The first time project managers

The project manager must be able to develop a fully integrated information and control system to plan, instruct, monitor and control large amounts of data, quickly and accurately to facilitate the problem-solving and decision- making process. – Rory Burke

Project Manager’s in IT organizations is that pivotal layer, without which firms are likely to descend into chaos. The role shoulders responsibility of projects, team, resource management, client interaction, collaboration and project strategies. A tall order, no doubt. A promotion into the project manager level is seen as “having achieved it in life” by many, within the Indian IT industry. That euphoria quickly vanishes when one encounters the steep learning curve ahead of them, to succeed in this role.

First time project managers need a lot of support and training to be able to fulfil their job. Many organizations have training programs to help first time managers, to help them adjust/slip into their new role. The program that, I recall undergoing was a comprehensive, one-week program that included every aspect of project management – planning to giving feedback. But I must confess, the program in spite of its depth, only helped identify job competencies rather actually train employees to perform on the ground. I suspect most first time managers training programs, might not really help managers perform on the job.

Project management is a complex task. It requires efficiency in multiple disciplines – project management techniques, resource planning, delegation, planning, strategy along with a hoard of soft skills that help in leading teams. In general circumstances, before becoming a project manager the employee is likely to have spent around 5 years or more in software programming with small additional tasks and responsibilities that were added as he gained experience. Skills and capabilities in these roles , however do not prepare employees for the project management role. As the responsibilities and scale of projects increase, the effort required by first time managers to deliver becomes higher.  Managers are going to learn best ,while performing on the job, solving these real-time problems . Creating the right balance, across so many complex tasks cannot be taught via text books alone.

However, it would also be essential that organizations invest in creating support systems around first time managers who are learning on the job.

  1. Create a two-year moratorium on performance appraisals for first time managers. It seems unfair for fresh project managers to be compared along with those managers who are far more experienced. First time managers are likely to come at the bottom of the pile thereby de-motivating employees.
  2. Instead create a regular feedback process and mentorship program, which helps also serve as a sounding board. They also need help to get tips/tricks/shortcuts to make their job easier. Create a community amongst first time mangers in which common shared angst/problems might find solutions.
  3. HR intervention and training is required at regular intervals in soft skills – giving feedback, presenting to a client, working in teams etc. Most organizations get this part right, and we need to keep at it.
  4. New project managers in high stakes situation are likely to be overly aggressive and assertive due to their own shortcomings. This could trigger attrition within teams, thereby further jeopardizing the project. Skip managers and line HR, must have interventions regularly with teams during the moratorium period.
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Project Managers need time to learn on the job and they are going to make mistakes before they start performing. Organizations need to create a support system for this learning process.

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