Being a project manager is a fast-paced and exciting job. There is always something new to contend with, and two days are rarely the same. But here are some of the things that most project managers wish they knew when they first started out.
Recognition of your team’s effort will help to keep things moving
One of the best things about being a project manager is how rewarding it is when you overcome challenges and reach project goals. However, you would not have been able to get to this stage without the assistance of your project team. This is why it is vital that you recognise their contribution and celebrate the successes they have. This will go a long way, and your team will work harder for you on future tasks and projects.
Pause and reflect
Being a project manager certainly is a fast-paced job so it is important to make sure you take a second to reflect. Your first projects are bound to have a few road bumps along the way. What matters is how you learn from them. Assess where you went wrong, and make sure you document it so that you and your team can learn from the experience.
Have a formal close out of the project
You no doubt already recognise the importance of marking the beginning of the project properly. However, it is just as important to mark the end of it with a formal close out. This gives your team an opportunity to reflect on the experience and learn from it, as well as giving you the chance to evaluate the project properly.
You will begin to view failure differently
When you start out as a project manager, the thought of something being a failure sounds like a complete disaster. But the truth is that you are going to encounter problems along the way. Projects rarely run smoothly. Instead of viewing a failure as the end of the world, you need to find viable ways to learn from a project failure.
Focus on solutions
This relates to the former point. Projects rarely go to plan. There are always going to be problems that arise, be it delays, financial issues, mistakes, or changes. You won’t solve these issues by dwelling on them. This is why it is always vital to focus your attention and your team’s attention on adapting to the new situation and finding solutions to the challenges that have come about.
Involve others when making decisions
New project managers always have a tendency to try and do everything themselves. There is a view that you are the only person that should be making the big decisions and that by delegating you are showing weakness. In fact, the opposite is true. You should never carry all of the weight on your shoulders. Talk to key players on your team when making big decisions, such as how to deliver bad news or making a large purchase. In most cases, people have different ways of presenting the facts and seeing things. By talking with others, you will be able to consider all of your options properly so that you can make the best decision.
Never stop learning
It is likely that you have already attained some form of project management qualification. However, you should not stop there. There are many advanced courses available for you to progress your learning. By investing in project management training, you can ensure you always stay up-to-date with the latest technologies and methodologies so that you remain ahead of the game. This will fill you with confidence and benefit your team.
There may not be the glory you are expecting
A lot of new project managers anticipate that their role will be full of glory. After all, when something goes wrong, it falls on your shoulders. So, when something goes right, surely you should get all of the praise? In fact, most project managers find that they don’t get a lot of praise from internal sources such as their senior management. But there’s some consolation – you will, hopefully, get accolades from your clients.
Organisation is everything
Organisation is the key to project management success. If your inbox is a mess and you have papers coming out of every corner of your office, you are really going to struggle to get a grip on things. Take the time to get organised. Separate your inbox into sub folders, ensuring there is one for every project. When things get hectic, which they will, you will know how to prioritise everything effectively.
Report outwards and upwards consistently and regularly
Communication is one of the cornerstones of effective project management. You may know how everything is going, but you’re not the only one who needs to know. You need to figure out who your stakeholders are, what information they need, when they need it, and in what format. Make sure you are consistent with report delivery. If your reports are missing or late, your stakeholders are going to assume that the project is behind or that there is some sort of problem. Also, if you do not communicate regularly enough, this is when you and your stakeholders end up on two different pages, and problems can easily arise.
Don’t hide from risk
This is one of the most important things you need to learn as soon as possible! Every project has some form of risk, and one of the worst things you can do is hide from it. Dealing with a risk once it becomes a reality is a real problem, which can completely derail your project. Instead, you need to tackle risks head on. What are the risks that could get in the way of your project? Once you have captured them, you can estimate the likelihood of them occurring, and you can put measures in place for dealing with them if they arise. This will ensure that all risks are effectively managed. Failure to do this can result in severe delays and project overruns.
Plan for phases and milestones
Every project is made up of key milestones and phases. This includes the project kick-off, which requires milestones and dates along the way, until you reach the completion. A lot of project managers concentrate on the schedule, which is, of course, a must, as it will ensure key dependencies are identified and tasks are connected. Nevertheless, it is also important to take a step back and focus on each key phase of the work, rather than only viewing the big picture. After all, if you fall behind on a number of items, you could jeopardise the project. However, if one report takes a day or two longer, it is unlikely to derail the entire project.
Scope creep does not creep
Who knows why they called it scope creep, because it certainly does not creep; it comes about very quickly! You think you have guarded the scope of the project carefully, but sometimes, we are all a bit guilty of poor scope management. When you give the customer an inch, they can take a mile, and then you end up with scope creep occurring at a rapid pace. This can quickly get out of hand, so it really is important to manage this part of your project properly.
Make sure processes are in place and being used consistently
A process is a series of steps or actions that are taken to achieve a particular end. This end should be consistency. A key sign that you have not defined a process is if you find yourself making up things on the fly time and time again. Of course, processes won’t be the be all and end all of every situation, but you do need to have them so you can have a dependable structure in place to help you manage every situation.
Document rationale and assumptions
The importance of documentation is something that most project managers wish they knew from the very beginning. This is especially the case when it comes to assumptions, agreements, and decisions. Documentation and records are critical when piecing together decisions you have made in the past. You will thank yourself in the future.
Know your sponsor or customer
Knowing your project sponsor or customer is crucial to every project manager. The relationship you have with the sponsor or customer can make or break your efforts because you will need to call upon them on a regular basis to ask for decisions and align expectations. You also run the risk of spending a lot of time on the project yet completely missing the mark if you are not in close contact with your sponsor or customer.
Track and manage quality tests and checks actively
You need to quality test or check everything the project produces to make sure it meets its requirements. These tests and checks should be built into your plan to make sure the correct resources, space, and time are required to do the tests properly. Not only do you need to make sure that you use the right resources, but you will also need to track the results of the test as well.
Hold regular team meetings
Meetings are so important because nothing beats hearing it directly from the horse’s mouth. The project will run a lot smoother when everyone understands the issues at hand and is caught up on the progress of the project. This will ensure there are no misunderstandings regarding who is working on what and when. To ensure your meetings are effective as possible, make sure you have a proper plan and schedule in place for each one. Meetings can easily run off track if you don’t. It is also important to make sure you stick to the allotted time period. If you have told your team members that the meeting is going to last an hour long, make sure it does last an hour.
Decide on what formal level of documentation is required and stick with it
Some projects will not require as much documentation as others. It all depends on the nature of the project, the size of it, and how many stakeholders are involved. This is why it is important to decide on what level of documentation you are going to implement from the very beginning. You can then determine what templates you will use. Once you have done this, make sure you fully adhere to the documentation rules you have put in place. A lot of project mangers allow documentation to slide when they start getting pushed for time. But, they live to regret it in the end!
Agree the priorities and details of the project with the board / sponsor at the very beginning
One of the biggest mistakes new project managers make is agreeing on the details and priorities when it is too late. The last thing you want is to get to the end of the project and realise that you are both on completely different pages. Instead, you need to get this all ironed out in the very beginning. Make sure you have a full and frank conversation with your sponsor to agree on all of the basics of the project, i.e. what, who, when, why, how, and how much. Being in firm agreement regarding quality, cost, and time expectations is a must.
As you can see, there is going to be a lot that you will learn on your journey as a project manager. In fact, you will never stop learning! However, by taking note of the points that have been mentioned above, you can reduce the chances of any nasty surprises happening along the way. From documenting rationale and assumptions to planning for phases and milestones, your projects will run a lot smoother if you adopt the advice that has been provided.