Few things are more thrilling (and nerve-wracking) than doing a project for the very first time. But you don’t want this inexperience to be an excuse for failure. You want to hit the ground running and show your new team that they can trust you to perform.
To that end, I’ve assembled a few tips that can help you make a strong project management debut.
1. Do your homework
Whether it’s a new career or a new industry, there are holes in your knowledge that you need to fill. Try to spend as much time as possible reading up on your new environment and studying any technical skills that you’re unfamiliar with. You’re not going to be an expert after a few days of cramming, but you should at least accumulate a decent amount of stock knowledge so that you can keep up with your customers and team members.
You should also familiarize yourself with your organizational structure, the key internal and external players, company policies, and any processes or methodologies used by your team. This will help you transition smoothly into your new role.
2. Clarify project roles
Now that you know more about the project environment, you have to find out who’s involved and what roles they play. This is for the entire team’s benefit as much as it is yours.
Not only will you get a good idea of which resources to tap at any point in the project, but you’ll also be able to clarify murky roles on your team’s behalf. If you ask your team, “who handles x?” and they don’t know, it’ll get cleared up before the project gains momentum.
3. Develop a comprehensive project plan
A first-time project manager is at a severe disadvantage because they don’t have the experience to “wing it” if there’s no plan. So to compensate, you should make as detailed and comprehensive a plan as you can for your first project. You should also develop best- and worst-case scenarios, too. These are good habits to get into, and should be applied to every single project in your career.
4. Consult your team
Project managers are not perfect— and first-timers even less so. Don’t be too proud to consult with your team. They can tell you if your plan is ill-advised and why, and if there are better options. They can help you familiarize yourself with the more technical aspects of the project, and advise you on client interactions.
(Just make sure you’re asking the right person. The team scrub is not a good advisor.)
5. Don’t over-promise
Setting client expectations is tricky when you have no idea what’s possible or how long things take. I once watched a new project manager pull a random date out of the air just because he got caught flat-footed in a conversation and didn’t want to say, “I’ll get back to you.” That’s completely the wrong thing to do.
Don’t get stuck in that trap. Customers and team members will have more respect for you if you can stick to your word—even if it means a slightly longer deadline.
Image credit, Flickr, Chris Potter