Starting a new project management gig is as exciting as it is nerve-wracking. You’ve found a project management job, nailed the interview, and done the job before, so why are you so nervous? Stepping into a new company can bring quite a few challenges as you learn the ropes.
When I first started at Roboboogie, I already had five years of experience in the project management landscape. While my history of managing completely remote teams, as well as managing projects at an agency with 60+ people, definitely helped set me up for success, it was still a challenge to get ramped up and learn the processes of this smaller team.
There aren’t a lot of resources out there to share knowledge when starting a new project management position. To help get you looped in sooner than later, and to impress your boss folks, here are five tips to help get you up and running in no time.
Here's where to start if you're trying to get up and running as a project manager without any prior experience.
1. Listen & Learn
First weeks can be a whirlwind. Meeting your new teammates, trying not to get lost on the way to the restroom, promptly forgetting your new email…there’s a lot to take in. On top of that, you need to get ramped up on the current processes in place for PM’s.
While the bones of project management position remains the same throughout most companies, how one moves a project through its life cycle can vary from team to team. It’s important to actively listen to your teammate who is walking you through the process, and ask questions frequently. It is one of the project management leadership skills you need to develop as each team member play a significant part in finishing the project.
While this seems like new job 101, it’s doubly important for PM’s to pick up on this information quickly. As a project manager, you are the conductor for the project, and if you are unsure of how the process works, you become your worst nightmare: a road block.
2. Understand Your Clients
While you’re learning the ropes at your new office, it’s also a great opportunity to learn about the client(s) you’ll be working with.
Happy clients make happy projects, so make sure to ask questions about their team, their practices, and the best way to communicate with them effectively (if you’ll be handling client communication duties as well). Do they prefer standing weekly meetings, or would they prefer small daily updates? Is email their preferred method of communication, or would they rather discuss items over the phone? These questions will depend on the size and type of project you’ll be managing, but they are good to be armed with as you’re getting started.
It’s also a good idea to set aside time to really dig in and research the company. Look into their service landscape and competitors. This knowledge can prepare you to talk trends & ideas with the creative team as you get ramped up.
3. Know Your Team
As well as getting to know your client, it’s also important to get to know your team. Understanding the best practices and processes that helps each member of your team be productive will make running your project much easier. Making time shortly after you’ve started your new PM position to chat with your new crew will not only help you get a better sense of how they work, but will help show that you’re also interested in them as a person, not just a coworker.
A quick and easy way to set aside time to chat with your teammate(s), is to take them out to coffee or lunch. Chat about what cool things or events there are to do around the city near the office. You can even discuss what brought them to the company.
Another great way to learn how your new team works, is to steal a couple extra minutes after a meeting session. Specifically for your creative team members, ask them how they block out time for work, to ensure your next meeting / check in with them doesn’t interrupt that time. Maker vs Manager time is vastly different, so understanding how your creative crew works will greatly improve both the process of the project, as well as overall team morale. When your team understands that you know how they work best, and that you want to support that, they may produce better work.
4. Step Up
While you’re learning the new processes, your actual plate may not be the fullest with actual PM tasks. Take this opportunity to show your drive, and look for projects or tasks to assist with. This could be something as simple as data entry, or even running an office errand.
Make your new team members aware that you’re ready and available to assist in anything they need help with. Maybe they need another pair of eyes on an email to ensure they have proper grammar, or on a design that’s gone stagnant. Making yourself available is a great way to show you’re a self starter, and can even eventually lead to new non-pm opportunities you can add to your arsenal of skills.
5. Tool School
According to a 2015 white paper by the Winterberry Group, the average agency uses 12 tools to manage their process, with some agencies using up to 30 tools. While you may have a good grasp on resources you’ve used previously, there is no guarantee your new position will be using them.
A question I like to ask during interviews is what tools the agency uses to manage their projects. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the types of projects the company tends to work on (development vs UX & design). This way, if an offer is presented, I’m a step ahead and can use my time leading up to my start date to familiarize myself with their tools.
If you don’t know this information as you start your new gig, not to worry. Remember step one? Listen and learn. Get to know the tools your company use, and then do some homework to see if they’re being utilized to their fullest extent. For instance, if you haven't explored resource management software solutions, they can be game-changers in efficiently allocating and tracking resources.
Are their features that aren’t currently being used that could save the team time? What about an alternate tool that could replace two tools?
It’s important to note that the size of your company may determine whether or not a complete change/addition of a tool is possible. Start-ups may offer more flexibility when it comes to utilizing different tools, while more established companies may need any sort of change to go through several hands before attempting to implementing it.
If your new project management gig is at a larger company, chat with your direct superior to see about possibly using the tool on a small level (team/project basis) instead of pushing for a company wide change.
Overall, starting your new project management gig can be an exciting and overwhelming time. To help ease you in to this new gig, and to get you up to speed faster, remember:
- Listen & Learn: Absorb as much information as you can.
- Understand Your Clients: Ask questions, and really invest some time into learning about your client(s).
- Know Your Team: Get to know your new crew, and what makes them tick.
- Step Up: Take the opportunity to learn some new skills, and help out around the workplace.
- Tool School: Brush up on all the abilities your company tools possess, and maybe even see about introducing some new ones.
What Do You Think?
Do you have some tips of your own that have helped get you up to speed quicker? Thinking about quitting your current gig and need advice? Let us know in the comments.
Read more about landing your first job in project management here.