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5 Things I Learned from My First Project Manager

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In the early days of my career as system analyst, I had my first assignment working directly for a project manager. 

My project manager -- let's call her Rita -- was assigned to turn around a failing software package project. Over the next several months, under Rita's direction, the project was implemented with great success. 
   
When we parted ways at the completion of the project, I asked Rita for her keys to project management success. While tools and processes have changed over the years, what she said has served me well managing all types of projects. 

Following her advice has led to successful delivery outcomes and helped me mitigate risks along the way:
1. Schedule project meetings on Mondays   
Rita maintained that Mondays are better than Fridays to catch up on project progress. Her rationale was that you could better forecast and make the work for the current week visible. It also had the extra benefit of re-charging our minds for project work after a weekend.
 
2. Enable progress  
Instead of providing input on how the system would function, Rita spent time orchestrating the actual work of the project to enable progress. For example, during the project's design phase, she provided useful requirements and design templates that allowed us to better organize and align our efforts.

In addition, rather than assigning risks and issues to others on the team, Rita took personal ownership of solving them. This allowed team members more capacity for work while Rita worked in parallel to mitigate issues.  

3. Functional design is everything  
Rita always stressed that it was essential a project have sufficient time to complete a full functional design process with no shortcuts. She mandated that a full functional design process would also include the tracking of the design back to the requirements. On the project I worked on with Rita, this additional focus ensured that the software package was configured properly to meet all requirements. 

Rita also directed us to exhaustively pursue the design of interfaces. One of her constant comments was, "The value of what we implement is tied to the success of how it interfaces with everything else."  

4. Use prototypes where possible 
Rita often said, "It's easier to see a system than to talk about it." Presenting system functionality by drawing pictures on a marker board is not an effective method of conveying how a system will work. Rita acquired access to a prototype software installation. This prototype not only allowed the project team to readily show what the software would do, it also enabled quicker design of the software configuration. 

5. Manage delivery first, then costs 
Presenting a complex analysis of project budget during steering committee meetings is okay sometimes, but you must be able to answer fundamental questions around project progress. 

During her steering committee meetings, Rita would present escalated risk, issues and mitigation strategies for review and approval. This shifted discussion to delivery-related topics, which accelerated the progress of the project. "If you deliver successfully, the costs take care of themselves," she said. 

What are some project management principles you learned from your first project manager? 

 

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2 Comments

Hi Todd...thanks for the kind words....

I would agree about project managers and leaders...I tend to look at historical figures as good examples....

Sounds like Rita was a great PM and a great mentor. Only if all of us could have someone like Rita to learn from! Great article and great reminder of the truly important things a PM should focus on - it's far to easy to get wrapped up on all the technical things. At the end of the day, the best PM's I've ever seen are also the best leaders I've ever seen.

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