For me, the key tips for PM success that new Project Managers should rely on as they take on this new uncharted territory...
Rely on the tools. Good project management tools are there to lean on, to depend on, to help you manage a project. Admittedly, every once In awhile there are those projects that you could manage on a piece of handwritten paper. But that is rare. If you’re an inexperienced PM, rely on the good tools you are surrounded with. They will help you with the current project and the project timelines and information you put into them and get out of them will get better and more detailed and more fine-tuned with each project and you can take each of those morsels with you to the next project… using the same tool or tools each time.
Shadow a good one. Mentoring. Not everyone has time to do it and not everyone is good at it, but if you’re starting out as a PM and you’re involved with a group of some experienced project managers you are likely to find one who is willing to help you along the way. It isn’t about PMP certification. It is more about experience and success.
Conduct great meetings. Learning how to conduct great project meetings and to get – and keep – people in their seats at your meetings can be a huge key to project success. So how do you make that happen? Make sure you plan for the meeting and send out materials – including a status report – in advance. Only invite the key players but make sure those key players know what they are assigned to and why they are there. If they know they are expected to contribute, they are less likely to just consider it another meeting to skip. Conduct the meetings for the project on a regular basis – usually weekly – and try to never cancel project meetings. Even if there isn’t much to cover in a given week, still conduct the meeting because the minute you start to cancel project meetings is the moment that those attendees start to consider your project meeting optional. Even if all you do on those slow weeks is go around the room and get a brief update from each attendee, it is worth it. It keeps them involved, keeps them coming, and keeps anything from falling through the cracks that could be very important to the project. Finally, take good notes and send out those notes to all attendees to review and revise and send back to you in order to make sure everyone is on the same page at all times.
Status reporting drives the projects. Put together a good, detailed status report and let it drive the project meetings. Take notes and then revise the status report post-meeting and send it out to all participants to verify everyone understands what went on and that everyone is still on the same page.
The budget is the hardest part. You’re managing – for the most part – someone else’s money. Manage the budget closely. Get new actual charges against the project every week from accounting, revise the project budget forecast and analyze what the budget health looks like every week. A 10% budget overrun can be corrected fairly easily. A 50% or 60% overrun can not…and may not ever be corrected. If you’re managing the budget closely every week, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever go past about 10% over and you can quickly plan with your team – and possibly even your project customer – on what corrective action you may need to take. Your customer wants you to succeed. They are there to help. Trust me.
Summary / call for input
At one time or another we are all new to project management. If you are now new to project management, I hope this list helps. If you’re experienced, tell us all what you would change or add to this list.
Some of us wanted to be project managers and do great things and lead great teams while others had greatness thrust upon them – at least initially – unwillingly. What's your story? How did you initially become a project manager? Looking back, do you consider that it was a good career move? Please share your story.