Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The First 100 Days in a new Project Management Role

Like the foundation to a building, the first one hundred days are extremely important to success in a new project management position. As a project manager, you're placed in the middle of many people—higher level managers, clients, and other staff; it takes extra effort to get off to a good start so that you can succeed in the long run.

Take it in…but keep shipping

A new company is a new cultural landscape to navigate. You must seek to understand it so that you can thrive within it. Every organization has its own peculiar DNA: a philosophy around decision making and a set of values that prioritize some actions over others. Pay attention to the language of your company’s leaders to identify those values.

It is essential to respect this time to observe and adapt to your new surroundings. At the same time, most of our readers are working in small teams where there's no room for dead weight. You'll be expected to keep your team producing without too many hiccups. This is the balancing act; breathe it all in, but don't stop the forward motion.

Improve the process by shipping

The organization that you've just walked into may be a well-oiled machine or it may be a war zone. Unless you're specifically mandated to begin process improvement immediately, keep your focus on shipping. This can be difficult, given that PMs love process. Among their kind, they can go back and forth endlessly about the best tools to use, the best ways to run meetings, and the best workflow processes.

Steve Sinofsky, former President of the Windows Division at Microsoft has an entire blog, with lengthy essays dedicated to the value of Learning by Shipping.

Never forget though that process exists to aid in the efficient creation of a great product. Keep things moving and observe keenly. Make small tweaks here and there to process and slowly but surely improve the lives of your teammates. With time you'll find yourself in a position to try out a new meeting format or introduce a new project management tool.

Serve your team and the work

Project management is not a glorious position; hopefully this isn't a surprise to you. When things go wrong, you'll take the blame; when you succeed, the accolades necessarily go to your team. Your teammates, the programmers, designers, copywriters, and analytics technicians are the experts. Your true job is to facilitate their collective brilliance toward creating great work.

All too often, managers behave as if a company exists so that they can be managers. Wrong. The purpose of your company is to do the work that it was made to do. You don't have to be subservient or obedient, but you must put yourself in the service of the work, and the people who do it.


The first hundred days in a position are absolutely crucial to your success. You're building your foundation, and there's a balancing act to maintain. Take the time to understand your new surroundings, don't stop your team moving, and most importantly, understand that your purpose is in service to the work that is to be done.

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