At Teamdeck, we regularly talk with people working at different software development companies. When demoing our resource management app and onboarding new clients, we learn about their typical processes and issues. We've noticed that many software houses...
Starting a new project management job may be stressful: whether you’re a seasoned PM or a person just starting their project manager career, you’re likely to encounter some new challenges. The good news is that you got the job, so your new employer is confident in your project management skills. It’s time for you to prepare and start a new job on the right foot. We’ve prepared several tips for getting ready to shine in your new position.
How to Prepare for a New Project Management Job?
There are things you can do before your first day on the job. First off, handle the necessary paperwork. Are there any documents you need to deliver to your new company’s HR team? You may also want to double-check your employee benefits. Sometimes they come with optional packages, so it’s better to think them through beforehand.
Remember about the logistics: one of the best things you can do to avoid unnecessary stress is to plan and test your commute. Make sure you have a clear idea of your new office’s dress code, parking arrangements, accessing the building, etc. Take a moment to analyze your equipment. If you’re working in an office, you probably have a workstation waiting for you. In a remote position, however, you might be responsible for completing the necessary hardware. If at any time during that pre-work period you come up with questions. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your new employer.
Researching your new company might be a valuable step. Granted, you’ve probably done some digging preparing for the interview, so you have a good idea of what they do and how they’re organized. Now is the time to get a better grasp of the company culture. Check out their corporate social media channels or browse through the employee handbook if you’ve already received it. Don’t overthink it! This task is supposed to make you feel more confident about the upcoming career change, not to make you look for any “red flags.”
Finally, make sure you use the time in between jobs to actually live a little and relax. You’ve deserved this time off: make the most of it! Your priority should be to arrive at your new workplace with a lot of positive energy, not to lose sleep, trying to prepare for the job.
Succeed in Your New Job: The First Days
Onboarding new employees is an important process in all organizations. Your new employer probably has a fixed procedure or even a special path for new project managers joining the team. Details of the onboarding process will differ from company to company. Still, one step is for certain: you will learn a lot of new information. In order not to get overwhelmed, try to cover these four aspects when organizing your new knowledge and asking follow-up questions:
Let’s go through them one by one.
Process. If you’re supposed to manage projects for an organization, you need to be aware of any established project-related procedures. Chances are, you’ve already discussed the basics during your recruitment process, and you know e.g., the project management methodology your new company champions. Ask about templates, reporting habits, meetings, communication procedures, project lifecycle, etc. Your goal is to manage the project in a manner that is effective but also familiar to your team.
Of course, you could have been appointed as a person in charge of creating new processes and building the project management culture at a given company. Still, it’s useful to know about the past processes in order to improve them.
Tools. Most project managers can’t imagine doing their job without access to software that helps them stay organized and maintain team members in the know. You might need to learn how to use a new tool unless your new company utilizes apps you’re already familiar with. Most likely, you’ll deal with these types of online tools:
- Project Management Software with kanban boards, task lists, Gantt charts, project calendars. Tools like Jira, Asana, Trello, or Basecamp are popular among project managers.
- Resource Management Software that helps you with resource scheduling, time tracking, or managing the availability of your team members. Teamdeck is an example of such a tool.
- Communication Software, usually a chat that allows you to communicate with your team and clients asynchronously (e.g., Slack or Skype). Teleconferencing software like Zoom or Google Hangouts would also fall into this category.
If you’re managing a software project, you should also find out which tools are used by your team (e.g., bug trackers, code repositories, wireframing tools). Knowing which apps and tools are used by your team members is also essential for highly specialized industries like construction. You may not know your way around a specific app, but you should know what it does and who uses it. Thanks to this, you will be able to communicate with your team efficiently.
Projects. Usually, when you start as a new project manager at an organization, it is because there is a project that requires a leader. One of your first priorities should be to find out as much about it as possible. The scope, the timeline, requirements, budgets, risks, dependencies: everything that you need to start your work. Depending on the stage of the project, you might also need to talk to your predecessor: it might be the case that you’re taking over a project from someone else. Ask about the progress so far, any issues that appeared along the way, the relationship with the stakeholders. Try to encourage candid answers: sugarcoating will only make your job more difficult in the long run. Go through project documentation and assess whether it’s up to date and complete. If not, inquire about any elements that you’re not confident about.
