The New Project Manager Successfully Managing the Experienced Project Team

The new project manager, or relatively inexperienced project manager, isn't likely to be assigned a very new or inexperienced project team on his or her first few projects.  They will likely have a team of experienced project professionals.  Those pros are there to help, but they will judge and the new project manager wants to gain their trust and following as early as possible.  How?  

From my observations and experiences, it comes down to three primary areas or actions to focus on to quickly gain the following and support of your project team.  It isn't about playing Superman before you've gained any experience.  It's about leading and interacting to the best of your ability.  

Consider these concepts... 

Learn and follow best practices. Know how to run a project correctly before you try.  You’re not an experienced project manager so you can’t manage from the hip in tough times.  Your best fallback will always be to stick to the basics.  Manage issues, manage risks, use PM software to manage the schedule, regularly distribute status reports and project schedules, and manage project financials and resource plans closely.  Do the ongoing things to the best of your ability, and show the team consistent and proper project management best practices.  They’ll learn to respect the consistency and rigidness.  After a few successful projects, then you can start to incorporate your own style because the good behaviors will already be ingrained in your processes.

Meet all deadlines and obligations. It’s not like you have a reputation coming in.  Except for being under experienced.  And your very experienced members of your project team will already know that and will be watching your every move.  I was training to be a database administrator during my early years as a developer – going away to relational database classes in Chicago and learning under the tutelage of our very experienced, sarcastic, crass, and overbearing DBA.  I even got to share an office with him for a while.  We got along later – and we’re even friends on Facebook now, but he was relentless in his efforts to demean me then.  He knew I was inexperienced and looked for every opportunity to hand the evidence to me on a silver platter.

I’m not saying your project team members will be this way, but they will be looking for weaknesses and they will be judging your every move.  You say we’re going to have meetings every Wednesday, then we better have meetings every Wednesday.  If they feel you’re being inconsistent or weak, they’ll pass that along to others – including their direct supervisor and that will get back to you through your management…and it won’t be positive.

Keep them in line. This may seem like a duh…but it’s really a very hard thing to do when you have no reputation to go on and no established respect coming in.  You may have even been one of ‘them’ before taking on a project of your own – and if they’re your recent developer peers, that could be making things even worse for you.  It’s critical that you immediately set expectations, set their understandings for your responsibilities and authority as the project manager, and make it clear that behavior that doesn’t follow the best interests of the project, won’t be allowed.  Give them clean and clear task assignments and hold them accountable – even if they are your friends and recent peers in your previous position.  You don’t have to rule with an iron fist – you’ll lose everyone fast and fail miserably if you try to do that.  Rather, set expectations, be consistent, and keep the team members focused on the tasks.  Stay professional – respect isn’t a given…it’s earned.

Summary / call for input

Sometimes project success is all about team management and how that team follows through with the project manager.  The project manager – the new project manager taking on the project team – has control of that by how they behave, how they follow through, and how they interact with the team of project professionals they are managing.

Readers – what's your take?  What items would you add to this list?  Please consider, share and discuss.



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