11 Things Every New Project Manager Should Know

Don’t act like you know it all know-it-all by by TedsBlog via Flickr

When you’re new to a role, it’s natural to cover up your own ignorance. You want to earn respect, and everyone is looking at you. So you may not speak up when a topic is discussed that you don’t understand…you nod your head instead of asking a "stupid" question.

Here’s the thing: you will only learn by asking questions. Why not do it while you’re still the "new PM" on the block? Your teams and collegues will cut you some slack for awhile, but not for long. You need to learn quickly, and the best way to do that is by asking "stupid" questions.

Be results-oriented

Start asking yourself the following question constantly. "What is the goal?" Apply that to every part of your day. In a meeting? What’s the goal? You assigned a task? What’s the goal? For your project as a whole or pieces of it….what’s the goal? What does "done" look like and how will you know you’ve acheived it?

Hone your people management skills

Managing people is what project management is about. If you can’t manage people well, get better at it or go back to being an individual contributor. Luckily, management skills can be taught, and you can become a great manager (even if you stink at it now!)

Hone your project management fundamentals

So many project managers, new and experienced ones, fail to grasp some of the most fundamental concepts specific to project management. For instance, if you think a WBS is a task list and not a primary, central artifact to manage your project, please go get some good training on it.

Hone your political skills

The great thing about managing projects is that you get to interact with everyone! You need to speak the language of your team, sponsor, and key stakeholders. Understanding the incentives and needs of each individual and group goes with the territory.

You also need to be able to negotiate compromises between these individuals and groups. This takes finesse and you’ll probably screw up at least a few times. Just realize what this is and get better at it. Use tools like a stakeholder analysis to formalize and articulate the process.

Learn how to run meetings well meeting by Savijana via Flickr

This goes along with general management skills and being results-oriented, but I can’t stress it enough. Running great meetings is a science that can be learned, and you need to protect your team from being involved with poorly-run meetings as much as possible. Meetings should have an explicitly stated goal, clear time-based agenda, be facilitated well, and followed up on with minutes and accountability assignments.

Trust your teams

Too many new project managers come into a team with a good intention, but it comes across like this. "I’m the new project manager. You’ve all been doing things wrong, and I’m here to fix your problems."

That doesn’t go over well. I have a 60-90 day change policy. Unless it’s going to make the project fail, I don’t change anything except for a few general management basics for 60-90 days. I tell the team this is my policy. I give them the message that they are doing a good job, and I’m going to pay my dues and learn how they work before I start trying to change anything.

Involve your teams

Too many project managers leave their teams out of planning and decision-making for the project. This is a mistake. It’s usually rationalized by saying to yourself "it will free up the team to get more work done if I plan everything myself and make all the decisions."

What actually happens is that you make poor decisions and plan poorly because you haven’t engaged the experts. AND they get stuck with your poor job of planning and deciding which destroys trust and respect. They feel you have little respect for them, signing them up for impossible goals without even asking what they think.

Give credit to your team, keep the blame for yourself

In my status reports I give credit by name to the individuals who accomplished activities, especially when they did a spectacular job. Or I’ll say the team has done a great job with xyz, etc. It’s all about the team.

When things go bad, it’s my responsibility. I’m accountable for it. To anyone except for the individual(s) who might have messed up, it’s my fault. I explain why it happened and how we are fixing it.

When you do this, here’s what happens. Your team will notice that you don’t take credit for their accomplishments, and you have their back if they mess up. (By the way, this doesn’t mean you forgive them and move on. Good people management doesn’t mean always being nice!) You build trust and respect and your team will want to do good work. Sponsors and stakeholders notice it too. They’ll know you don’t place blame or make excuses, and you’ll buld trust and respect with them too.

Eliminate obstacles and distractions obstacle by The U.S. Army via Flickr

As a project manager, I feel one of my primary duties is to eliminate all obstacles and distractions from my teams. One of the best things you can do as a project manager is identify constraints on the productivity of your team and figure out how to elevate or eliminate those constraints so more can get done. There is a balance of course….if you identify every last thing that isn’t directly related to getting work done as an obstacle then the general communication and alignment of your team will suffer.

Find a mentor

This is related to not acting like you know it all. Find someone in your organization who is more experienced than you. Offer to take them out to lunch if they agree to give some advice on things you are struggling with. Ask to help them in any way you can, and use it as an opportunity to look over their shoulder and learn how to be more effective.

Josh Nankivel

Flickr Image credits (Creative Commons-licensed content for commercial use)

know-it-all by by TedsBlog via Flickr

meeting by Savijana via Flickr

obstacle by The U.S. Army via Flickr


1 thought on “11 Things Every New Project Manager Should Know”

  1. Hey Josh – great post! I liked the idea of being results-oriented because it seems so easy to let things get away from you at times. Your readers might like to see http://pm.blogs.com/ for other writing regarding these principles. Again, thanks so much – it was a good read!


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