If possible, try to gather information about your company’s other projects as well. You might be able to notice some patterns, uncover improvement areas or risks. You’ll also learn more about your team members in the process.
Clients. Every project comes with stakeholders. Whether you’re managing an internal project or there is an external customer who hired your company, you need to be aware of who it is. One of the critical parts of a project manager’s role is to build a good relationship with the stakeholders. It is not to say that you should be a yes-person, quite the contrary: when your client trusts your judgment, it should be easier to talk them off of something you and your team don’t support. As you get to know your client, try to learn more about their business. The goal behind the project you’re about to start managing, the userbase, any research they’ve done prior to launching: these insights will help you make better decisions about the project.
Get to know your coworkers
When you start a new project management job, introducing yourself properly will prove to be of huge importance. There are three groups of coworkers, you should remember:
Your project team. As you probably imagine, project manager’s relationship with their team is crucial. First, find out who is on your project team and what are their roles (both at a company level and in the project). Actively listen for their insights: they may tell you things about the project or the client, that you won’t be able to learn from people who haven’t worked on the team.
Encourage feedback and candid communication. Building a culture of project transparency will help you to develop trust between you and your team. From the very beginning, try to be very clear about your role as a project manager and set some ground rules. It will help you to maintain work-life balance and prevent job creep.
Your managers. Meeting your boss is an inevitable (and essential) part of your onboarding process. One of the more interesting tips regarding this relationship comes from Owen Gadeken, who wrote:
“By now you may be asking, “What about meeting with my new boss?” Yes, that’s always important, and you have probably had at least one meeting already. But I recommend that you deliberately put off any follow-on meetings until you are able to gather enough information to make at least a preliminary assessment of your project; otherwise, you may find yourself making promises or commitments you can’t keep. “
Source: Gadeken, O. C. (2009). So you’re the new project manager: tips for a good start. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2009—North America, Orlando, FL. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Other coworkers. You will probably benefit from getting to know as many colleagues as possible, especially if your organization employs fewer than, say, 500 people (this task could be impossible in large corporations). You might even want to ask your team: “whom I should know?” As a project manager, you may need to collaborate with HR teams, office managers, sales, finances, etc. Knowing who is who puts you in a good position. Of course, you should also get to know fellow PMs, and, if possible, find a person who might become your mentor.
What’s next? Make a plan for the first weeks on the job
At some point, you’ll be expected to get to work: for many organizations, this will be just days after your introduction to the organization. The transition between onboarding and the “real job” may be difficult, as you’ll go from being taken care of, to being (most likely) on your own. How should you tackle this challenging period?
Set measurable goals and priorities: both for your project team and yourself. Such a list will be your most valuable resource for when in doubt.
Share expectations with your team. Your direct reports will appreciate knowing what their goals and primary responsibilities are. You, on the other hand, will be able to be more confident that your strategy will be executed.
Voice your concerns and opinions, especially when they have to do with project management processes. Sure, nobody likes that person who joins the team and wants to make a 180 on everything from day 1. But there’s something to be said about getting a pair of fresh eyes: you might simply be noticing more shortcomings and improvement areas than others. As long as you communicate calmly and factually, you shouldn’t be in trouble. Remember, that it is you who will ultimately have to deal with the consequences of flawed processes and methods. It’s probably better to collaborate with your colleagues on improving specific areas.
How to stay organized in a new project management job?
Here are a couple of tips that will help you to stay organized during the first challenging weeks on a new job:
- ask questions and follow-up questions,
- take notes (it may be an excellent opportunity to take up sketchnoting),
- use existing templates or introduce them to the organization and the team,
- create a schedule of meetings and follow the rules of effective meetings.
The first few weeks in a new position may be challenging. Still, if you follow our guidelines, you should be able to get a good grasp of your upcoming responsibilities and tasks. When in doubt, you can always turn to online resources for PMs. We post helpful guides for project managers regularly, so make sure you bookmark Teamdeck’s blog! And if you haven’t tried our app yet, sign up to see what other PMs are raving about.