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6 Project Management Tips for First-Time Managers

6 Project Management Tips for First-Time Managers

If you work at a corporate office full-time and are running your home business on the side, you certainly are a hard worker and your higher-ups will notice. This diligence will lead to promotions, which can greatly benefit your business.

Getting promoted to management for the first time is kind of like becoming a new parent. You’re exhilarated—you’ve been working toward this goal and it’s finally here—but also terrified. What if you’re not ready? What if you mess up?

When it comes to parenting, there’s a wealth of information on how to adjust your behavior to raise happier, healthier children.

The same is true of management. In fact, the project management discipline is dedicated to just that: how to change your behavior to facilitate healthier, more productive teams.

Below, you’ll find six of the most important lessons that first-time managers need to learn about project management.

1. Drop all of your individual contributor work

One of the hardest things to let go of when you’re first promoted to management is your personal, tangible contribution to the company.

That said, managers have a different functional calendar than individual contributors. While you may be used to creative problem solving and production, get ready for meetings.

In fact, research from the Project Management Institute estimates that project managers spend up to 90% of their time just communicating. Research published in the Harvard Business Review adds that individual contributors need to block out their time in long stretches to be most effective, whereas managers function on 30- to 60-minute increments.

There’s no way to effectively manage both workloads. Drop your non-managerial work so that you can focus on your company’s most important asset: its people.

2. Create a practical, sustainable task management system

Task management and productivity are like a diet.

If you pay attention to what you put into your body and prioritize healthy exercise, you’ll probably become healthier, regardless of whether you’re counting calories, counting points, or counting carbs.

The same is true of personal organization; whether you use Getting Things Done, Pomodoro, task management software, or a simple checklist, using a dedicated process to manage your time will help you better govern your workload, productivity, and energy

3. Spend most of your effort on your top performing people

Project management has a concept called “level of effort” that attempts to quantify how much work will be involved in completing identified project to-dos. As part of human resource management, project managers need to match employee skills and strengths to specific tasks in order to minimize the level of effort required for that task.

According to recent Gartner research, many managers “have lost sight of what resource management is about—delivering the maximum amount of value through the concerted effort of human resources.”

Gallup research, as cited by Profitguide, adds on to this idea: “If managers spend 80% of their time with the top 10 to 20% of their staff, everyone [in the business] would become even more productive and engaged.”

In other words, if top workers require the least amount of effort to get things done, and if attention to top workers trickles down through a team and organization, the calculus is clear: managers should spend most of their time on top performers.

4. Make team communication your first priority

There’s one lingering statistic that has held true, with little variance, for decades: poor communication leads to project failure.

In fact, when combined with a “lack of clearly defined and/or achievable milestones and objectives to measure progress,” and “lack of communication from senior management,” poor communication accounts for 74% of all project failures, according to PMI.

One of the best things new managers can do is invest time in creating a communication plan and developing yourself as an expert on delivering ideas clearly, concisely, and concretely.

5. Accept that you can’t be friends with your team

One of the hardest obstacles to overcome when you’re promoted to management is the transition from “coworker” to “boss.” More than half (59.3%) of first-time managers cite “displaying authority” and “adjusting to people management” as the most difficult part of their role transition.

No one is convinced when a new manager insists, “We’re still on the same team,” because they’re not. It doesn’t matter how you frame your messaging—the reality is that there has been a change in power dynamics.

The first team for managers is other managers, who are also more likely to prioritize business over personal goals.

Consider these three project management tactics to overcome the authority problem: host one-on-one meetings to establish interest in your new direct reports’ goals, values, and workload, document your team’s new ground rules, and publicly cheerlead your team.

6. Ask for help when you need it

New project managers and managers alike struggle with requesting assistance when needed. They worry that it undermines their credentials as a new manager. It’s a symptom of “impostor syndrome,” or the feeling that your accomplishments do not merit one’s position in life, and that you’re at risk for being exposed as a fraud.

While it should be common knowledge that no one is born with perfect management skills, that’s hardly the case. Technology can certainly help you build skills, so integrate software into your operations for better success in your position.

Adapt an Agile approach to your personal development: recognize that there is always room for improvement, and in doing so, regularly reflect on which skills need attention and what knowledge base you’re missing.

No one (hyperbole, certainly someone has) gets fired for logistics questions.

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