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Many project managers start out as strong individual contributors, and end up as accidental project managers (filling in while the project manager is away, filling a need where a project manager is not available, etc).

Managing projects is a very different beast from being an individual contributor. Project managers must be able to delegate, direct, communicate, and coordinate (skills that are often the weak muscles of individual contributors).

How can a new project manager best develop some of the skills that make a project manager successful as such? (I am especially interested recommendations on developing delegation skills. It can be tempting for a technical person to take on many project tasks themselves, rather than delegating to others on the project team.)

11

One thing is working on PMs skills.

The trick which helps PM to learn delegation is trust. If I think why we prefer to do the task by ourselves it's usually because we believe we'd do it better, which basically means we don't trust that someone would do it at least equally well.

However it also means PM doesn't give people chances to develop their skills. As long as they aren't given challenging tasks how can they earn PM's trust? It's a kind of vicious circle. So PM basically needs to break it, making step forward and assuming people will cope with tasks they're given. Not only is it a chance to build trust and develop them but also it a good lesson about delegation for PM.

As long as PM is good with delegation the rest comes pretty easy as they should have enough time to work on communication, coordination, task management, etc.

Another thing is (not) having a good example.

One of reasons we often suck when becoming PMs or people managers is we don't have good role models around. Especially when we don't bring a long experience with us, we often learn from people who we're working with.

So if my manager sucks at delegation chances are good I'll suck at that as well. If PMs around micromanage their projects and focus on individual tasks instead of coordinating effort of the whole project team I'm likely to do the same.

What PM can do here is to find a good role model. Look around, search for PM who act like you'd like to act. Ask them to mentor you. It's a very light-weight relation, yet the one which should be very rewarding for both sides. In terms of personal development a good mentor in the workplace can hardly be overrated.

  • +1 especially for the "role model" and "mentoring". Meanwhile supported with "training" as @M0N4K0 recommended. – MissesBrown Feb 11 '12 at 10:50
5

Like you am I am in transition, albeit a slow transition.

With my relatively short project management experience so far, I find it easiest to know what to delegate when I have identified all the tasks that need doing (including evaluating the workload for some of the other tasks) and the time frame they (ideally) need to be done by.

When the total exceeds available hours, there is no choice.

Another great delegation motivator is lack of know-how. When some of those tasks require someone else's knowledge or skill, you have no choice either.

5

First of all, don't panic!! You may feel a little disoriented until you are comfortable with your role.

Stop for a second a think about the following:

  • Business Acumen - Are you familiar with the project's intent? What's your level of knowledge about the business? Do you understand the industry, trends, competitors, etc...?

If you are comfortable with what is going on then you will find easier to focus on the actual Project Management skills and tools required to execute your role.

  • Training - What can "I" need to understand the role of the Project Manager? and, most importantly, how can "the company" support me on the transition to Project Manager?

Don't be afraid to ask your line manager the available options within the company to develop or strengthen your skills. This is not only for your own benefit but for the project's sake.

Check for a Project Management course or intensive training to complement your current knowledge; e.g. PRINCE2 Foundations, in which you can obtain a fair level of understanding of all the components of projects. Additionally, you could take some training to excel on planning and control practises (Project Management Planning Training)

  • Lessons Learned - Has anybody been involved in this project before? Is there any similar project or ideas that I could check out? What's the experience/feedback from the Project Teams? and from the Board?

Try to identify from your Project Team whether there were issues with the previous PM. Was the communication good enough? The tasks clearly assigned? Was there any mechanism to record and resolve any issues encountered?

Essentially, try to list down and understand what went wrong so you can do something different that works. Use your team members as your allies to support you improving processes.

Just remember that if you have been appointed as a Project Manager is because you already have the material. Try to combine the three steps above and I am sure that you will succeed and enjoy this role.

3

One of the best ways to improve your skills as a project manager is to practice. You're right that it's tempting to take on tasks yourself, but the main point to keep in mind is the the number of tasks that you as a project manager personally undertake is inversely proportional to your ability to effectively plan, manage, and delegate tasks.

The more work you take on, the lower your ability will be to see the bigger picture.

If you're working in a great organization, you'll likely have plenty of people on your team who will be more than happy to volunteer to take on some tasks. One way to start learning to delegate is to ask people if they want to handle a task. If they say yes, define the success criteria and quality metrics, as well as the goal, and then let that person run with the ball. Set a check-in time for that person to come back and update you, and then stay out of the way.

Remember, you as an individual can now accomplish more by directing and motivating a team than what you'll accomplish by yourself. As soon as you fully believe this, the better off you'll be. It's tough to get to the point where you feel okay delegating; it's something you get over with time and practice. Good luck!

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I came at PM from a management position and I have found my management training to be the most valuable part of my toolbox. It will depend on what your background as an individual contributor is. I recommend you take some time and consider - what are the gaps between what you have as skills and what you think you need as a PM. When you have an understanding of your gaps, look everywhere to find a way to fill them. If you are strong in technical skills, look to supervisory/management courses to help you understand how to delegate and lead. Good luck and welcome to Project Management.

as an aside, I offer project management training for the accidental project manager. It's focused on business people who have been voluntold to do projects. www.perryawilsonconsulting.com

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