Old hand becoming a new project manager
September 15, 2011 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to become a project manager for the first time. Help!

I'm starting a new job on Monday. Part of that job will be managing a transition from internal applications to hosted applications. I have almost no actual details.

I've spent my career to date as a line employee; one of the people who relies on the project manager to keep things organized and rolling along. Now I'm going to /be/ the project manager.

I want to be a good or excellent project manager. What should I read, or know, or (most importantly) do to make everyone's lives easier? What do good project managers do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
The project manager makes sure the project is on track in terms of schedule and budget. You have to make sure that your team members are completing the necessary tasks to keep the project on schedule. You need to develop the milestones that you need to reach to complete the project. Then you need to break those down into specific tasks that are needed to complete them, determine how long each task should take and who will be responsible for completing them. This will tell you how long the project should take. Factor in enough time to push things back as needed when things come up. Then you need to check in at intervals and at each milestone to see where things are at and if they are in line with the project schedule. If they are not, you need to figure out why and make sure you are communicating with whoever you are responsible to for the project and extending the schedule as necessary. You need to make sure your team members are able to stay within budget and communicate with whoever you are responsible to for the project to expand the budget as necessary. Set everyone's expectations lower than what you think you can accomplish, then exceed their expectations.
posted by doomtop at 11:40 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Read this book. It's a wide view of everything project management related. It's the "bible" for the industry.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:49 AM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

That's a huge topic, but between all of Mefi you'll probably get lots of great input.

Here are a few tips that I think are important:

- Get a clear picture of the end-state you are trying to reach, in all its aspects. If you start the other way (listing all the stuff to do starting from where you are) it's easy to miss important stuff that has to get handled to achieve success.

- Important aspects of that end-state that are often missed in tech projects are things like training the users to use the new system, or understanding the workload involved in getting the old data into the new system. Those things can fall between the cracks of different people's specialisms.

- Understand that most people aren't very good at estimating. The first PM I ever worked with was in the habit of doubling everybody's estimates, which made us all pretty indignant. Except that more often than not he turned out to be accurate in his predictions. If people are doing something very similar to something they've done before *and* they actually measured the effort it took before, they can be pretty accurate in their estimates. But often one or both of those conditions won't be met.

- Have the attitude that the buck stops with you. Sure some person X who leads group Y will have said they'll get Z done by such and such a date. That's all well and good, but they'll often have competing priorities, won't be on top of things, and (as per above) be drastically off in their estimates. Realize this is normal and it's not like person X is bad or incompetent. Just take the view that whatever the formal authority, you operate as if the buck stops with you, not with them. e.g. Keep track of how they're getting on, give them a friendly nudge if needed, or if worse comes to worse discover *sooner* rather than later that they're not going to meet their deadline and replan accordingly.

- A key aspect of saying to yourself "the buck stops with me" is that you don't make other people's human foibles an excuse for things going wrong, rather you deal intelligently with those human foibles. An example: Someone who is not quite sure how to do X might put it off til later, never being clear even in their own mind why they put it off. If you want your project to succeed (rather than having someone to blame when it doesn't!) make it your business to figure our that the person is having a problem, and getting that problem resolved. e.g. Give the task to someone else who understands it better, or get some help for the person who is befuddled.
posted by philipy at 12:16 PM on September 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don't know that I'd suggest the PMBOK as a stand-alone guide to learning to be a good project manager. It is, by it's nature, an index more than a book on its own. It's also got a bias towards more structured approaches than your new organization may have - if they're an Agile or SCRUM sort of place you should wait till the next PMBOK which will supposedly embrace those sorts of techniques more.

Not that the PMI courses and certs aren't worthwhile, but going into an organization as a newbie and trying to enforce a rigor they're not open to is a recipe for trouble.
posted by phearlez at 12:32 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get a pen and notebook and get into the habit of taking lots of notes.

If you ever find your day is filled with passing messages to and from people, you are doing it wrong. Part of your job is to bring the right people together. Get them to solve problems for you, get them to commit to dates, but don't be afraid to compromise. If everything always ran according to plan, they wouldn't need a project manager.

