018-What I wish I had known when I started Project Management
Oh, this was a fun one 🙂 Kate and I share a happy hour with you as we think back on all the things we wish we knew when we started project management. We trade lessons-learned back and forth – and we’re sure you can identify with some of these!
Warning in advance – audio quality isn’t the best in my kitchen, and we do digress a bit, but it’s a fun listen and there are some really good nuggets in here. Enjoy!
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Since some of our listeners are most likely new project managers, we would like to share what we learned when we were just starting. For today’s show we’ll be discussing “If Only I Knew This When I Was A New Project Manager”.
Kate explains the meaning of “Done” in Project Management [4:30]
I wish I knew the definition of “done” when I was younger. I realized that in project management “done” could have a different meaning for every task.
There’s a task structure, and each has its own definition of done. Therefore, you need to be clear with your meaning, especially if there are handoffs. Note that, for example, completing a server doesn’t entail finishing the project- there are applications that need to be installed.
Kim shares what he learned about ownership of a finished project [6:46]
When I was starting, my hopes were high. If I was able to complete the project, hit the marks, met the timeline, was under budget, the sponsors, I thought, should be happy.
But what I realized was that no matter how good your project is and how happy the sponsors were, you must know who you should hand off the project to. Someone has to own it in the end, and if you do not prepare them for the hand off, they might not appreciate your project, or, in the worst case, might not have a need for it.
Kate shares the importance of relationships [8:04]
When I started working, my only goal was to be focused on my work and to be great at it. I guess when you’re new, you just spend most of your time working and then sleeping.
But we are humans, and relationship building is important. You have to realize that this is just work- so be nice and understanding to people. Don’t go kicking or screaming someone to finish a task- instead, accept that delays happen. Everyone is working hard anyway, so there’s no reason to be unkind.
Kim explains that you’ll die being controlling [10:16]
You don’t have to control everything and everybody every inch of the way- in fact, if you try, you’ll die. No matter what your plan, things will deviate from that, and that’s okay. You just need to be ready for it and know how you can go back on track.
Kate on Change Management [11:07]
Change is part of the plan. You have to learn how to deal with it, how to document it, and how to get it approved. Shake it off, because it’s not always a bad thing.
Kate’s Tip On Change : Save every kudos you get in a kudos email folder. You’ll need them on bad days to remind you when things are not going your way.
Kim on Technology [13:47]
Even if the technology is from your own company, don’t ever trust it. You should always to test the product before you present it to your client, and be skeptical of new products you use. It is usually a good idea to verify that it works twice. There are times that are very painful when you trust that it will work because your engineer said so. So don’t trust the technology, and make sure it’s verified by you and tested in every way you can think of- it will be worth the effort.
Kate on everyone having a day job [16:07]
Everybody has a day job. I think you can start your project, plan it all and trust that someone is dedicated to it 100%. But you have to accept that unless someone is your consultant whose only responsibility is to focus on the project, he won’t really be completely dedicated to it. If you’re working in a big company and someone is on your team, he may be pulled out in a meeting to attend on another project. Someone maybe called to have his one on one coaching with his boss. These are the day jobs that they need to attend to, and it is important to take these into account when you’re planning.
Kim on dependencies [18:18]
When we talk about dependencies, we have to be warned of things that are outside our power and control. Examples of these are clients, other departments, stakeholders, etc. Since they are external factors, that means you don’t need to manage them- but you have to be on top of what they do. If they give a timeline on when they’ll deliver the task, ask again to confirm and seal their commitment, or check on their work history to gauge how much you can trust their word.
Kate on the weight of decision making [21:51]
As a project manager, everything is a decision. Everyone will hold you accountable, and your decisions will be questioned. This means you have to be able to explain the reasoning why you made the decisions that you did. This is why it is always best to make conscious decisions- weigh the pros and cons, and assess the benefits and downsides before you decide. As a project manager, you are getting paid to make these calls, and it is your responsibility to make sure that they are the right ones.
Kim: Ask hundreds of questions [25:08]
When you start a project and work with people you don’t know, it is important you understand what the project about. My habit is to meet the subject matter expert, get them to a conference room, and ask them to explain the project like they’re talking to a kid. This approach helps me gain credibility in front of my team and stakeholders, and answer their quesitons without looking stupid. Remember, it is impossible to manage something that you do not understand.
Kate on writing status reports [31:29]
I realized that you can control what you write on your reports, but not who will read it and where it will go. Therefore, you have to be careful in writing your reports, and consider what your team will think about it. Assume that you are crafting your message to the whole company, and maintain that level of professionalism in reports.
Kate on expectations [45:23]
Like in any other job, as a beginner, you expect beautiful things and great results- but that is not the real world. In project management, negotiating and getting the job done are the main concerns. However, people on your team have their own lives to live.
Kim on being human [47:34]
I learned that spending time to chat with the stakeholders and your own people contributes a lot in building relationships. Spending some time to have coffee with them helps in understanding where they are coming from, and contributes to establishing a harmonious working environment.
Kate on Project Management not being perfect [52:28]
Project management is an art. You work with humans, manage humans, and report to humans, and because of that, it is prone to errors. Miscommunication happens, problems occur, and you will argue. These are the things that make project management imperfect yet fun.