3 Lessons From My First Project Manager Job

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By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Fifteen years ago, I transitioned from being an IT manager to a project manager for the first time. With this month’s theme at projectmanagement.com being “new practitioner PM,” here are three key lessons I learned while managing my first projects.

When I was an IT manager, I always had projects that were assigned to my department. I loved being part of large projects so much I realized I wanted to do it full-time. So I made a conscious decision to transition to being a dedicated project manager.

Managing a project is truly like being a CEO of your own company—you have authority over budget, resource and key decision-making responsibilities. However, it’s an art, and mastery takes time. These are the three fundamental lessons I learned:

1) Communication is about simplifying and personalizing.

Although we may hear that 90 percent of a project manager’s job is to communicate, the best communication is one that doesn’t contain acronyms, special terminology or techno-speak.

Remember that key stakeholders are often involved in multiple projects. To get their attention, you need to make your communications concise and personal while clearly specifying the action desired.

Avoid lengthy mass emails, and tailor the frequency and channel according to the person. One sponsor told me she gets so many emails that I should schedule a meeting if it’s important. Another sponsor told me he works best with instant messaging if I needed something immediately.

The key is to know your audience and adapt accordingly. My first sponsor meeting always includes finding out how and when he or she would like to be communicated with.

2) Project management is about knowing which tools to use when.

Yes, project management is about processes, knowledge areas and ITTOs (inputs, tools and techniques, outputs), according to the PMBOK Guide. But, most importantly, it’s a menu of available options.

Trying to do everything by the book or insisting on adherence to every single template and tool is setting yourself up for disaster. Assess the needs of the project, and don’t ignore the culture of the organization. You can’t go from zero processes to textbook processes overnight. You may need to start slow by introducing concepts and build from there.

3) Build relationships.

Trust is key. When you’re starting out as a project manager, you’re an unknown, so you need to work extra hard to establish the relationships. It’s important to come across as professional, yet approachable and flexible in order to build confidence with your team, and most importantly, your sponsors and key stakeholders. Regular, relaxed one-on-one meetings, such as getting coffee or grabbing lunch, help to build cohesive partnerships that will pay dividends when the going gets tough on the project.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 23, 2016 07:29 PM | Permalink

Comments (13)

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I totally agree with you Jen - Communications, Relationships and the right tools and you are good to rock and roll.

Very true. Communication and relationship building works best in Project manager's life.

Thank you for sharing, Excellent Article, I totally agree with you when mentione about Build relationships where Trust is key.

completely agree. And apparently validated by the PMI with the new exam's focus on Communication and Stakeholder management.

I could not agree more with the first point. Enghaging in a conversation that is free of acronyms is important. Especially, if interacting with stakeholders that have recently joined the the organization and may not have a clue what you may be referring to, but may be too shy to stop and ask what it means. Effective communcation makes for an effective outcome.

Very good lessons, totally agree!

Excellent. The three lessons are the main in the project manager

Build relationships, very important. It takes time a to reach it at the right level but are effective when negotiations come up and are key to build trust among stakeholders. Then maintain such relationships is the next and difficult step.

Nice topic, thanks.

Love the "relational" focus on your points, Jen. There is too little information about how to make frameworks of Project Management all come together, but the key is "relationships." Nicely written and thanks for sharing!

Interesting, it reminds me of an interview I attended many years ago for a PM job in project sponsor organisation. I was asked what I thought was the most important skill for a PM to have? I replied saying "communication skills". I did not get the job and later discovered that the answer they were expecting was "Finance skills". I still believe that good communication and interpersonal skills lie at the heart of good project management.

Thank you all for sharing your perspectives, it's always so interesting to hear the comments and experiences around the globe.

good !

I totally agreed with you. We need get attention, balance what we need with what "must" do and build connections

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