I am working as a beginning scientist and was given the management role for a small project (5 internal scientists, 1-2 external software contractors). What are the absolute essentials I need to manage this successfully?
There are several difficulties ahead right from the start:
- the project is already running and not progressing so well,
- my boss limits my time spent on this to 1-2 hours per week max,
- there is a large gap in understanding between the internal people and the external contractors (each are experienced in their knowledge domain),
- and I have zero experience in project management, both soft and hard skills.
A lot of good questions and answers on this site give advice how to do things 'right' if this is your primary job and domain of experience. However, I'm looking for a more minimalist answer within my constraints.
How can a new PM manage a failing project in a few hours per week?
A BIG THANK-YOU to all of you who answered this question. I greatly appreciate the thought and experience you put into your answers and they are very helpful. I have come to the conclusion that my first priorities must be to make a Gantt chart and to actively mediate regular communication between the other scientists on the project and our software contractors. My boss has clearly communicated his expectations, and now it's a matter of methodically determining whether they can be fulfilled.
I'd like to add a note here to explain the situation, because I got the feeling that some people were very surprised by this situation and thought it must be uncommon at best, negligent at worst. The fact is, most (all?) scientists in a leadership position are expected to manage multiple projects while additionally conducting their own research in the field, laboratory, or theoretical realm. At the same time, we must also regularly publish the results of our various projects in peer-reviewed journals and books -- ideally as soon as those results are produced ("publish or perish"). What's less common about my situation is that I am trying to manage a project which involves external contractors, and not just students and laboratory staff. However, as one moves up the academic ladder, one needs more and more skill in project management, and this is never actually taught to us. So my position is actually very common. I'm also sure that this sort of situation is not particular to academics -- as David Espina pointed out, project management is something that everyone has to do, but most of us aren't trained to do.