Learning to Swim
Help! These are the first words that came to mind when a Director and a seasoned Project Manager sat me down and told me that they wanted me to manage the implementation of a new product. Sure, in my last job, I held the title of “Project Manager,” but that was more of a formality than a job description. I was a glorified customer service rep, fielding calls from clients who were asking about anything from the rush status of their sample analysis to the contents of their sampling kits. I had only been in my current position for a couple of months or so before they hit me with this responsibility. I tried to explain to them that I didn’t REALLY have any project management experience and that I would probably be better off if I just took a back seat on this one, but they wouldn’t hear it. They were insistent that it would be better for me in the long run if they just drove me out to the middle of the proverbial lake, threw me in, and expected me to learn to swim. Over the past few months managing this project I have learned a few things that I hope to share with you today.
First, know the key players and form your project team. Unfortunately for this project, it started out with a team of almost twenty individuals all with competing agendas and varying levels of corporate responsibility. During our first few meetings it became apparent to me that not everyone needed to be involved in these meetings or even on the project team. Either they had ideas that were irrelevant to what we were trying to accomplish or they would dump water into our sinking boat as quickly as I could bail it out. Under the guidance of the wise project manager, we shuffled people in and out of the project team, formed a steering committee, and designated an executive sponsor, a project sponsor, and a project champion. Not only has this helped the meetings to run more smoothly, but it has helped me learn who the key players are and delegating responsibility.
Second, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. I have found that this is critical in getting things done. As I mentioned before, with many different team members from diverse backgrounds and departments it is important to be as diligent as possible checking-in with the members of your team. This has not only helped them to stay on track, but has also given me the knowledge I need to manage the expectations and needs of my team.
Third, get your butt out of the chair. Emails and phone calls are limited in their effectiveness. Sometimes key members of my team would be so behind checking their emails that an important project-related email would get buried under a mountain of “spam.” (For the purposes of this entry, I will refer to emails not having anything to do with my project as spam). If they weren’t getting the message through email, sometimes they would be too preoccupied to answer the phone. Either that or they were screening my calls. If I knew that they were on site, I would take a walk to their office and “hover,” – for lack of better word – until I could gain an audience with them.
Fourth, keep your superiors informed to help ensure their buy-in. Thank you again to my secret weapon (the veteran project manager), for helping me to develop a bi-weekly status report. This one page summary of our activities over the prior two weeks has quickly earned the respect of our project sponsor and our executive sponsor. Because both of these individuals have a lot more responsibilities than I do, this direct and to-the-point document helps them to know exactly where we are at in the process. A brief outline of my document can be found below:
I know that this was a departure from my previous posts, but sometimes it can be refreshing to break free from old habits. Please let me know if you like this style of blog post better than previous ones or if you have any advice about managing a project I would love to hear!
Thank You for Reading!