate PM artifacts instead of dealing with all this messy people stuff. But remember this: If you want a team that takes action on your behalf instead of ignoring your project for “other priorities,” you’re going to need to master the strategies that Suzanne discusses in her Comment and in her links. There’s no getting around it.

Thanks again, Suzanne for this thought-provoking response. I urge our readers go deeper by checking out your links. (Bonus! These documents include study questions! How cool is that?)
“Team Motivation”
“15 Principles of Project Management Success”

Comment from Sara
November 13, 2011 at 11:03 am

I recently worked on and got educated in Agile precepts. One of my favorite Agile techniques or practices was the Retrospective. After every “sprint” or project benchmark was completed, we’d have a meeting where the agenda was basically:

1. celebrate the accomplishment
2. run a demo or otherwise do our best to exhibit the functioning success of the output of the latest part of the project
3. talk about what made the “sprint” go well (both from a process and a product perspective)
4. talk about what we’d like to improve about future sprints (mostly from a process perspective, but product perspective can be incorporated here too.)

The team lead or an assigned team member should take notes and distribute minutes within a week after the meeting. The team lead or an assigned team member is responsible for incorporating action items generated from #4, into the agenda for the next meeting, so that the team can collectively improve their performance through self-identified and agreed-upon activities.

If you’re having problems with negativity on your team, or a culture of blame, or other team-damaging dynamics, the Retrospective agenda can be finagled to try to account for them, there are lots of great ideas out there if you search “Agile Retrospectives” on google. I feel that however you do your Retrospective, it should at least get to the 4 agenda items and follow up outlined above, but like almost everything in Agile, you can do more if you need to!

Even if you’re not “Agile,” the simple practice of a Retrospective forces the team lead to define and communicate project benchmarks, to celebrate team accomplishments, and to seek and incorporate feedback from team members. It is empowering for the whole team and leads to lots of constructive communications and responsibility-sharing.

So I vote for Retrospectives as my “One Simple Thing”. (“Product Backlogs” are a close second, but they are less simple than Retrospectives).

Comment from Michael Greer
November 13, 2011 at 11:41 am

Great comment, Sara! Thanks for your thoughtful response. (Learn more about Sara at )

Comment from Michael Greer
November 14, 2011 at 1:16 am

The following thoughts were shared by a high-school buddy of mine, Tom Fitzsimmons, via Facebook:
Concentrate on improving all the small tasks; they in turn will improve the larger task.

When I was in process improvements, the first thing I always checked out was the job [task] descriptions and what was being done and what wasn’t being done. What I found was the small, boring tasks were either being ignored and not done or they were being done just to be done with no care given to them. When you added them all up they were having an adverse effect on the whole effort of trying to improve the process.

I always started where I wanted to finish and worked backwards to see what the root cause was and how these small tasks either had an effect or were not needed at all. What I found in most cases was that these small tasks almost at all times had a big effect on the outcome — to make the improvement these tasks had to be done. Some could be eliminated but the majority had to be done.”

Comment from Bob Griffiths
November 30, 2011 at 5:09 am

One simple idea which is some how more difficult to put into practise is the idea of asking at regular intervals:
– What is working?
– What is not working?

The tricky bit is to give yourself the space to step back from the busyness of doing and reflect for a moment on the ‘how’ you are doing it. It is very connected to the idea of mindfulness. Once you take the time to reflect on what is working or not you create the space to change things.

Great question Michael

Comment from Michael Greer
November 30, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Wow! What a great simple insight! Mindfulness as a platform for practical problem-solving! I love it. Thanks for this comment, Bob.
(Readers: Check out Bob’s website for lots of good insights for teams: )

Comment from Ivan Rivera, PMP
December 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I think it is not easy to find a single thing (and “simple”, also ) that help improve project management .

If I have to choose, I may not go for a tool, not a best practice, but by a concept of “good communication”.

And then the issue is not simple any more. Because we have to decide what is “good communication”?

The project manager will find the answer using some questions:
What should be reported? To whom, how often?

The answers to these questions can be arranged in a communications matrix, without losing sight that are not static responses, that everithing could change throughout the project.

The Project Manager must be assured throughout the project to get a constant flow of information between all stakeholders, filtering or translating what is necessary, respecting the frequency agreed with each other and making adjustments each time is necessary.

I think a good communication equema is something that can help improve project management, but I insist, is not necessarily a “simple” matter.

Comment from Michael Greer
December 19, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Thanks, Ivan! You’ve made some great points here. I like the idea of creating a communications matrix. This would make it easier to quickly scan and identify communication requirements, status, etc. And anything that helps a project manager work more quickly without losing effectiveness is really valuable.

Write a comment

You need to login to post comments!