By guest blogger Brad Egeland.
We all have to start somewhere. At some point in time, all of us are new to project management. There are a few different ways we can chose, move into and even fall into the role of project manager. Sometimes we choose our path into project management and sometimes the career choice is forced upon us out of organizational need.
Let’s consider each…
Choosing our own path. Sometimes we make our own choice and move into the role of project manager or at least take some obvious steps and seek out guidance and proactively work to land a PM role. I did. I realized at some point early on that being a software application developer was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I talked to my manager, sought his advice on how to make the move from developer to project manager, and I ended up being bid for a project management leadership role on a very large, multi-million dollar government project. We won the contract, and I moved into that role. I realize not everyone has government contracts to be proposed on, but you can still take control of your career, make a choice and make the switch. If project management on technical projects is of interest to you and you have the leadership and organizational skills to pull it off, you’d be amazed at how much that technical background you have will help you in the role of technical or software project manager.
Forced entry into PM. Sometimes the move into the role of project manager is not made by choice. Sometimes it happens out of organizational need. I’ve seen many department managers who were asked to – or even forced to – move into the role of project manager for the first time due to an organizational need. In this case it can be frustrating, while also being somewhat of an honor because the company you work for characterized you as an individual with the skills or potential to be a good project manager. Not all who are forced into the role go there willing or look at it as this type of honor. However, it does take a person who has very good organizational skills, can easily gain the respect of a talented project team and lead them on a complex project, and gain and retain the respect of many in the organization. Not everyone can do that – so, yes, it can be looked upon as a positive sign that the leadership in the organization saw you as that type of individual that could thrive as a project manager as they asked you to take on this new role.
5 best practices to get started as a project manager
If you’re new to project management or planning the move, then project management best practices are your next concern. What are the keys to project management success? How do I lead a team? When do you meet with the project team and the project customer? What about collaboration? Basically, best practices are logical actions or activities that help lead to efficient project management and help ensure more frequent project successes. There’s a good chance that everyone’s “best practices” will differ a bit and will always depend on a few things:
- type of projects being managed
- industry you’re managing projects in
- wants and needs of the customer
- practices and policies of the delivery organization
Let’s consider a few key best practices to focus on…
1. Formal project kickoff. Whether it’s a 15 minute phone call or a two day extravaganza at the customer’s site, always conduct some sort of formal project kickoff session. It gives everybody involved a starting point and a chance to start the project on the same page with proper expectations set for the management of the project and their role in it.
2. Detailed requirements definition. The customer will likely come to you with a list of requirements. The customer may say they are detailed requirements. Likely they are not. Consider these to be high-level requirements – sort of a starting point. Now it’s you and your team’s responsibility to dig deep and pull out the real requirements for the engagement.
3. Regular project status reporting. Keep it simple, but stay on it and produce status reports regularly…preferably weekly. Choose a project status report and process that is repeatable and doable for you and the customer – and don’t forget your reporting needs to your senior management. Choose the right layout/format and you may only need to produce one report that fits all needs. Management likes dashboards, graphs and green-yellow-red status health for a quick view.
4. Ongoing budget forecasting and analysis. Review and revise the project budget weekly so as to never lose control of it. A budget that is watched closely – weekly – and has gone 10% over the forecast can be quickly corrected. One that is not being watched closely and has suddenly gone 50 or 60% over the original forecast, likely cannot be corrected. It may be too far gone.
5. Use a good collaborative project management tool. Affordable, full-featured and collaborative project management tools abound – so there is no excuse for not using one. The newer the project manager you are, the more you’ll appreciate the close collaboration a good tool can allow with your project team members. Project staff will be able to share documents, information and progress status of assigned tasks without the need for the project manager to be the only individual managing the project schedule. Since management of the schedule needs to be an almost daily concern, this collaboration will help free-up valuable hours on the new project manager’s schedule.
Summary & call for input
At one time or another we are all new to project management. Some of us wanted to get there do great things while others had greatness thrust upon them – at least initially – unwillingly. What’s your story? How did you initially become a project manager? Looking back, do you consider that it was a good career move? Please share your story in social media (@begeland and @projectplace) or in the comments section below.
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer, IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s project management blog.
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