The great thing about doing an apprenticeship in project management is that you get exposure to both the fundamental theory as well as practical experience in a real project environment, which helps you prepare for your future as a project manager and why I chose to pursue an apprenticeship. However, when the time comes to manage your own project for the first time, applying the theory you have learnt to a real-life situation can be harder than it seems. Luckily, I have three golden rules that should settle your nerves and help you overcome any barriers when you are asked to manage your first real project.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
You are a project manager, not an expert in banking, insurance, construction, engineering, software development or any other industry that delivers projects. It is important that you develop a good understanding of the industry or business you are operating in, but the only way to do this is to be honest. Admit your limited of knowledge and ask probing questions that will help you receive the answers you need to deliver a successful project.
When I held my first ever kick-off workshop, I did not understand the business enough to identify logical next steps, therefore I made sure I asked plenty of questions throughout the session to ensure I could give the attendees clear direction to move the project forwards. Nobody expects you to be an expert, that’s what your project team are for.
2. Project governance can be fun and engaging
Introducing fresh, innovative ways of working into your project will help you keep your stakeholders engaged and focused on achieving the project objectives. Trying to sell evolutionary changes to your stakeholders becomes quite difficult when you are walking them through a dry governance document or presentation. Think outside of the box and create your own templates that are aligned to your stakeholders’ personality types. Avoid too much detail and keep things high-level where you can. As long as you have covered the key criteria in the original governance template, you can format it how you like.
You will also find it a lot easier to run your workshops and meetings when you are comfortable with the supporting material. I was asked to take control of a regular project governance meeting around three months into my first project. I didn’t feel comfortable with the inputs that were used in the past and the meeting didn’t reflect my natural style of facilitation. Therefore, I made several changes to the inputs and ran a ‘trial’ session, allowing my stakeholders to voice their opinions and provide feedback on the new approach. It turned out to be a huge success and the new method was implemented for the remainder of the project.
3. Leverage your support network
As a young project manager, you are surrounded by so many people who want to see you succeed. It is important to remember this and use your support network as a sounding board to sense check your ideas, discuss your worries and understand alternative ways to approach a situation. The majority of the time you will be doing the right thing, but you may be lacking in confidence, mentoring is a great way to grow your confidence and reassure yourself that you are more than capable.
Throughout my first project, I shared my thoughts with my line manager on a regular basis as I was concerned that I wasn’t approaching certain elements of the project in the correct way. My line manager reassured me that my approach made perfect sense which gave me confidence to put my thoughts into practice. Mentoring comes in all shapes and sizes, it can be formal or informal, long-term and ongoing or once and done - nevertheless it is a great way to enhance your skills and expand your support network.
When your time comes to deliver a project independently, try not to panic and remember these three golden rules: be inquisitive and ask lots of questions, be authentic and develop your own style, and be open and bounce ideas around your support network. You can read more about how I went from A levels to becoming a project manager here.
Do you have any queries about starting in project management or want real advice from practising project professionals? Let us know by getting in touch.
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