Starting any new position can be a little nerve-wracking at first. There’s a lot to learn, not only about the job, but also about the company culture and their ways of operating that may differ from your previous experience. When a small company expands and seeks to add a new Project Manager to their rosta, it’s often the first time the project process will be formalised for them – and that’s where you come in.
You’ve just started and your first instinct is to make a good impression – that’s normal, and commendable, but the first thing to do as a new Project Manager is to observe. A lot of the role is to do with optimisation, streamlining, and helping your team to work to the best of their collective abilities. You need to see what works well (and what doesn’t) before deciding what might work better for your new company. Change for change’s sake can be disruptive and detrimental to workflows, so should be avoided.
Another great reason to avoid change just to show you’re doing something is this: If you make a change, and it isn’t well-received or effective, buy-in for your future ideas could be a lot harder to obtain. First impressions are only made once, so make sure that any tweaks you make to existing processes are well-reasoned, effective – and small, at least, to begin with! Often, an easy win can come from something as simple as introducing new communication software such as Slack.
Many companies advertise for Waterfall, Agile, Scrum or PRINCE2 when looking for a new Project Manager. However, they aren’t necessarily looking to use that approach rigidly (well, maybe with PRINCE2). The very nature of Agile Project Management is flexibility, so the best approach is a mix of different methodologies that fit your new company best.
The role of any Project Manager is to ensure projects are completed in a timely fashion, within budget and to scope. Sometimes, especially in a small company, a new Project Manager will need to pitch in and help with tasks such as QA, testing, and anything else that can help the project progress smoothly. This is generally a great learning opportunity, as well as a chance to show that you are willing to be a part of the team. In addition to earning the respect of your team, you’ll also gain valuable insights into how things are done, which will allow you to make more informed decisions on process improvements in the future.
Good communication is the cornerstone of effective project management, and as a new Project Manager you will set the tone for this for the entire company. If the business does well and grows, you may end up as the Programme Manager or even Chief Operating Officer, and you will want your direct reports to communicate well with you. Want people to keep you informed? Be approachable, keep them up to date with things they need to know, and the culture of positive communication will continue.
Again, the choice is yours. Would you prefer to speak with everyone in daily standups? Is a weekly catchup meeting more appropriate? How often will you meet with your boss to keep them apprised of what you’re doing? One caveat here is that time is money, especially in a small company. Make sure the time you take up with meetings or standups is used productively – stay informed, but be brief.
People will make mistakes – these things happen, even you aren’t infallible! When it does happen, use these mistakes as learning experiences. A lessons log for the company can be a great way to get something positive from a situation that didn’t start out that way. Whether it’s an oversight that results in additional work or missed deadlines, a long-winded way to do something that could have been much quicker, or even something that worked really well that can be reused in the future, documenting it in the lessons log can make the iterative improvement of project processes much easier.
As mentioned previously, mistakes can happen – some mistakes aren’t destined for the lessons log but just need correcting so the project can move forward. If someone has made a mistake, don’t call them out on it! Instead, look into what the roadblock is, how it can be resolved and what impact that will have on the project timeline. Conversely, if you make a mistake, take ownership of it and encourage others to do the same. Remember, you are in charge of the company’s culture, so you have the choice of making the workplace a positive, supportive one – or not.
Bringing new ideas and methods to your new company is an important part of what you do, and you may think some of your changes are brilliant. You may even be right – however, you should always watch them in action and see how they could be improved. An example of this is when I introduced kanban, which I’m a huge fan of. I set it all up, but it didn’t work for our development team as other, longer-established reporting tools were more familiar and provided all the reporting the business needed. I recognised that this change was a source of confusion and wasn’t necessary so adapted it into something that worked better for the company. I’m still monitoring the new system and will change it again if need be.
The challenge for a new Project Manager in a company that’s growing is to improve things – while keeping them the same. An example would be to standardise reporting on existing processes, so workflows remain the same but the data obtained is more pertinent for you and your boss. When a significant change is needed, you can build on the trust you’ve earned by showing that all your previous changes are carefully considered and for the benefit of the company as a whole. Buy-in will come, even if you need to be persistent in your requests for the change to be adopted.
You’ll have a lot to do, a lot to learn, and a lot of responsibility. Juggling all the various aspects of the role – especially if several projects are finishing at once – can be hectic, to say the least! However, just remember, you are the architect that shapes the future of your company, so rise to the challenge! As Michael Grundy said of Project Management, “I like to remind myself from time to time: if it was easy, you’d be bored!”