Advice for the First-Time IT Project Manager
Are you an IT professional who was just given the opportunity to move into a project management role? You’re not alone. In many organizations, this is the logical next step on the career path. While this transition from a purely technical role to a manager of a team/project can seem daunting, we’ve got a few tips to help you on your way.
In an ideal world, you would get proper training in IT project management before any assignment; in many organizations, that won’t happen. That’s why we’re going to give you a few basics to help you make a smooth transition into managing an IT team.
First, adjust your mindset for your new role
- Remember you’re now a manager, not a technical resource anymore. You will be rewarded not so much for your brilliance as a systems technologist but for finishing the project on time and on budget.
- Get clear direction from your manager. If you’re expected to do more than manage the project, find out how you’re expected to split your time between project manager and your technical role. Avoid situations where you’re a full-time engineer who just happens to manage the project.
- Cultivate a mentor. You’ll need someone to bounce ideas off as you make the transition from IT practitioner to project manager. It might be hard for you to get the advice you need from team members.
When you start as a new IT project manager, take time to think about your plan before you get your team on board.
Then, lay a foundation
- Learn your client’s language. Most IT projects are pursued in order to gain a business benefit, so speak the language of those particular business benefits and requirements—that’s why your client is investing in the project.
- Ask: “Why are we doing this project?” Identify the project stakeholders, and ask them as well. By learning the perspectives and expectations of these individuals, you can hone your understanding of project goals, what the end product should look like, and which stakeholders need attention.
- Formulate your project vision. Your business clients might not describe their goals in terms that skeptical engineers or other IT professionals can appreciate, so translating the vision into more technical terms for your team members is important. “IT managers have trouble leveraging their good ideas with their vision,” says consultant Richard Hagberg, who develops training programs for high-tech firms. “They jump from vision to execution without the necessary support of the people with whom they work.”
Now that’s you’ve got a vision and have put some thought into your plan, it’s time.
Then, jump in!
- Communicate with people: This includes your team members, clients, stakeholders, and your boss. “If you don’t get the people side of project management, it doesn’t matter how good your methodology or your tools are,” says Fumi Kondo, managing director of Intellilink, a management consulting and training company.
- Be clear and definitive with team members: When questions arise, your team needs clear direction. Never leave a team member with an “on the one hand, on the other” message. Have that analytic discussion with your colleague or mentor, but make a clear decision.
- Manage to scope: Be clear on project scope from the start, then manage scope creep as new stakeholder claims arise. As a new PM, expect one or more clients to push for new functionality or a faster timeline. Consider the request, then get back to the requester. To avoid saying no, you can always point out that the new element could be added with more time or money.
- Keep your eye on the timeline. Are you hitting your milestones? If not, let your stakeholders know as soon as possible, with a new time estimate, and strategy if appropriate, then make an effort to get back on track.
- Initiate group problem-solving on tough issues. You selected smart people for your team. Use them and their innovative ideas Don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
- Involve business users. Your project client has given you business requirements, but ultimately your deliverables must please end users. Involve end users along the way to be sure your solution will solve their original problem.
- Test early and often: Don’t save your testing until the end of the project, when it’s often too difficult and time-consuming to remedy errors made early on.
Congratulations! Now that you’ve completed and (hopefully) successfully managed your first IT project, don’t forget you still have work to do to wrap up the project:
Evaluate yourself as a project manager. Ask your team, your stakeholders, your mentor, and your boss for their honest assessments and suggestions on how to improve in the future. Positive feedback is important too, so ask them what you did well so you can continue to improve those skills.
After all that planning, executing and evaluating, take some time to reflect on your new role as project manager and decide if you’re excited about your new career path.
One of the most important skills for anyone managing technical projects–especially long-term IT ones–is being able to accurately estimate projects. To learn more about this, download our eBook, “6 Best Practices for Accurate Project Estimation.”
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