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"The single most important thing for project managers to know is how it feels to be working in a team. You must have earned your position, working alongside the team before going on to lead those same people. Otherwise, no-one will take your seriously"
The challenge for project managers is to lead a team of individuals that are most often collated from varying departments. Each will have their own priorities, other work they must complete during the course of the project, and unexpected stresses along the way.
It's hard to build rapport among the team quickly, yet that is what you must do. For the first few days or weeks, roles may be confused, people will step on toes. Everyone will look to you to resolve those role, motivation and personality clashes. And, finally, external and unexpected events will add to the pressure.
The prototype may not be ready to demo to potential customers, the product may not ship as planned, work may have been duplicated by different departments not related to your project team. With such potential for chaos, planning, order and communication are essential. But, how can this be achieved?
My solution, developed after years of working in, with, for such teams, and now leading them, is to keep these key principles in mind at all times.
- Get and Show Your Experience
You must gain experience in the field in which you're working. Do this first, before attempting to lead a team of professionals. This is not just like being a manager. Instead, you're a conductor, not a parent. You're signposting, not micro-managing.
- Learn How to Use the PM Tools
To be perfectly frank, there are lots of great cloud project management software apps available. The question is not really which one to use, but how to use it. Pick one that helps you and the team keep track efficiently, ensure everyone attends training on how to use the tool and, crucially, how you're going to use it. This is not the place for mavericks. All of this must be backed up by written processes. One of the biggest parts of your job will be robustly enforcing these processes. Otherwise, lies chaos.
- Plan, Plan and Plan Again
Yes, you'll plan ahead. But, then it'll be revised. Learn to adapt to changing circumstances. This is one of your key skills, the ability to adjust as circumstances change. Remember, planning may mean you'll need to write, or commission a new branding or style guide, arrange for artwork to be created, or add in a few external consultants to the team. Adaptability is your superpower! Model it to encourage others to do the same.
- Personality & Other Clashes!
You may have inherited a hastily drawn-together team of individuals many of whom may never have worked together before. Take time to get to know everyone, what stresses them out and how they work best. Strive to use the best person for the best task. Encourage the nervous and unwilling. Harness the energy of the loud and bouncy! Get to know your resources and try to find a balance between keeping them happy and productive, and making sure your project gets delivered on time.
Lessons learned from years of managing project teams:
- Spend more time planning and less time stressing. You must make sure those around you do the same. Take time to write, edit and gain approval on procedures. Share the plan with everyone. Discuss it. Modify it in light of feedback. Get ownership before you begin.
- Things will break and fall apart as you go along. Build in some time for failure and fixing. Build in time for more discussion and meetings. Don't over-schedule everyone's day.
- Take feedback on the chin. If something's not working, listen to your team. The more you implement their suggestions, the more loyalty you'll build.
- Don't forget the quiet ones. They usually have a lot to say, but may need some encouragement.
I've written a longer post on LinkedIn. Check it out at the link. And, thank you for reading.