Working as a project manager is a constant learning experience. I have been amazed, thrilled and occasionally disappointed with the things I have discovered while on the job. Let’s take a look at the main things I discovered after I got settled into the role.
That Things Would Go Wrong
In most jobs you can avoid things going wrong. In fact, in my previous roles I don’t really remember anything much going badly wrong – although could just be my selective memory kicking in. Anyway, in the project world I have had to deal with all sorts of disasters. This is enough to make anyone feel bad at times but to be honest with you there is often not much you can do about it. Most projects involve so many outside factors that the project manager can easily feel that things are slipping out of their control. Of course, what you need to do is be able to monitor the risks and issues and have plans in place to react to them. For example, you might consider that there is a risk that all of the company’s data gets corrupted when it is passed from the old system to the new one (this really happened to me on a testing job so it isn’t an exaggeration). If you aren’t in charge of the data transfer then all you can do is look to test the data and flag up the issues as soon as possible. Basically, you can only control which is within your remit and react to whatever else comes your way.
That I Didn’t Know Much
When I was given my first project to manage I really didn’t know what to expect. Eventually a few word documents made their way to my inbox and I greedily read them expecting to discover the secrets of the universe, or at least get an idea what my new project was about. Sadly it was a lot of nonsense, filled with three letter acronyms I didn’t understand and names of people I didn’t know. After sitting and looking at this for a couple of days I slowly came to realize that it was all I was going to be given so I would have to find out what it was about on my own. This is one the big attitude shifts you will have to make when you start as a project manager; no one is going to spoon feed you the information you need. You are going to have to get used to being proactive and finding out what it is all about on your own.
That Everyone Else Knew Even Less
Once you realize that you need to go out and find out what the project is all about you will come across your next issue; no one else seems to know what it is about either. I am not sure whether this happens in every organization so I can only talk about my experience. I think that some people came up with a lot of project ideas in the past and then left the company before anything was done about them. Then, when a new project manager started, the bosses decided that it was time to drag these old project ideas into the light again. At first this seemed really annoying. After all, I was being asked to do something when no one could even really tell me much about what it was. However, I soon realized that this was a great opportunity to take a new idea from scratch and make a success of it.
That the Clock Was Already Ticking
Projects always have a timescale attached to them, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. The big issue for me was feeling the pressure of the time element without having a clear idea about what I was going to do to move things forward. By the time you get onto your second project you should feel happier about the length of time you have been given to get the project sorted out. The big temptation you should avoid at all costs is that of rushing through the preparation stage in order to get started on the “real work”. This is something which I reckon a lot of project managers get wrong on their first jobs. You need to take the time which is necessary to find out what it is all about and then plan how you are going to do it.