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Project Management

But I’m Not a Project Manager. Where Do I Start?

Guest Blogger
December 23, 2013

This guest post was written by Sandy Stachowiak.

Taking control of a project from beginning to end can be intimidating, especially if you are not a project manager by trade. There could be various reasons for you to have to manage a project. It could be assigned to you or something that you have taken upon yourself. Whatever the reason and whatever your job title; there are some very simple things you can do in the beginning of a project that will help it to run smoother and help you to manage it better.

3 Steps to Prep

1. Obtain the necessary tools.

An essential part of project management is the tools that are used. Calendars, task lists, project management software, and Microsoft Office products such as Word and Excel are the basics you will need.

You might also consider apps for your phone or tablet if you plan to work on the project remotely. There are many options for apps that are accessible via the Web, phone, and tablet that can be synced across devices. This is not crucial, but good to keep it in mind as an option.

It is also important to remember not to overdo it with software and “paperwork”. If you are not a project manager by trade then using a tool such as Microsoft Project may be overkill.

You may also end up spending more time trying to figure out how to use a tool like that or keeping up with updating it than necessary; start simple and try creating a timeline in excel. The point is to be organized and productive without being counterproductive. Start simple and if you feel as you move through the project that you need more vibrant tools, look for those that fit your needs then.

2. Schedule time specific to the project.

This is especially important if you are not a full-time project manager because you likely have many other job duties that take up most if not all of your days. Therefore, set aside time to work on the project and mark that time in your calendar.

Depending on the size of the project, it may only take a few hours per week of your time. If you are concerned that this will not be enough, primarily at the beginning, try setting aside one hour per day. You can always adjust this as the project moves along or if you discover that less time will suffice.

3. Take good notes.

Whether you are in a meeting, on the phone, or having a conversation with a member of the project team in person, take good notes. You may think you will remember everything said and every detail; however, chances are that something will be forgotten or remembered incorrectly.

Taking decent notes and even sending out meeting minutes to the team after meetings will ensure that everyone is aware of what was discussed including relevant details, dates, and updates.

For meetings, consider bringing your laptop or tablet if you are better at typing than hand writing notes.

Another option is a recorder; most cell phones can accommodate voice recordings and there are even ink pens with built-in recorders. Keep a pen and paper next to the phone or grab them if someone stops by your desk for an impromptu project conversation.

Meetings Matter

1. Schedule an internal kick-off meeting.

This is one of the most significant steps in the management of any project. The kick-off meeting should include all necessary team members that will be working on the project.

If those resources have not yet been allocated, then inviting the manager of that team is appropriate.

You may also be required to invite all other stakeholders as well, which could include higher level management or executive leadership. Discuss this with your boss or supervisor to be sure all necessary parties are involved.

During the meeting items such as the project goal, deadline, and other resources that may be needed should be discussed. Making sure that you have contact information for everyone involved is also imperative.

You may be able to obtain information on resource availability at this time as well, depending on the size of the project, dates, and resources involved.

Going over future status meeting scheduling should also be touched on. Talk about whether you plan to have weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings and if the team involved can participate in the type of schedule that you are proposing.

The main goal of the kick-off meeting is to clearly define the main project goal. Having all stakeholders understand and agree to work towards the common goal should be done at the beginning of the project. If this step is missed it can lead to a lot of chaos including confused deliverables, missed deadlines, and unclear expectations.

2. Schedule a meeting with the project team.

Once you have had the internal kick-off meeting and resources have been assigned, it is a good idea to meet with those resources as the project team.

This would be the time to record tasks, dependencies, deliverables, dates, and milestones. This would be a more in-depth meeting than the kick-off meeting because it is the beginning of the bulk of the project plan.

Depending on how many resources have been allocated and whether or not they are from different departments in the company, it is likely the tasks may have to come from the team members. Each resource who understands the common goal of the project will know what it will take from their side to reach it.

Resource dependencies may span other areas – meaning one resource may start and then have to stop and wait on another resource before they can resume. You may know this information yourself and if so, you should confirm it. If you do not know this, then you absolutely need to.

Having a detailed meeting with the project team can be vital in the beginning of a project.

The Do Not’s

1. Do not panic or feel overwhelmed.

This is easy for some to say and may take a real conscious effort at the beginning of a project, especially a large one. But, in order to get off on the right foot staying calm is essential. Take a few deep breaths, focus on the goal, and get ready to take the easy steps above to get started.

2. Do not get lost in the task details.

It is very likely that tasks for the project done by various resources will range in the area of expertise.

You do not have to understand every task to the extreme detail. For example, if there is a development task assigned to a specific programmer, you do not have to understand the code that the programmer is using or how he or she writes that code. It is the task that you are managing and the level of detail necessary to understand how it affects other tasks is deep enough. Do not get lost trying to go into details that are not relevant to the management of the overall project.

3. Do not be afraid to ask questions.

If you are not clear on tasks or the dependencies, ask.

If you leave yourself in the dark because you are afraid to bother people or look like you do not know what you are doing, the project could very easily end up being delayed or possibly fail. Asking for information on deliverables and dependencies, asking for progress and status updates, and asking for explanations on missed deadlines is all part of managing a project.

Regardless of the type of project you are working on, these items should all be helpful to get you started on the road to a successful project. If you're looking for more insights on how to pave the way for project management at your company and make an argument for project management, check out these tips.

What concerns you the most about managing a project? Do you have any questions that you would like us to help answer? Was this information helpful to you? We would love to hear your comments!

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