“Dear Elizabeth: I have a new hire starting on the team, a junior project manager. How can I make our new relationship work? I want to give her meaningful tasks, but I’m personally drowning in work, and I need someone to take some of the burden.”
First: Congratulations! It sounds as if you’ve had a conversation with management and got the support you desperately needed. Working alongside a junior project manager is going to help your workload and your project’s chances of success higher!
You know you need to ensure her onboarding is a success, so let’s focus on that, and then look at how you can best support her going forward.
Onboarding a New Team Member
Do you remember what it was like when you started as a project manager? Most of the jargon and activities felt overwhelming to me – and I chose project management as a career. Every organization has its own language and processes. Your new hire will need to get on board with everything, and it’s a lot to take in. You can help make it easier.
There are two parts to onboarding: she needs to become familiar with the organization and also with your project.
There are also two types of onboarding: proactive and reactive. It would be best if you were doing both.
Proactive onboarding describes the activities you plan to help her get up to speed. For example, work shadowing you at meetings and booking meetings between her and other key stakeholders so she can find out what they do. Your induction plan falls into this category.
Reactive onboarding is where you carve out some time each day to sit with her and answer questions. Listen, be supportive, and offer advice in response to the specific situations she needs support with at the time.
Learning About the Project
The easiest way to learn about any project is to immerse yourself in it. Make sure the junior project manager comes to as many working sessions as possible. Give her access to all the past project documentation and reporting so she can read through the background. Expect there to be questions, because that’s normal!
There’s only so much you can learn from reading. You also have to immersed in the work that you do. That will give you the benefit of reducing your workload.
Let’s be realistic. There is always an effort involved when you are delegating tasks. It’s going to take you longer to explain the work and monitor her effectiveness than it would do to do the work yourself. But you reap the rewards long term. She’ll soon become self-sufficient, and then that’s another task off your To-Do list.
Choosing What to Delegate to a Junior PM
When I was starting out in project management, my senior project manager gave me risk and issue tracking to manage, as well as some other small pieces of work. I still feel these are proper processes to hand over to someone else.
The junior project manager doesn’t have to take responsibility for the risk or issue management actions. Her role is to make sure that management actions are recorded in your project management software, that they have owners, and that the owners are doing what they need to do. It’s a mostly administrative process, but it provides a good insight into the challenges facing this project and helps her get to know the workstream leads who are responsible for the tasks.
If you agree that these tracking tasks can be delegated, ask her to book monthly risk and issue meetings with the key people and then chair them, collating updates, and then updating the risk and issue logs. You can be in the room for support.
Note: She will need access to your project management software tools before being able to do many useful tasks on the project. Make sure you request or create a login and spend some time with her explaining how to use the tool. Most enterprise PM tools have a low learning curve, but if she’s not used anything similar in the past, she might need a bit of help getting started.
Other tasks you can delegate to a junior project manager include:
- Preparing meeting agendas, taking meeting minutes and circulating notes after meetings
- Following up on actions and keeping the action tracker up to date
- Preparing draft project reports (for your approval before submission)
- Working with subject matter experts to help them plan their work
- Updating project documentation and the project plan
- Updating project management software with the latest status
Anything you do, they can do or learn to do. Think of it this way: you are training them on the job to be project managers and senior project managers. As your colleague grows in skills and experience, offer her more and more responsibility until she is capable of leading a project on her own without your support.
I know you said you want someone to take the burden, but my final thought on delegating is this. Don’t just delegate the work you don’t want to do. No one has a rewarding career by just doing photocopying and expense returns. She’s not your assistant.
There is some drudge work in project management like there is in any job. Share those tasks around the team or keep them for yourself! A junior project manager is not a dogsbody to do the team’s admin. You’ll find she wants to stick around more and help more if she’s learning on the job and making a contribution that is valued.
How to Support a Junior Project Manager
Working with a junior project manager is rewarding. I love seeing the career and confidence grow in the people I mentor, and that’s exactly what you are doing in this working relationship. Consider yourself her mentor (even if you might be her line manager at the same time).
Put regular one-to-one meetings in the diary so you can catch up both on her work and on how she is feeling about the role in general. In my experience, the crucial time for someone in a new position is the first three months. If they can get through that and still love what they are doing, then they’re likely to stick around!
It can be hard to think of what to say when you’re supporting someone for the first time. Ask open questions and practice active listening.
- Here are some conversation starters to use in your one-to-one meetings:
- How has your week been?
- What’s it like doing [a particular task]?
- Was there anything you struggled with this week?
- How can I help you with what’s on your To-Do list?
- Who would you like to meet next?
- What are you particularly enjoying about the job/this project? How can we get you to do more of that?
If you can, support your new colleague through project management training. Having a certification is a real confidence boost, and also provides the technical skills that you know but perhaps don’t have the time to teach in detail.
Also, make sure that she has enough time for technical training specific to your project or work environment — for example, learning project management tools. Even something like booking time in her diary for her to watch user guide videos on your PM software – it’s simple, but it ring-fences time for learning.
Working with a new colleague is a gift. You’ve got the opportunity to shape how she sees the organization and project management. You benefit too, from support for your project and by being seen as someone who can nurture new talent. Spend a little time thinking about how to approach her onboarding process, and you’ll both reap the rewards for years to come.
Elizabeth Harrin is a project manager, author of several books, and a mentor. Find her online at her blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.