Every successful project manager needs a plan – a plan that will kick in the moment they are assigned to a project and runs through to completion.
Within the first few years of all of our project management careers we are introduced to many project management tools and knowledge areas. The part that sometimes escapes this initial training phase is where we use those tools and that knowledge. New project managers will often rush into a project with these newly acquired tools without a plan. Typically, the cool new scheduling tool is on this list.
Going into a project, we need a plan that applies the tools and knowledge in a sound, organized fashion. Over time, the seasoned project manager will create their own ‘methodology’ that will guide them through every project.
So what are the first five steps that a good project manager should take as they embark on a new project? What part of our toolkit, or knowledge, do we access first?
- Understand the big picture as quickly as possible
Project managers are often criticized by being too detail oriented and not seeing the big picture. A critical step in every project is to step back and take in the big picture. Look at all the elements that your project connects to and see how it all fits together. Missing this step can often cause misunderstanding and errors in the future.
- Meet and assess the team.
The most difficult part of any project manager’s job is the people side. Someone once told me “project management is easy – you just have to get rid of all the people”. Who are the critical stakeholders? Where are the strengths and weaknesses on the team? Who are the major influencers?
- Review all non HR-related resources
A quick assessment of all other resources is important very early in the project lifecycle. Many of us have been stung by promised resources that never quite materialized. We need to have a quick look to be sure that everything that we were told about is actually there. From financial resources to assistance from other groups to technology and more.
- Assess and address your own knowledge gaps
Very early on we also need to take an honest look at ourselves and our ability to do what we have been asked to do. We can get fooled into thinking that our skills are transferable to any type of project. Honestly, do you have the knowledge and background to be leading people in this area? Look at your gaps and recognize that possibly you will need some coaching and mentoring and maybe even some courses to get you going early on.
- Identify your core team
Early identification of your core team would be my fifth and final step to the first phase of my projects. This list may be very short at the beginning but it is critical that we identify the key people who will help us along the way. It could be your project sponsor but it could also include influential people within, or subject matter experts that you will need, or people who have done this type of work in the past and who can coach you along the way.
Every project manager needs a plan and the plan needs to kick in the day you agree to take on the project. These first five steps will create a solid project management foundation that you and everyone around you will appreciate.