The most important lessons I learned during 4 years of project management
In January 2015, I started a new position as a project manager in a startup. Before that position, I worked as a developer and had only technical background. Everything was new for me. It was the first time that I work in such position. It was the first time that I work in an English speaking environment (I speak Arabic and French much better than English). It was the first time that I work in a customer facing position. It was the first time that I manage a team.
There were no available senior project manager or mentor to help me when I arrived to the company. There were no documentation or clear processes (things have changed since then). In addition, I didn’t want to seem idiot, so I avoided to ask questions or communicate with other people in the company. I tried to learn all by myself.
That was very stressful, I was feeling umconfortable and overwhelmed all the time.
A few months after, a new Project Manager Officer joined the company. He was not only a manager but also a coach and a mentor for me. He helped me to see things in a different way. I owe him a big part of what I learned.
Now, after four years of project management and after reading many books, I discovered that my struggle in my beginnings was normal. That’s why I want to share the most important lessons to learn but also mistakes to avoid.
This are the 4 advices that I highly recommend :
- Be reactive
- Share information
- Don’t hesitate to ask questions and to ask for help
- Take notes and write everything
Act or react immediately: take action without waiting. Be fast. Time is very precious, in a crisis situation, you can lose points just because you waited one or two hours before answering an email or sending clarification to a customer.
- Send minutes of meeting immediately after a meeting.
- Send an email with a note of what was said after a phone call.
- Update the action tracker immediately after defining actions and responsibilities and share it
- Update the project log immediately and share it
- Answer to the client immediately (even if it is just for knowledge). A client needs to be reassured. Not receiving answers is very frustrating.
Communicate, share information
Communicate, communicate, communicate: communicate with the team, communicate with the client, communicate with the management.
- Set daily meetings with the team (if you don’t use agile methods in managing the project).
- Ask for progress reports and updates from the different teams.
- Share working progress with the client, share the planning.
- Raise risks and issues as soon as possible. This is a very important point, share the alerts, risks and problems early. Don’t make stakeholders stressed about the project, but don’t let them in a dark box. They need to know what is happening. When a bad surprise happens, you will be the only responsible for what happened. But when the problem is expected, it is less shocking.
It is Ok to ask questions. It is Ok to ask for help.
One of the most important lessons I learned is that there are no bad questions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. No one will judge you or think that you are an idiot. And even if someone thinks so, it is better to ask a question and seem stupid for a few minutes rather than not to ask it then seem stupid all the time. A PM is not expected to be expert in the project technical and business area, but she/he is supposed to ensure a minimum of information and knowledge by asking questions on time.
Questions will clarify many things and help you save time. It will also help you to grow your knowledge and experience. It is the simplest way to learn from others’ experience. Many people spend years to learn things, if you ask them questions you will get the information quickly and save years of learning.
Questions that can be asked are not only about a feature or a technical field. You can ask for feedback, ask people what they think about your work and how you can optimize it. Ask them how will they do if they were in your place. This will help you see things with “others’ eyes” and from different angles. It will also help you thinking out of the box (your box).
Write everything !!
Information is the key of project management, you need to know all the information related to your project. You need to answer to the questions of the team, the questions of the client and the questions of your management. A missing information can put you (and your project) in an embarrassing situation.
But the amount of information related to a project can be huge. A project can last much longer than expected and the data grows with time. We can easily forget the details. If we manage more than one project, it become more difficult to retain all information.
The only way to remember everything is to write everything.
Personally, I use many tools to take notes in addition to a paper notepad. I don’t know if it is the best way. I would prefer to have all my data in one place, but today it is not possible. This is how I keep an eye on my projects’ details:
Notepad (Microsoft OneNote for me)
- I use Microsoft OneNote to note everything. I write everything when I am on a call, in a meeting or after a one-to-one discussion. I also write down all my ideas or my questions.
- For every new event, I write the date an the context (call, meeting …) and I note every little detail. When I write something on my paper notepad I insert a photo of it in OneNote. I do the same thing with the information written on a board during meetings.
- I synchronize onenotes on the clouds so that I can access to the information if I don’t have immediate access to my laptop.
- My notes are not shared, if I need to share something I import it or isolate it.
I use an Excel file to track actions and important events / decisions. I share this file with the client and the team (and other stakeholders if needed).
I use two sheets (tabs):
- Actions tracker sheet: In this tab, I write actions of the project with related information (owner, team, start date, planned date, status, reference, comments, priority…). I try to keep it up to date.
- Project logs: I note here the important events and decisions that occur during the project lifetime with the related details (event, type, impact, trigger,...). This file is very useful to answer to questions such as: Why did you develop this feature this way? Why the project is delayed…
Finally, keep calm, stress will not help you to resolve your problems. It will only make things worse. Many people try to take advantages of the situation when they feel that you are stressed. They will give you more tasks to do, they will try to blame you in case of a problem and say it is your fault.
Almost of the projects go through bad situations, you are not the only one that manage a struggled project. Almost of the people feel stressed like you, but they don’t show it. Keep calm, things tend usually to go smoothly at the end. And if it is not the case: this is not the end of the world! So keep calm :)
I hope this post helps someone. As I mentioned before, I’m not a native English speaker, I am sorry for the errors that you could find in this post.
This is also my first post on Medium, any comment or feedback is welcomed.