The mechanics of project management are familiar to almost everyone -- a lot of it is common sense -- but the communication and negotiation are a lot harder.

For reading material, you might try The Art of Project Management.

Good luck!
posted by swift at 1:19 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding the Berkun book swift mentioned just above, but note that it's been renamed.
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:59 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ive been a project manager for a number of years.( I stopped to have kids but am going back to a new, i guess quite high-profile role)

As far as I have been able to see, a good project manager is one who communicates, constantly, tirelessly and well.

Sorry to be so simplistic but there you go. I'm trained in all the main methodologies and processes, and to be honest the only thing they're good at is giving everyone a 'language'. Theory being that you all use the same terms and therefore you understand each other. But this this only works part of the way.

Talk to your team, manager, stakeholders, board, department. And listen constantly. Your project's progress changes by the minute. You need to be the receiver of all information and transmitter of all KEY information.

And that's it. The bits about being in control, and staying in control will come as you gain confidence. But while you're working towards that, just keep communicating. Good luck!
posted by dimon at 3:26 PM on September 15, 2011

Sit down and write out two lists. The first list is all the ways your previous PMs failed at their job (to you, to the company etc). The second list is all the ways your previous PMs exceeded your expectations of their positions.

Try to do more of the 2nd list and less of the 1st list.
posted by jaimystery at 3:47 PM on September 15, 2011

(1) As a PM you need to learn your direct reports' "multipliers." Figure out the person who will always tell you it will take 20 hours to do something when in reality it takes them 40. Figure out the person who tells you 40 but only ever takes 10. It becomes much easier to manage timelines and when management questions your estimates for completion on something because "So and so said it would only take a week", you'll be able to argue convincingly.

(2) The best managers (functional managers or project managers) I've worked for have been what I like to call Shit Umbrella. Drama happens in upper management. Things go wrong and upper management yells at the PM. Budgets get cut by clients. Important resources are unavailable right when you need them. And whenever something like that happens, a good PM does not make it their reports' problem. If upper management yells at the PM, the PM needs to fix it, not go relay the yelling on to their report. If it's crunch time, try to limit the extra hours your reports need to work. Basically, shield them from shit that it's *your* job to deal with, don't go whining to them to let them hear how difficult your life is, and just let them do their jobs. Be a Shit Umbrella.

(3) Subscribe to the Management By Walking Around philosophy. Don't wait for someone to email you an update. Spend an hour a day wandering the office. Check in with someone at the coffee machine. Ask how things are going. Ask what they're working on. Ask how you can help. You'll find out a lot more truth than you will waiting for weekly updates to roll into your inbox on a Friday afternoon.
posted by olinerd at 5:59 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

As an engineer who's often been frustrated by PMs who come to me at the beginning of the project with a vague outline and then are silent for two months before coming back with "it has to go live tomorrow!" I'd say, please don't be that PM.

Send frequent projects updates so that everyone knows what's been done and what's still outstanding and who's responsible for each piece.

Lots of people will delete the updates without reading them so also send out targeted requests for updates on outstanding tasks to the folks that need to complete those tasks. Be polite, but stay on them.

Never assume that anything is done just because someone said "I'll do it as soon as I get back to my desk". They got grabbed in the hall three times between you and their desk and they have no memory of ever talking to you. It's not intentional, so just follow up with an email because it's a lovely little reminder sitting the inbox when they finally do get to the desk.
posted by Awfki at 6:40 PM on September 15, 2011

Be sure that at the beginning of a process you get the view-points of all of thethe people and teams. There is nothing i hate more than a PM that drives you down a path not understanding that the problem they're solving was solved a long time ago.

Also, don't helicopter. Trust in the workers that they are in the positions they are in because they have the needed talents and will get the job done, you asking for daily updates or having daily hour long meetings will just make people resent you.

Good luck. I lead a team of people and love it.
posted by zombieApoc at 7:59 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Taittinger Comtes de Champagne in Chicago?   |   What do real editors do, anyhow? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.