Inexperienced Project Manager
Question from Inexperienced Project Manager Steve from Sevenoaks.
I wonder if you can give me some advice. I have just been hired and given a Project Manager role on a project that has been running for 3 months and has 9 months left to run. Of course, I am looking forward to it, but a little nervous, as I have never done this kind of role before.
The Project Manager who was it before has moved to a new project, and they gave me this opportunity.
Do you have any good advice for me on what I should do and how, as an inexperienced project manager, I should run the project?
Oh, what a clever Project Manager that you have taken over from.
Projects always look good for the first few months. They are almost always on time and to budget.
However, the mistakes that will make the project a turkey are already made. People will be hiding the fact that they are behind schedule.
Everything on a project looks good at first. It is about one-third of the way through a project that they notice that things start going wrong.
No one will want to take the blame as they know what is coming.
What they need now is a scapegoat – preferably from the outside.
This clever Project Manager has already got most of the kudos that he will ever get from a project and uses that credibility to get himself a new role.
IT Project Will Go Wrong
If I could give anybody any advice it would be to stay during the build up and the planning stages of a project, and then stay for the first two or three months of the actual project.
Then to get the hell out of there as fast as your legs will carry you. Either go to a new or better role at the company, or to a better role somewhere else.
Of course your project is going to go wrong. All the ingredients for failure are already in place and you will be unable to prevent them happening as they are too far down the line.
You can‘t change the fact that the analysis hasn‘t captured all the requirements. You can‘t change the fact that the basic design has flaws. Moreover, you can‘t change the fact that most of the people in the project are behind schedule but have successfully managed to hide this fact from Project Management by allocating time to tasks that they haven‘t even started.
No one in senior management is going to thank you for suggesting that you go back to the analysis or design stages to do it properly.
Clever Project Manager
The clever Project Manager will have his bases covered and will start spinning against you, in case you start trying to blame him or her for the failure of the project. He will make sure that he gets his retaliation in first, by devaluing your reputation so that you won‘t have much credibility when you start to undermine his. They‘ll just accus you of trying to take the blame off yourself then.
Of course there is plenty of advice that I could give about running IT projects, but it won‘t be much help to you now as you are accelerating towards the rapids.
Your Only Hope
There is only one thing that can save you and your credibility as a good but inexpereinced project manager. When new managers come to an IT department, they come with credibility.
The reason is that most of the management in a company believe that the best IT talent, and especially IT management talent, resides outside their company.
The longer you are there, the more your credibility erodes, as you are now inside the company. Therefore, in the beginning, as an outsider, you still have a lot of credibility.
However, you have to use it straight away, and not wait till your credibility dissipates with a failing project. If you wait for it to start to fail you will be too late.
Inexperienced Project Manager Should Make an Assessment
What you must do is to tell management, at as senior level as possible, that the first thing that you want to do is to make an assessment of the real situation.
They will nod their heads in agreement. It will not be too difficult to suggest to them the idea that there is a possibility that their IT folk might have screwed up.
This will be your best and last chance to get yourself out of the cauldron to which you are gradually being inserted. If you don‘t take it, you will be going in – head first.
How will you get to know what has gone wrong with the project so far?
The people on the project will know what has gone wrong, especially the more senior permanent employees and the contractors.
You can‘t hide it from them. No one ever asks them what they think and so they will be quite pleased to tell you what has gone wrong.
Make a list of all these.
Ask the Users or Customers
Go and talk to the users or customers.
Ask them if they have any concerns.
They are absolutely certain to have them. Document these too.
Let it slip to the users that you have the same concerns as they have, and that your assessment of the project (gained wholly by asking the people on it), has shown up some grave areas of concern over the analysis, the design, and over the real progress of the project.
The previous Project Manager will have documented and reported progress as told to him by those on the project. This will include lots of incomplete tasks, most of which are 95% complete.
Re-assess Project Progress
What you should do is twofold:-
1) Add up just the completed tasks
2) Tell those on the project that there is an amnesty on whatever they reported before, and that they should tell you the real state of play, telling them to veer towards the cautious.
They will be ever so grateful to be let out of jail, and will veer to the very cautious to make sure that they don‘t go back in
Senior Management Report
Now you will make your report to senior management on the basis of:-
1) There are basic analysis and design flaws in the system.
2) The users and customers have had some concerns about how well the requirements have been captured, which you share.
3) The project is nowhere near as far forward as was previously stated by the previous Project Manager. Tell them the real situation as regards completed tasks, and the new assessment of progress.
Tell them that their expectations as regards costs and timescales are now unrealistic.
Don‘t worry about saying this, as they will believe you. As you have just arrived, you are now in the short period where you have more credibility that the previous Project Manager, who despite his good reputation, suffers from the fact that he is one of the current IT department and therefore complicit in the crimes of ‘˜that bunch‘.
Advice to Inexperienced Project Manager – Don‘t Panic
It is now their problem.
Don‘t panic at this stage.
Don‘t start saying that you will try your best to get it delivered on time and to budget. They‘ll just take you up on that and still blame you when it comes in late and over budget.
The ball is back in their court. So leave it there.
You must, at all costs, keep your nerve, and not follow your instincts to tell them that you‘ll ‘give it your best shot’.
What they will do, after deliberations, is to make a reassessment of the project and the timescales and budget, and if it needs to be delivered for a particular date, to see how the scope can be cut to achieve this.
Set Your Own Project Timescales
This is now your project. You are no longer its stepfather, or live-in boyfriend. You now have the opportunity to set your own timescales and to make the crucial decisions.
Even though you are an inexperienced Project Manager, you have the senior management on board. You have the users or customers on board too, as they had this gnawing feeling all along that everything was not right, and you came in and recognized this. You are the new guru.
Moreover, you also have your team on board because you asked them what was wrong and then acted on their advice (at least the sensible part of it). You also gave them an amnesty from taking the rap for their project progress ‘˜little white lies‘. You got them out of jail.
Management will probably ask the more senior of them, off the record, if your new assessment is correct. They will be right behind you, and assure the management that what you are saying is right. You are, after all, only reporting what they told you anyway.
This will only add to your credibility with management.
You are the king. You are the guru. Hey, you are the walrus, Coo Coo Cachoo.
You have them all eating out of your hand.
What’s Wrong with the Project
The first thing to do is to rely more on those who knew what was wrong with the project. That’s especially if you don‘t know what the hell you‘re doing yourself.
The second thing to do is to come up with a more suitable timescale, i.e. one that you are sure that you can meet. The management are likely to take this, as they now know that they had a narrow escape from the abyss.
Now is the time when you will need advice about how to run a project.
Come back to us when you have successfully negotiated the first step!
You may be an inexperienced Project Manager but you can take our advice.
If anyone else wants any advice on running projects, contact us.