accidental project manager

9 Survival Tips for Accidental Project Managers

February 8, 2017 by

The title of ‘project manager’ is no longer just confined to those with industry certifications or who have chosen a career in project management.


Online Guide: Project Management 101 – A Crash Course for New Project Managers and Teams


Changes in technology, shifting business needs, and a move towards increased collaboration means that many of us will need to manage projects to be successful in our roles.

We will become ‘the accidental project manager’, often parachuted in to take ownership of a project with little or no notice.

When confronted with my first major project as a marketer, I failed quite badly! I had no formal project management training and there were no templates or standardized approaches to projects within my organization. I never really thought about project management before then. I still cringe when I think of the mistakes I made.

To help you avoid common pitfalls facing the accidental project manager, I asked some of the BrightWork team for their tips and advice.

Here’s what they had to say.


9 Survival Tips for Accidental Project Managers

1. Planning

”You may want to jump right in and start working, but how do you know you are working on the right tasks?  It’s important to take a breath, assess the goals, and break them down into achievable steps.  Create a plan with the list of tasks you need to complete to deliver the agreed objective.  And set deadlines.  When you have a plan, at least you know what you have to do and in what order to get the project done.  As we know, the project is unlikely to run exactly according to plan.  But that’s okay.  Just try not to let it stray too far off course.”


2. Get Involved

”It’s important to get involved in the project early on and know what is going on in other areas of the project. Do this even if you are just a team member and not the project manager – you never know when you might get called up to bat.”


3. Be Realistic

”Try to commit to realistic goals.  It’s easy for an accidental project manager to agree to unrealistic goals or deadlines.  This could come from a few places.  Maybe you’re eager to show what you are capable of.  Some people find it hard to say no.  Most likely, though, this comes simply from inexperience in actually managing projects.  A seasoned PM would be able to think back over previous projects and confidently commit to acceptable and achievable objectives.  You don’t need to shy away from the challenge, but try to manage expectations a bit.  Once the deliverables have been agreed, that is what you need to deliver on.”


4. Communication

”Most likely you are working on the project with a team, so communication is key!  Open communication up and down.  Check in with the team, check their progress, help them where you can, and don’t be afraid to hold them accountable.  After all, your job as a project manager (even an accidental one!) is to deliver the project successfully.  Also, don’t forget to update progress to stakeholders and others who really need to know how the project is going.  One of my managers said to me “Sponsors never like bad news, but they hate bad news late!”  Keep them informed when it’s all good news, but certainly, don’t be afraid to raise an issue when it arises or to ask for help.”


5. Set the Scope

”When expectations aren’t set from the start – with senior management, your team, a client or even yourself – and there isn’t a strategy in place to deal with changes and project scope creep, then deadlines and the overall project success can suffer. Set your priorities and eliminate the unnecessary project work from the start. Clearly communicate what the scope of the project will be and, more importantly, what it won’t be! There will always be time for the “nice to haves” when the first iteration of the project is complete… a little less pressure too.”


6. Manage Change

”Know who the stakeholders are for the project and make sure they are aware of the project and the potential implications. Does it need IT assistance? Will it impact current processes in other areas of the organization, outside of the project team? Even if you think what you are doing is for the greater good, don’t forget people generally don’t like change, but they do prefer it to a disaster. Identify potential problems and risks, address them early and head on. Learn from them and create a plan to overcome or avert them.”


7. Keep Learning

”Find a mentor to chat with or shadow for a few days. Join online groups and forums, sign-up for newsletters, and follow leaders on LinkedIn. If you don’t know something – just ask!”


8. Check the details

”Work with your team to develop accurate estimates of work effort and duration for their tasks, accounting for scheduling exceptions such as office closures, holidays and days out of the office. Also, make sure you track every budget item accurately.”


9. Work with Stakeholders

“Ensure that all Stakeholders have been identified and have been involved in the approval process. Additionally, be disciplined when dealing with Sponsors and key Stakeholders so to avoid “Gold-plating” the Project, i.e. adding additional and unnecessary features to the Solution.”


With some planning, best practices, and a little common sense, project management will become easier and more enjoyable!

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Grace Windsor
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