We speak to loads of people every week who are either interested in getting into project management or are fairly new to project management. I’m always on the hunt for great advice to share with them – or different things they can be reading or watching about project management which will help them.
I got talking to Dr Mike Clayton a while back, if you don’t know Dr Mike you should check out just a handful of the things he’s written over the years. He’s also pretty nifty at project management training and educating project managers.
If you’re one of the many people who only has their PRINCE2 Foundation and are looking for a cost-effective way to boost your project management knowledge, I really advise you take a look at the online learning options Dr Mike has, they’re first-rate!
I asked Mike what specific advice he has for every new project manager…
So, you’re a new project manager, are you?
Well, you’ll want to hit the ground running, and you won’t want a load of fluffy advice like ‘get yourself on a training course.’ You haven’t got time for that. You have a project to deliver and you need to start now.
So, with the perspective of many years as a successful* project manager, and having trained many thousands of new project managers, just like you, you want to know what I think. What are the ten things you should do that will really make a difference?
Number 1: Slow Down
Actually, I’m going to cheat. There are four ‘Number 1s’ in this list, but they will all be the same: slow down. Slow down before you start, because there is a big tendency to dive in and do stuff. But successful new projects managers are thoughtful. Especially at the start of their projects. They take their time to lay strong foundations.
Number 2: Context
Get to know the context of your project. Understand the organization, why people in it want the project and, critically, what are the politics around your project? Many new project managers get the politics quite wrong, either taking a naïve ‘project management is above politics’ view, or trying to play the game to manipulate a result they think is right. Chart a tactful course that balances political awareness with integrity, and learn the politics as you go.
Number 3: Define your Project
Nothing is as critical to the long-term success as a clear and widely agreed definition of what your project is, and what it is not. If you are shrewd with your politics, you can learn what different stakeholders want and need. With this, you can draft a goal, draw up a set of objectives, and specify a statement of scope that is likely to win widespread support. As a minimum, get it signed off by your client, sponsor or boss. Aim for the widest possible formal consent.
Number 4: Justification
Nobody will ever feel good about making any investment of time, money, or political commitment, without a big, fat, juicy ‘because’. Build a business case that sets out the pros and the cons of your project, and demonstrates why it is a sound investment. Better yet, show that your project definition represents a better investment than the alternatives (including not doing it).
Once your business case is approved, there is a second temptation to dive in and start making things happen. Slow down. Successful* project managers have a rule of thumb. Spend half the available time defining and planning your project. This is a rule of thumb, not a firm rule, but the sentiment is simple: don’t rush to delivery. Time spent planning will be repaid in speedy implementation with fewer setbacks and unexpected issues.
Number 5: Planning
So, what needs to go into your planning? The big four are tasks, time, budget, and people You also need to think about materials, assets and other resources. Ask all the obvious questions and don’t stop until you have answers to all of them. Here are a few to get you started.
- What are we going to do?
- What will be the outcomes?
- When are we going to do it?
- Who will do it?
- Where will we do it?
- What will we need?
- How much will it cost?
Number 6: Stakeholders
Put simply, stakeholders are the folk who get to decide whether your project is a success. It’s tempting for a new project manager to feel so wrapped up in their project that it becomes like a balloon. You have to burst it and step outside, into the real world. There, it is messy and confused. You need to face differing views, and often, antagonistic positions. The number one rule with stakeholders is simple: engage with them positively. Keep your channels of communication open… both ways. Listen hard and keep people informed.
Number 7: Team Members
These are the people who will deliver your project for you. So prioritise managing them well over managing the project, and you will find that the project will get done. Leadership is a complex topic, but one tip has served me well in the project context. Make the time to spend with the people you lead. Use that time to listen, support, guide, share, and praise them.
[tweetshare tweet=”Top project management tip “Make the time to spend with the people you lead” #pmot ” username=”projectmgmt”]
Number 1 (again): Slow Down
You have a plan. Surely now it’s time to start implementing it? Not so fast. There is a common problem on projects, known as ‘planning fallacy’ – the tendency to believe our plans, and to feel that the aggressive timescales and budgets we agreed to are achievable. They may be. They may not.
Number 8: Risk Management
Whether your pan is solid or not, things can and will go wrong. So make risk management your next priority. Identify all the potential hazards, prioritise them, and develop plans to deal with those risks, that will make them smaller, or handle the consequences. The biggest mistake that new project managers make (and I have seen it) is to produce a fabulous risk management plan… And then move on. The universe won’t be intimidated by your plan. Action is what counts. Allocate the components of your risk management plan to colleagues, and track progress actively.
Number 9: Monitoring
Once you get started on implementation, stuff will happen. Hopefully, most of it will be the stuff you planned to happen. But also things will go wrong, some things won’t go to plan, and ideas for changes will crop up. So, you need a rigorous process for monitoring what happens, and taking control of the situation. Don’t go unprepared into the fastest moving, most stressful period of your project.
Number 10: Governance
This can often seem to new project managers like a bureaucratic burden. Record keeping, form filling, review meetings, and scrutiny by senior people who have little day-to-day involvement in your project. But good project governance is truly the magic bullet to transforming organisations’ project management capabilities. So embrace it, facilitate it, and learn from it.
Number 1 (again): Slow Down
Now you have started to implement your project, it’s easy to be caught n the whirlwind of supporting staff, monitoring deliverables, chasing up risks, and tracking budgets. And lots more, of course. New project managers can fin this overwhelming. So if I add one more task to your list, it may hardly be welcome. But this one will make a big Difference to your performance (with a capital D).
Set aside 20-30 minutes every week to quietly reflect, on your own, about where you are with your project, what is coming up, and what you may be missing. All you need is a coffee (or tea, water, juice), a notebook, and a pen. For 30 minutes, you can turn off your phone. Go analogue. Sometimes, you may not think of anything. But believe me, there will be times when you realize something vitally important.
And that’s why we do it. When we learn to reflect, we learn the process of growing wisdom. And with that, you will cease to be what you started as, when you were at Number 1 for the first time. You are no longer a new project manager. You are simply… a project manager.
* A successful project manager? For me, that is one who has a track record of delivering projects as specified in the business case, to the approved budget, within the planned schedule. I have a 100% track record as a commercial project manager.
Dr Mike Clayton is a Project Manager. He has also trained over 6,500 project managers, coached, spoken and written extensively. He has five books on Project Management with Pearson, Wiley and Macmillan, but his latest project is far bigger. Mike is the founder of OnlinePMCourses.com, which provides video-based online training for new and mid-level project managers.