You’re a new Project Manager but you haven’t managed projects before and don’t know where to start. First, panic not, we’ve got you covered.
Next, congratulations and welcome to the fascinating world of project management. You are now part of a growing profession tasked to build the future – even if it is just the future of your division or organisation, you’ll be shaping it and driving it, what an opportunity! Trust me, you will love it and there is a wide and friendly community to support you. We are here for you.
Fundamentals to think of when starting a new project
1) Define your scope
The sponsor of the project has a key responsibility in ensuring that there is a solid justification to initiate it; the ‘why’ should be crystal clear, including the benefits that the project will help to realise. As for you, project manager, you should define what exactly will be in scope – and out of scope – for the project, including the outputs to be produced. Your scope statement is your starting point in the life of the project and, now that we have your ‘why’ and ‘what’ covered, we are ready to start thinking about the ‘how’.
2) Build your team
You’ll want to have the A-team on this project. Not the team members that are free but the ones that are the right fit for the task and ideally with subject matter expertise and experience in previous similar projects. Once you have identified your team, it’s time to assign roles and responsibilities and communication routes and, as importantly, turn it into a high-performance team rather than just a group of people working together. You don’t just have a project to manage, but a team to lead.
3) Identify your stakeholders
Stakeholders refer to the individuals or groups which can impact or be impacted by the project and will influence its direction with their different levels of power and interest. Stakeholders can make or break a project; thus, it is paramount that you have identified who these are in your project and what their requirements and expectations towards the project are. Use this information to draft a Communication and Engagement Plan – you may not be able to manage how they will behave and react but you can certainly manage their expectations and be better prepared.
4) Plan the work
“There are no good project managers, only lucky ones; the more you plan, the luckier you get”, the saying goes. If you are going to deliver this project, you need a plan. Work with your project team and sponsor to define and agree on what the project entails and what are the steps to get there. Ultimately, your plan should clearly state the why, what, how, who, when – with clearly defined milestones –, and milestones, and how much of the project. Then, you “just” need to work the plan.
5) Ask and provide regular updates
Good project management is a lot about good communication, being a communication bridge between team members, between team members and the project manager, the project manager and the sponsor, and with other stakeholders too. In order to ensure that you are on top of what is going on and can quickly support your team and act on preventive and corrective actions, set up regular progress updates with your team and with the sponsor/project board. Transparency, accountability and stakeholder engagement are direct benefits of effective project communication.
It’s tempting to use a ‘just do it’ approach particularly when there are time pressures from stakeholders to get it done. However, make no mistake, the success – or lack of – of a project is decided in its front-end, thus, my key piece of advice is not to rush the initial stages of the project. Do take your time, ensuring that you are taking others on the journey with you.
Tips for getting started in your project management career
1) Don’t be lost with all the acronyms and jargon
It’s easy to be confused with so many acronyms, PPM, PMP, PMO, RBS, the list goes on. Just use plain English. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, as Shakespeare would put it. It is likely that your organisation will already have a set of templates and processes to be followed – perhaps even a PMO! – thus you won’t need to start from scratch and/or can seek guidance from the PMO. That’s exactly what a PMO is for, to enable you to succeed.
2) Use common sense
There are new project management methods being created almost every day – it keeps me in the job, as a consultant – however, in my experience, none beats common sense. Regardless of what method or delivery approach you are using, all projects have a beginning, a middle, and an end; they all involve dealing with people, and they all aim to introduce change. Having a theoretical background and recognised best practices to follow does help, however, don’t just follow the textbook blindly but work with a pragmatic mindset in finding what suits the project better. Best-fit practices, that’s what you’ll want to apply.
3) Find a mentor
I was lucky enough to have been mentored and to have mentored others. Having someone to guide you, challenge you, and assist you to progress in your journey is a blessing. There are several mentorship schemes available (have a look at the APM, for instance) or just enquire in your organisation and amongst your more experienced peers if they would like to act as a mentor.
4) Build your competencies
There’s nothing wrong with being an accidental project management manager and learning about project management ‘the hard way’, yet you can accelerate your learning and build up your confidence – or get some reassurance that you are on the right path – by getting accredited project management training, investing in continuous personal development, and joining (or starting) a community of practice. Don’t ever stop learning.
5) Be prepared to learn
If you have been a team member on a project, you have probably been exposed to some project management terms and concepts. For those of you who haven’t participated in projects, one of the first things you will notice is that project management has a whole language of its own. In either case, you will discover there is a lot to learn. Continuous learning is key to your success.
6) Don’t be afraid to ask
Nobody expects you to know everything from the off, everyone was a new Project Manager once. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t understand something or if you haven’t been exposed to a situation. Just because you ask for help, doesn’t mean that you are weak or are not a good project manager. Your employer would much rather have you seek guidance than for you to make a mistake because of something you didn’t understand.