Wisdom for a first-time Project Manager…

A book called ‘There’s a New Sheriff in Town: The Project Manager’s proven guide to successfully taking over ongoing projects and getting the work done was published recently, and the Badger, whose career centred on the many aspects of delivery in the IT business, is currently reading it. The book’s lengthy title, as it happens, also reminds the Badger of his very first assignment as a project manager, many, many years ago!

After working as an analyst-programmer and design authority on a number of sizeable software development projects, the Badger’s line manager took him to one side to say that his next assignment was to take over as project manager on a software and systems development project that was completely off the rails. The young Badger had no project management experience and expressed his surprise!  The line manager cited two reasons for why they had no doubt that the Badger was the right person for the job. The first was that the Badger’s character, experience, and latent capabilities were highly suited to sorting out the poor engineering and technical matters at the heart of the project’s problems, and the second was that most aspects of project management were always best learned on the job! Being thrown in at the deep end, they added, was nothing to be fear.  

Somewhat daunted, the Badger chatted to an experienced and consistently successful manager of difficult software intensive projects who gave three pieces of advice.  The first was ‘ You will fail if you fall into the trap of believing project management is about administering the processes in a project management handbook. It’s really about leadership, and showing the character, resilience, vision, drive, and professionalism to get the job done’. The second was ‘Most project management books are not written by people with a software or IT, so most are a distraction and won’t help get the job done or make you real project manager’. Things have moved on significantly since the time when there was a paucity of books about managing projects in the IT world, but the inherent not being overly distracted reading books still has some validity. The third point was ‘If you are replacing a current project manager who has lost the confidence of line management then remember that if you do what they did, you’ll get what they got!’  This was their way of saying be different, be focused, and be aware that you can be replaced too!

So, if you find yourself being appointed as the new sheriff in town on an ailing IT project, and it’s your first role as a project manager, don’t be fazed. Be a leader not just an administrator of process, be motivated to listen and learn, be focused, and know that these days there are books like the one above that can help by providing many nuggets of wisdom gleaned from experience…  

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