Tips for Aspiring or New Project Managers

Being in the industry for long and also being an educator I have been asked the following question several times.


I would like to start with a saying from Julius Caesar.

Experience is the teacher of all things.

But how will you get that experience, there was or will be a time where some project was or will be your first project. You might have been on several projects before but maybe not as a PM. All the senior project managers/owners/directors you envy or try to learn from felt the same way once when they got their first project.

To me being a Project Manager is like being the commander of a Platoon. He knows the goals and the objectives, The skills of each memebr of his platoon, he knows how to communicate with the platoon and his seniors. If there is a difference of opinion among platoon soldiers then he knows how to make it right and make them work together. He makes sure all of them are working towards the same goal before its tool late.

So how does that analogy sound like. If you have instincts like a commander then you are all set for the role and welcome to the fraternity of Project Managers.

Here are some tips for new and aspiring manager that I will still recommend :-

1.) Get A Mentor – Having a mentor is very important  if you are a new or aspiring project manager. Having a mentor will greatly relive you from a lot of stress and will let you focus on your project management activities. You can ask for your mentor’s guidance from time to time.  He doesn’t need to be in the same organization/team, he can be anywhere. You can even have a mentor whom you just met via social media.

2.) Review old projects. – Another tip for aspiring or new project managers is using old reference project materials. Your company might have done similar projects in the past and you can use information from those project to carry out your project. You can ask the PMO for old project plans, WBS dictionaries, lessons learnt of similar projects etc and I am pretty sure they will let you access all that information. These documents will open your thought process further and you can now think multidimensional, and have far better sight  of things that can go sideways.

3.) Clearly Define Goals and Success Criteria – You have to be very careful when defining goals and how will you consider them successful. The sponsor or customer might have a different success criteria in mind and you have something else. But your success criteria doesn’t matter, its the Sponsor’s or the Client’s success criteria that matters, who will give the final approval on the project. Make sure you are right from day one on your project goals. Its must to have several meetings with stakeholders to define a success criteria for the project or each of the goals or milestones or deliverables or whatever you want to call it.

4.) Communication – Don’t wait just communicate. This is the foundation of a successful project- Good Communication.

There is an old saying which I heard in CHINA there is a US and a UK version too but I heard it in China for the firs time. Here it is :-

 For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

 So all for want of nail a kingdom was lost and due to that nail what didn’t happen – A message was not delivered. So you can see that a small missed communication lead to demise of a whole kingdom. Same applies for projects. A small missed communication, miscommunication or lack of clarification can lead to failure of the project. Communicate as effectively as possible, try to keep everyone on the same page. Don’t over communicate, make a plan and send only desired communication as too much communication can also be bad.

5.) Education and Case Studies. – I already mentioned this before that you must look at lessons learnt and documentation of other projects, but apart from just looking your organization you can also search for case studies and other reading material from journals and books. The extra material will provide you lessons learnt, challenges and other material which might become useful in your project.

6.) Track Progress – Don’t loose track of your project keep track of it as much as you can . Generally people prefer weekly status updates from resources but I prefer to do it daily. Your team member might start hating you for this as this will take 10 minutes of their daily time but I think this is important. This way you get to know in a very early stage where you lagging, which task/resource is taking too much time and can come up with counter measures to put your project back on track.

7.) Budget and Risk – Manage your budget wisely. You will get a budget from the sponsor but that does not necessarily mean that the project can be done in that budget. Plan wisely, conduct feasibility studies, try to put in as much thought process as possible. Talk to SMEs and dicuss where lies the biggest risk. What could go wrong and what would be the cost associated with that. Find ways to avert that risk sitatuon. Document all the risks and costs associated with it. Add reserves and contingencies to the project budget,review it and compare it with the budget drafted by the sponsor and discuss. If your calculation are higher then explain the sponsor how you have calculated it and how much risk you are taking (if you are taking any). Explain him what can be done to reduce the budget but also explain him the risks that would come along with it.

If you have the instincts and follow these tips then you will become a veteran from aspiring or a new project manager in a short period of time. There will be lot of learning and lot of hardships but if you know how to keep cool and manage well then you will become a good project manager.

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