How to Survive and Thrive in Your New Project Management Job
As a millennial who graduated from university in 2010 at the height of an economic crisis, I’ve switched between jobs and between roles in the same organization a few times in recent years.
No matter how much I pretended I was calm and collected, I was pretty terrified and overwhelmed every time. There is just so much ‘newness’ to contend with – the commute, your colleagues, lunch habits, what to wear, the job itself, clients, the industry.
There are the inevitable feelings of panic that you’ve made a horrible mistake and sadness on your last day with your previous employer.
But, there is also excitement, anticipation, and energy. Your new role is a fresh opportunity to move closer to your career goals. With a little planning and forethought, you can reduce the stress of changing roles, and maximize your first few days and months on the job.
In this article, I’m going to share some general tips for your first day, and suggestions for creating a 90-day plan. Let’s get started.
Preparing for Your First Day
No doubt, you want to make a stellar first impression. You are ready to dive straight in and make everyone believe you are the best choice for the job. You have arrived.
However, at this point, you simply do not know enough about the company and its internal workings to make the right first impression. Instead of appearing overzealous or incompetent, focus on being as prepared as possible.
I suggest a two-phased approach.
1. Know the Company and the Team
Before starting your new role, immerse yourself in your company and industry. Expand any preparation completed for your interview by digging further into the company website, social media presence, and media coverage. Ask for a copy of the employee handbook and any relevant presentations or marketing materials to help you really understand the company’s culture.
If the role involves any software or processes you are unfamiliar with, try to cover the basics with some online research and training. This way, you can get started quickly without distracting your colleagues from their own work.
Also, look at competitor websites and investigate industry trends to understand the business landscape you are entering.
Connect with your new team on LinkedIn, and if possible, meet them in person before you start.
Practice your commute a few times. Have a backup route or travel options available just in case of unexpected traffic or delays.
Finally, confirm your start time and important information such as parking norms and dress code with HR.
2. Nail the Basics
On any given morning, a number of things can go wrong – hitting the snooze button too many times, traffic, misplaced keys, a forgotten phone. It doesn’t take much to upset our morning routine, which disrupts the rest of the day. To avoid any extra stress on your first day, use the day before to:
- Pack your bag, including any required documentation.
- Decide what you will wear in advance. Whilst this may seem trivial, you will save time and energy with one less decision to make.
- Prepare your breakfast, lunch, and any snacks. Munching on sugar-laden treats in a rush is not a great way to start your day!
- Make sure your keys are within reach.
- Relax and try to get a good’s night rest.
At this point, you are familiar with your company and team, know where you need to be and when, and have prepared for a stress-free morning. The next step is getting to the office on time before jumping into your first day!
Surviving Your First Day
First things first – remember to enjoy your first day. Focus on learning as much as possible about but don’t worry too much about starting new tasks straight away.
Even if you have met your team before, take the time to speak to each person again and meet the wider team. Studies demonstrate using an individual’s first name helps to build trust and rapport so try to address each person by name. If you can’t remember – just ask! Say yes to any offers of coffee or lunch.
Act like a journalist by asking questions and attending meetings to understand how the team works together and make decisions. Find out about current and upcoming projects, and any key initiatives you should know about. You may be tempted to contribute by explaining how the team worked in your previous role or by sharing your own experience with a process. However, such comparisons may be viewed as very critical so it’s best to park these inputs for now.
You should also confirm your responsibilities and onboarding plan. Set up a meeting with your manager to clarify what is expected during the first few weeks, or better yet, offer to prepare a 90-day plan as explained below.
The above suggestions will help anyone starting in a new position. Project managers also need to get to grips with a range of areas including processes and tools, the project pipeline, and clients. This simply isn’t possible on your first day so you may find it helpful to prepare a 90-day plan to settle in quickly.
Your 90-Day Plan
A plan brings order to a stressful situation and helps to align your activity with how your organization measures success. Developing the plan demonstrates your commitment to the role whilst ensuring you acquire the necessary skills and experience swiftly.
Once the plan is prepared, ask your manager for feedback, including key milestones and metrics for success.
A word of caution – there are instances when you will need to launch a new project or take over a current project almost immediately. Avoid the temptation to jump in without undertaking the tasks suggested in the first 30-days. You may need to adjust the below plan to accommodate the project, but taking the time to cover the basics will prevent delays or confusion later on.
The First 30 Days
Your mission is to help your team and organization succeed. During your first 30 days, you should:
- Learn how projects are managed within your organization, including request management, preferred methodologies, templates, reporting, resource management, and communication tools.
- Drill into the company’s long-term strategy and roadmap. According to Michael Watkins, new managers and leaders contend with four broad types of business situations: startup, turnaround, realignment, and sustaining success. A new manager needs to grasp the challenges, opportunities, and internal cultural norms associated with each situation.
- Understand the purpose and status of current projects. Review project statements and charters, spend time on collaborative project sites, and meet with the project management office or other project managers for practical insights.
- Identify metrics of success and their sources.
- Become familiar with key stakeholders, clients, and vendors.
- Meet with each member of your team to gain further clarity into their role, challenges, motivators, goals, and communication preferences.
- Establish a meeting and reporting rhythm with your team.
- Spend time reflecting on your leadership style, priorities, and the current team environment.
The Next 30 Days
The next 30 days are an opportunity to build key relationships, set expectations with your team, and refine your working habits.
- Project managers need to be resourceful and connected so make sure you meet all of the ‘right’ people throughout the organization. Instead of a formal meeting, grab a coffee to chat about their department, role, and needs.
- Share your expectations with the team and work together to reach a consensus. What does success look like? How will the team measure, track, and report on their activities? Do you want to change any current ways of working? How are you going to help individuals achieve their goals? Getting off-site for a few hours is a great way to work through these points with the team and mark the transition to your leadership.
- The first few months of a new job are a whirlwind, making it too easy to develop unproductive habits. With your priorities in mind, track your time to ensure you are working on important activities and figure out how to add value each week. Look for any time-wasters such as badly run meetings, email, or an overloaded schedule. It is important to use your time wisely and intentionally so invest in time-management training. Additionally, documenting activities provides a solid foundation when reporting to your manager.
- Find a mentor to guide your personal and professional development. A mentor is a trusted advisor who helps shape the character, values, self-awareness, and empathy of the mentee (individual undergoing mentorship). Learn about your mentor’s goals and projects, and offer to help where possible.
The Final 30 Days
By now, you have a firm understanding of project management practices in the company. You have spent time getting to know your team and key people, establishing ways of working and metrics for success. Your final 30 days are an ideal juncture to review your progress to date and seek feedback from your peers.
Document any learnings, observations, or challenges to tackle in the coming months. Consider new processes or amends to existing processes or team alignment, and note any additional training you need. Reflect on communication habits, decision-making, and other common patterns that really matter to your team and organization. These are your future focus.
Finally, schedule a review meeting with your manager to discuss overall progress and the implementation of the 90-day plan.