Advice for a Fledgling PM

I was at a meeting of the Technology Association of Georgia (awesome organization, by the way) the other night and I met a woman who was about to start her first project management job in a fast-paced organization. She had plenty of business experience, but didn’t have any project management background. Our conversation got me thinking—just what would I say to someone about to embark on their first project management voyage?

  • Run away! Quick, before it’s too late! (Okay, just kidding…)
  • Relationships are everything. Projects are completed by teams, which are made up of wonderful, complex, annoying, inspiring people. Since you’ll be managing their activities from a position of almost no official authority, you’ll have to rely on your ability to build loyalty and trust.
  • Communication is 90% of the job. Providing the right information to the right people at the right time is critical. You must be communicating nearly all the time, or at least thinking about it. Remember that formal and informal communications are both important. And remember it’s a two-way street—you need to listen and pay attention when you’re the receiver of communication.
  • You have to be sure problems get solved, but you don’t necessarily have to solve them. If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself, correct? No! That way lie the demons of confusion and burnout. If something’s not getting done, address it through relationships, escalations, or whatever, but don’t actually do it.
  • Be unafraid to look ignorant. They say that if you have a question you’re afraid is dumb, you should ask it, because there’s always somebody in the room with the same question who is afraid to speak up. Well, they’re wrong. Usually, it’s just you. But ask your question anyway. Why? Because you need to know! You can’t manage something if you don’t have the facts. There might be a couple of “experts” who’ll snicker, but your worth as a person and a PM isn’t affected by their opinions. And the rest of the group will have forgotten all about it by quitting time.
  • Keep track of tasks—be a nagger. You can keep track of most items in your regular meetings, but there are always areas that are having trouble or specific action items outside the usual task list that you must follow up on. Just ask, in a friendly way, how it’s going, if there are any problems you can help with and if the task will be completed on time. If there’s no response, or an unsatisfactory response, ask again, perhaps a bit more pointedly. Ask a third time if you have to, and if you think you have the luxury to. No satisfaction after three tries? Escalate to the person’s boss.

Next time, I’ll continue this list. But go ahead, read the next post anyway, okay?

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