6 Tips for the Accidental Project Manager
Like many others, you probably didn’t plan to get into project management, but fell into it, so to speak. You weren’t originally employed to do (or manage) project work, but with time you were asked to look after a couple of projects in addition to your regular responsibilities. You haven’t received much training—if any—and your company doesn’t have a unified method for managing projects.
So here you are: Feeling uncertain about your scheduling planning skills, and expected to juggle your projects without much guidance or experience. You sometimes think of yourself as a “chaos-pilot” more than a project manager, trying to navigate as best you can. How do you know what to do—or if what you’re doing is the right move?
Here are six simple tips that will help you manage and deliver projects, and increase your confidence as a project manager.
1. Seek help and guidance.
The first thing you need to do is to find someone who can support you in your PM role. Look around and consider the people you work with, or individuals who are in your immediate network. Look for someone who has delivered a couple of projects before and would be willing to spend some time with you. Invite them to coffee, pick their brains and ask them what they would do in your situation.
Is this person able to support you emotionally and morale-wise—in addition to technically? If not, identify a senior manager who can act as your informal mentor. Seeking advice from someone more senior and experienced is a great way to strengthen your confidence and competence in addition to creating allies for your project.
2. Strengthen your basic project management skills
You’re not the only person out there who has been tasked with managing a project for the first time. There are a lot of project managers in similar situations—and the Internet is full of resources that can help you strengthen your skills and lead you in the right direction. Why not try an online course, listen to a podcast, become a member of a LinkedIn group, read a Project Management for Dummies book or attend one of the many talks that the PMI offers? Getting out and meeting other project managers at business networking events is another great way to gain confidence and insight into your profession.
3. Focus on customer needs.
As a project manager you’re already using a host of skills that you’ve honed in your past experiences. One of your most important roles on a project is to deliver what your clients really need, and to provide value to their businesses through the project. It’s about relating to your clients, listening to them, getting into their heads and questioning whether what they say they want is truly what they need.
Project management is, in many cases, about common sense, creating business value and about connecting with people—which you probably did in past jobs (there’s a reason you’re in this position!). Draw on everything you know about the business and make use of your people skills.
4. Plan collaboratively with your team.
One of the big mistakes that many project managers make when they first start out is to believe that they have to do all the planning on their own. Nothing could be further from the truth! When you plan in isolation, not only do you alienate the team, but you also cut yourself off from some of the team’s best thinking.
When you plan with the team, it becomes a motivational and engagement exercise, as much as a planning exercise, which helps you unite the team around a common goal. One individual simply cannot know it all and do it all on his or her own. A big part of project management is to trust others to provide the solution, and delegate decision-making. In the end, team collaboration is a big part of every project’s success.
5. Create a milestone plan.
One of the most important skills to master early on is creating a milestone plan—which you can easily create in collaboration with your team. Here’s how to do this, using a low-tech method:
- Gather the entire project team, a pile of sticky notes, and brainstorm everything that needs to get done on the project.
- Ask people to write down any project-related tasks and activities they can think of on individual sticky notes.
- Group the notes into 8-12 milestones that cover the entire project, and then sequence them and assign them high-level dates and owners.
- You’ll end up with a high-level plan flowing from left to right with a timeline at the top.
This is a great tool that will help you communicate the plan to everyone involved. It will also strengthen your confidence and ability to master your new role. (If you use LiquidPlanner, think about setting up your project in Card View.)
6. Keep your promises.
The last tip I want to leave you with is to always keep your promises. In this business, it’s surprisingly easy to over-promise, especially when you want to do a good job. It can be hard to say no when a senior manager asks you for something that is impossible to deliver. But it’s better to have the conversation up front instead of ending up not delivering on what you promised.
The reward for telling the hard truth is that executives will respect you (and come to trust you) for putting your foot down, being direct, and insisting that you need more time before committing to a deadline. Then, offer a reasonable estimation range for your project delivery.
We have more tips, tricks and best practices for you! To learn what to practice and how to apply your PM skills, download our eBook, “5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.”