How to Manage Your First Project
At some points in life, you have been given a particular task or project to handle, whether by your boss or supervisor or colleagues.
Admittedly, you may first experience a feeling of excitement being the first job entrusted to you, and then later get confused, especially in situation where you don’t seem to understand the task instruction anymore.
It is normal to get overwhelmed when you have a project at hand, probably from not knowing how to start or what to expect.
However, managing a project effectively has more to do with your planning than the project itself.
Outlining the steps that you will take to achieve success in your projects will allow you to be more conscious of what you are doing and, thus, make you committed to the successful completion of the project.
This is why we have put up concise step-by-step methods to help you attain milestones in your tasks.
10 SKILLS EVERY PROJECT MANAGER SHOULD HAVE
Anyone can be a project manager and handle whatever is given to you effectively; however, there are certain traits or skills that you must possess to make your first project a success.
- Leadership: Aside from management skills, leadership is a non-negotiable skill that every project manager must possess. Admittedly, you have a task and a goal, but you will still have a team that answers to you. At this point, your leadership skills are needed and will determine your project’s success. The ability to handle your team is one vital project management skill as you have to inspire and share your vision concerning the project with them. Additionally, you have to know how to manage your team so that no one will be left behind.
- Time Management: As a project manager, you will have time-bound goals and deadlines. Thus, you have to know how to schedule your projects and stick with the timing to achieve your goals. The key to ensuring proper time management is not to work more but be more efficient. Also, you should have some level of discipline when following your schedule to avoid being labeled as incompetent.
- Budget Management: Another skill you must have as a project manager is the ability to work within a set budget without exceeding it. Before this time, you should set your budget accurately with provision for miscellaneous and expenses. Having done this, you should also work with methods that will track your spending. If you are unable to track your spending, you will find out that you are always short on cash with no visible input in the project.
- Risk Management: As you progress in your profession as a project manager, you will find out that projects come with different risks, and there are various ways to manage them. Your ability to manage these risks and make the most out of it will show some level of competence on your part. Additionally, no matter how much you plan for a project, there will always be surprises, whether good or bad. So, you need to learn how to manage it effectively as sponsors or employers do not like surprises.
- Contract Management: Working on a project will involve working with suppliers and contract staff. Your job also entails handling these contract staff effectively. Although this function was previously for finance department in organizations or companies, however, it now also revolves around the project managers. This is because you have to ensure that the procurements you made are up to standard and meet the demand.
- Critical Thinking: A critical thinker is someone who, having weighed their options and pros and cons, can decide on what is best for the project. This skill is crucial in project management as you will be spearheading most activities. Therefore, you have to have critically thought out your plans and decided on the best action that will give the best results. Constant practice is one way to build this skill as well as using approaches and tools that will help in logical thinking.
- Communication Skills: A project manager is expected to head the project team and relate information to and from the project sponsors. Communication in every project is vital as sponsors want to be kept up to date with the happenings in the project while your team members need to be aware of what you are expecting from them.
Therefore, this skillset can determine the success of a project and as well help you to stay on top of the project.
Always ensure to communicate surprises and outcomes of a project with your team regularly and effectively such that they can attend to it in case there is a need for adjustment.
With the advancement in technological, you can communicate adequately and efficiently with your team through various means such as social media, emails, and newsletters.
Additionally, meetings and conference calls are valid for communication, as well.
- Task Management: When you can create tasks, delegate the work, and continuously check the progress, then you are going about project management the right way. Consequently, these strategies will speed up the project while letting you give your best. In a bid to manage these tasks without missing out on any, you can create To-Do lists that will guide you and your team appropriately. Also, you should be able to structure this list in order of priority so that each project gets maximum attention. Make sure to use leading task management software tools.
- Meetings Management: Most times, meetings end on different notes, probably, without any meaningful conclusion or a course of action. When handling a project, you should also know how to manage your meetings to agree on a clear course of action. Knowing when the session is veering off the rails, and people are losing interest is one skill you need to have as a project manager. You can curb these issues if you can stick to the agenda while reading the body language of your team members. Consequently, you will get better results and pass the information across effectively.
- People Skills: Your colleagues and team members are a reflection of you as the team lead; thus, how you can manage them and relate with them will affect the project. If you can relay information effectively and call one to order without sounding too strict, your colleagues will have a conducive environment. Additionally, having a good sense of humor is a plus, as this will reduce tension and allow your team to be more expressive, kick back, relax, and recharge for more serious business.
5 STAGES OF A PROJECT
1. Initiation: This stage revolves around when a need is noticed, and the solution to that need births a project. A need for change usually births a project as it will bring about action towards a set goal. Subsequently, the project will be vetted and accepted by a board of sponsors before it is assigned.
2. Planning: Planning is the defining factor of every project; it will determine how well the project will go. Although it may be tasking at first, you will find out that this will save you money, stress, and time as soon as you start the project. Here are some things to focus on while planning:
- Define the Scope: At this stage, you want to identify the project and break it down so you can understand the details. You should also know the aim and objectives of the project at hand. Consequently, defining the scope will guide you and your team on the right path.
- Note Available Resources: A project will require equipment and people that will make it successful. Thus, you should determine these resources and put them all in place to give a smooth running of the project. Sometimes, you may not be directly involved in the dispensing of these resources, but you can control them through matrix management.
- Understand the Timeline: Every project comes with a due delivery date, and this will help guide how urgent you treat the project. Also, you can be flexible with the time allotted for the project despite the fixed deadline. Thus, you have to draw up a timeline based on the deadline to aid quick delivery.
- Detail the Work: When working on a project, it is equivalent to working on a huge task. Thus, you have to break it down to more straightforward functions in a bid to get it done in time. Also, when you break it down and delegate tasks to others, it begins to run smoothly. Additionally, you should know what is needed for each section, weigh your options against the delegated budget, and choose the best option within the scope of the project.
