How to Start a Project as an Accidental Project Manager
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Help! Help! How do I get started?
Simon HarrisThis was Simon Harris’s question. It was asked in Project Management Cafe, our Facebook group (what? you’re not a Member?). Join us now by going over to Project Management Cafe, our Facebook Group. ).
Simon Harris was our expert guest, hosting the chat on the topic of ‘The AccidentalPM’s Surgery’. Here’s what he had for us about how to start a project.
What is an Accidental Project Manager (APM)?
Definition: An accidental project manager is someone who is an expert in a particular subject and/or is known for getting things done. At the very least, managing projects is a secondary function of their job. Many project managers become full-time managers by accident, even though they don’t have a formal route to PM like a degree.
“Oh, you’re not so busy can you just …”?”
“We should treat it as a project so …”
“You’d make a great project manager …”
Is this something you are familiar with?
If the initial conversation went a little like that, then there are a few safe-ish conclusions.
You are a subject matter expert in a discipline relevant to the final result and/or an ‘organiser’.
To get the desired result, you need to coordinate many people.
There may be an oversight, approvals, or other type of committee structure to ask permission to, possibly to start and to end.
There are many people who have different opinions on what you do.
There are a mixture of things you know, stuff you suspect, and stuff that you need to discover.
I will also mention that there will be things you don’t know right now and that you will need to react to it when it becomes apparent. Don’t let anyone beat you about it. But, do recognize now that you must have the ability to react when necessary.
How to Create a Shared Understanding
It is the activity that builds shared understandings that matters most at this stage. It should be recorded in a way that suits your organisation and covers you back.
I recommend that you develop the following understandings.
Sign an agreement with management
Your ‘boss’ (the commissioning authority) and your peers should come to an agreement about what your project will deliver, and the limitations that must be adhered to. This stage is where you can use the mantra “Faster than better, cheaper, pick any two” as a guideline.
The key is to think about “What will they have achieved?” and not “What will they have done.” Encourage them to think in terms of results and not actions. As the project coordinator/manager, you are free to harness the best ideas of the team by defining the result.
If your boss or peers are unsure or in disagreement, it is your job to reflect back to them (often called a “sponsor”) that you will deliver their vision.
It is often sensible for them to express their target and your authority publicly – loudly is the best! !
Get in agreement with the team
Next, create a relationship between you and your ‘team’ – delivery people.
The boss and the rest of their management team should specify the ‘what outcome’ (e.g. You should discuss the ‘how’ with the team.
What does this mean? When? What resources and other inputs are needed to create the final outputs, intermediate or final, within what time-frames?
Align the Team’s Thoughts with Management’s
The “Pick two” conversation with the people in charge might need to be repeated.
“Boss, you need a team twice as large to open the bakery within those timeframes. Or, with the current team it will be twice your preferred length – which is what you want.