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New to project management? Here are four tips to remember

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Transitioning to project management from other professions brings its own challenges, writes Mike Grundy

Many of us don’t start out as project managers. We evolve into the role from alternate career paths and get drawn to managing projects like moths to a flame. Often it’s because operating in a work stream means that you don’t get to see the overall project, and for many of us this can be frustrating.

I began my career as a design engineer before moving into project management. The change into project management from engineering can mean you are moving from the detail to the ‘big picture’ – and for an engineer to be successful in project management, they need to embrace this.

More often than not, star performers get thrust into the spotlight and, because they have excelled in their areas of expertise, the hope is that they can run the whole project.

However you end up making the step into project management, it can be a daunting task. Below I have compiled a list of four tips that I have found the most useful.

1. Insist on training
Often overlooked by those with less experience in project management are the training tools that exist. If you are asked to step up into the role, highlight the benefits of training to your manager. After all, if training makes you a better project manager, you should be better at saving the organisation money. The training will pay for itself.

Look at the type of project management you are going to be doing – there are multiple varieties of training and tools out there. Your company may favour a more agile approach or even be looking to make improvements using Lean Six Sigma. It is important to research what training would be most suited to the type of work you will be doing. The APM website is a great place to start.

2. Document or die
I came from an engineering background and, as such, documentation is everything to me. However, those from different paths shouldn’t underestimate the power of the written word. The ability to refer back to that email or those meeting minutes has saved countless project managers. Proper documentation also prevents the ‘he said, she said’ debates that can tear good project teams apart.

Ninety-nine per cent of people won’t argue when something is written down in black and white. Once the argument is gone, you can start to work on the solution.

3. The best way to communicate isn’t always the most convenient
How often have you had your back put up by a harsh-sounding email? Now think how many emails are sent a day. I would say it is almost certain that an email you have sent has been taken the wrong way. The best way to achieve clear communication, pandemic permitting, is face-to-face – go and sit with your team, grab a coffee or go out for lunch. Not only will you find they have questions, but it is likely they will have suggestions for how you can improve things.

Granted, sometimes this is not always possible – especially during a global pandemic. Even during ‘normal’ times, you may work remotely or time may play a factor. In this case, I would suggest picking up the phone. You will find people communicate more openly and honestly than when everything is in writing.

Finally, if you feel you must resort to an email, ask yourself: could this be a letter? You know, an old-fashioned, handwritten letter with a postage stamp. If you think the message is too short or not important enough to go to all that trouble, you need to look at other options; maybe try a meeting or a call. If the answer is ‘yes’, then you should put the same amount of time and effort into writing the email as you would a handwritten letter

4. You work for your team – they don’t work for you
You may have heard the analogy of the project team as an orchestra, with the project manager acting as the conductor, making sure all the parts are playing in harmony. I would add a line to this analogy: without the orchestra, the project manager is just a fool with a stick.

I have seen many project managers come unstuck by believing that their team is there to work for them, when the opposite is true. The project manager should work for the team, ensuring that each member of the team has all they require to complete their tasks efficiently and correctly.

If you take this approach and empower your team members, you will find that they are more likely to complete their tasks and refer things to you when they have issues, rather than constantly having to run things by you.

In summary, the world of project management is an exciting and dynamic place where you can mould your own future. It can be challenging and frustrating but, as I like to remind myself from time to time: if it was easy, you’d be bored!


Image: Shutterstock / Artur Szczybylo


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  1. Gordon MacKay
    Gordon MacKay 28 August 2020, 02:13 PM

    So True Mike! Leadership is a title bestowed by followers, not asserted by those demanding sub-servience and all associated dysfunctional relations. The project manager rooted in inter-dependence will strive to release the power of others in collaboration ahead of personal dominance. We so need that from all our leaders in these times!

  2. Gary Batchelor
    Gary Batchelor 31 August 2020, 06:08 AM

    Hi Mike, that last point is so true and so often overlooked.

  3. Sammy Cunningham
    Sammy Cunningham 01 September 2020, 10:06 AM

    Good little read there Michael, I especially like the effective comms. With efficiency being the main focus in this modern world I feel we most often than not overlook the effectiveness of some of the older fashioned methods, definitely worth taking the time to see the whites of the eyes when communicating ( If & when possible). One other thing I'd add is to arrange the F2F discussions with the key people in the conversation, even if it means delaying it, can be a waste of time otherwise!