Some people choose project management as a profession. Often moving to it from something else…another management position, a lifetime of application development work before realizing they have tired of that, or possibly they were a music major in college (don’t ask, let’s just say there are several individuals out there still wondering – along with me – how one of my previous managers ended up in his position of responsibility?!?).
Still others find it thrust upon them – sometimes unwillingly and sometimes for just a onetime project and nothing more. The concept basically is this…it’s rarely a chosen career for the new college graduate…it usually comes later for a variety of reasons…but it happens – whether you were looking for it or not. And there is always that moment where you are new – or relatively new – to the project management world.
This information – I hope – will give you some tips to get through some unexpected struggles and possibly to avoid others. We all step into this PM darkness thinking that it’s going to be more straightforward and simple than it ends up being. And few of us realize – upon jumping into the game – the immense pressure we may get on certain key projects to succeed. When I was running a $30 million government project for one of my previous employers I had to sit down monthly with the CFO and justify a 2% variance (either way) in profit because it was such a huge part of the businesses bottom line. Yes, even the financials are yours to manage – and I had to sweat through every question and a detailed review of every deliverable in what was usually a 2-3 hour monthly meeting. Everything is yours to manage…vendor relationships, resources, risks, change orders, schedule, and budget. All of that and then some.
So, on to a few tips that might make your life easier or awake you to things you may not have thought of. Some of these may be obvious to you – but maybe not to everyone…so I’ll cover them here.
Change orders are ok. Nobody likes to rock the boat with the customer, but change orders for work they want and need are ok. If you’re too timid to bring change orders up with customer when you see them requesting or needing work that they otherwise would not get under the current requirements, estimate and agreement, then you may not be cut out to be a project manager. If you let work fall through the cracks that isn’t covered by the requirements and, therefore, the contract for the project, then you’re doing free work and it will show – ultimately – in budget overruns. And without change orders to up the revenue for the project, then that will be you left to explain your way out of the financial mess that you allowed to happen. Change orders = financial hero to executive management. Scope creep = goat.
Meetings are meaningful. Seriously, meetings may seem like a pain, and they can be. But they are necessary. Even when there isn’t much to talk about. Every project should be subjected to weekly customer meetings and weekly team meetings. The team meetings will help you get everything in order for the weekly customer meeting by getting schedule updates, task progress updates, information about new customer communication and requests, discussions of issues, and all the information that should feed into the formal project status report that will drive – along with the project schedule – your weekly customer meeting. And even if there isn’t much to discuss, still proceed with the meeting. If you start to cancel meetings that are regular weekly sessions, then people will start to anticipate their cancellation and they’ll just stop coming. Don’t do it – hold the meeting even if it’s only a 10-minute meeting. That way everyone will still know that they are accountable for their attendance and participation.
These are just two tips…we’ll continue next week with more tips that may help you through your project management questions and struggles. And please feel free to suggest topics that I can cover in future segments. Thank you!