- Develop a Preliminary Plan: Identify the steps needed for the success of the project and make it a plan. One way that can make you succeed at this is by drawing up a successive outline of the steps. This sequential list will allow you to work on what is needed when it is required. Also, associate these steps with the right resources as well as how long it will take.
- Create a Baseline Plan: Go through the preliminary plan and check with external bodies on what should be done first. Also, adjust the plans to suit the timeline and work schedules.
- Request Project Adjustments: Most times, the budgets or timeframe for projects may be insufficient, which may lead to challenges when the project starts. Thus, to avoid such, you should be able to walk up to the sponsors or your boss with a written realistic expectation, and request for more time or more funds to make the project a success. Also, this should be done before the project begins to avoid hitches when the project starts.
3. Execution: After initiation and planning, the next step is to get your plans underway as soon as possible. Executing a project involves acting based on the ideas you have drawn up. These are some steps to help you accomplish your plans effectively:
- Assemble your Project Team: One person is unable to carry out a project alone. You have to make sure you involve people who are capable of carrying out some tasks to make the process faster and productive. Create a team with people that are experts in their fields. Startup a dialog with them, share the goals of the project with them, get their ideas, vet them, and add the workable ones to yours.
- Work your Plan: As much as planning for the project is essential, it is even more important to follow through. Also, you should be able to change these plans and go for better solutions. Admittedly, this may mess up the structure and timeline; therefore, it is crucial to have a plan B while preparing the initial plan to avoid being blindsided.
4. Controlling and Managing: As your plans unfold and the project begins, the next critical phase is the controlling and managing phase. At this point, you strive to manage the given resources and allow adequate time and resources for each sector.
- Monitor the Progress: When you start the project, you will record little progress at the beginning. However, the little things you do matter a lot and will determine how far the project will go. Also, you should monitor the progress of your team and how well they deliver based on the plans. Consequently, you will be able to track the things that may become a problem eventually.
- Document Everything: Projects are most likely to be successful if everything goes as planned; however, tracking and documenting every change and challenge will help you to be accountable. Also, when you make changes to the plans, ensure that you write it down as well as the reason for the difference. Additionally, when you add new requirements, you should document where it came from and how it affected the timeline. It is impossible to remember everything; therefore, writing them down will go a long way in accountability.
- Keep Everyone Informed: Communication is critical in project delivery as the sponsors would like to get feedback frequently. You should try to pass information across to the stakeholders of the project when a significant milestone is reached. Additionally, inform them about the challenges encountered immediately they come up. Your team also has the right to know about new developments and how much is left for them to achieve. Also, if changes are about to be implemented, try as much as possible to inform them beforehand so that no one will be left behind.
5. Closing: Every project has an end, and this involves its completion and delivering it within the deadline. Also, rounding the team up and officially ending the project will signify its end. If possible, you can relay the results and outcomes to the team and commend everyone for their contributions.
OTHER TIPS TO HANDLING YOUR FIRST PROJECT INCLUDE:
a. Define your goals: Know the reason why the project was initiated, identify the aims, and all who hope to achieve at the end. Also, share this with your team and make sure they understand the vision. Let them also know your expectations and share them with you to ensure that you are both on the same page. Consequently, defining your project goals will help everyone work with the goals in view.
b. Be Supportive: During your project, there might be issues that may attempt to disrupt the progress of your project. This may be in the form of conflicts among your team members or other contract staff. In a bid to make the project run smoothly, you should ensure adequate collaboration between all team members during the project. Also, be accessible to your team members so that they can share their problems with you.
c. Motivate your team: While carrying out a task, every one, one way or the other, has experienced the loss of motivation, especially when things are not going as planned. Therefore, your job is to keep your team going by motivating them continuously. Avoid mentioning the deadlines and tasks too often because this may affect their productivity. You can, however, motivate them by praising exemplary achievements and giving advice to those who need it.
d. Be Flexible: Flexibility is needed if you want to deliver effectively as there are issues that may arise in a bid to disrupt the progress. When such things occur, you should be able to work out a possible solution without panicking. You should have alternative ideas to allow you to deliver when needed. Also, be open to suggestions and ideas from your team members so that you can handle issues when they arise.
e. Stay Committed: In the course of the project, distractions are bound to arise; however, your ability to still forge ahead, despite these challenges, makes you stand out. Additionally, when you feel like giving up, remember your team and ensure that their commitments are not going to waste.
f. Cut off Project killers: Not everyone in your team has the interest of the team at heart, and having people like this in the team may make you lose precious time. Thus, you should be aware of those who continuously refuse instructions and slow the team down without adequate reason. When you identify them, try talking to them, and if there is still no change, then you cut them off as the project is the most important thing at stake.
g. Work with Tech: Technology has advanced to the point where every profession can benefit from it. Project managers are not left out as there are different project management apps and software you can use to organize and achieve the best out of your project. Some apps like Basecamp, Trello, and Wrike are only but a few that can help you create schedules and stay on track.
h. Be Time conscious: As I stated earlier on the importance of time management, you should always stay aware of the timeline, deadlines, and know how to manage it. This will help you and your team to remain faithful to the task.
Project management may sound so complicated and challenging, but when you have the right set of people on your team, it makes everything easier.
To avoid issues that may arise, enlist the help of those who will be beneficial to your project.
Also, you should be disciplined; know when to smile and when to be serious with your team members.
Don’t be too strict, and don’t be too playful as well. A lot is riding on you.
Additionally, learn to be appreciative of your team members, celebrate their little victories and milestones. Also, don’t take credit for their achievements; ensure they are honored duly.