Next Week as Project Manager

by Chris Meardon

Introduction

Each data school cohort typically is involved in 8 client projects while training. These are a week long and occupy roughly half of our work hours that week, with each project having a project manager (PM) from the group. We take it in turns so that each of us are the PM at least once. Next week is my week and I wanted to express some of my thoughts going into this process to reflect on at the end of the week.

Management Tactics

Towards the beginning of our training we were given advise on how to effectively manage our time, which is generally one of the largest focuses the PM seems to face. We were shown a spreadsheet where a plan can be created, tasks identified and divided, hours assigned and progress predicted. It seemed like a useful way to try to appropriately work out what can be delivered given the assets and time frame.

As of now, I am not aware of a system like this being used in our projects. We have had a few different styles of management and tools used in the last 6 projects, which have had their successes. We have had varying use of the app Trello, which let us create individual task items and move them between different lists. We could for example have lists of tasks to do, tasks in progress and completed ones, noting who each of these are assigned to. It was also a useful way to log any comments or questions we had, that our PM could easily see and access. It was, however, not that good in my opinion for predicting how long particular tasks were going to take – a strength of the documents we were shown.

This may sound like quite a significant lacking of the tactic, but I’m unsure if it really did detract from our planning. We have just over 15 hours assigned to our project over the week (not including presentations and the introductory meeting) and this is not much time. There are 8 of us working concurrently for these 15 hours, but many tasks cannot be worked on simultaneously, so I would hesitate to simply call this 120 hours of time available. I have not felt let down by having less rigorous time planning on paper in our previous projects.

A huge aspect of these projects is unforeseen challenges, which are hard to handle and plan appropriately for. Our time is so focused and short, that there is little room to breathe and as a result we often end up working on content that cannot be completed. We were advised early on by Carl to ensure that when working towards objectives, it can be a good idea to essentially check point as you go. If you try to ensure that you regularly are creating something deliverable then you will have something to deliver.

I am unsure what is the best method, but I think I will try and keep up to date with the progress of each of the team members, assigning them tasks (recorded with Trello) and logging what they have left to do in hours/ tasks. How I will log this I am unsure. I may try doing it in Trello, but may slip into doing this largely mentally and if that get’s too challenging I’ll move to a spreadsheet.

My focuses

Ensuring minimal time is spent on the project outside of 9am-5pm by all of the team
, including myself, the PM. This may sound lazy and uncommitted, but I believe it to be the exact opposite. We have a contract and in it we agree to the hours that we work. We know our time constraints. To work outside these hours may set standards that we may be expected to continue and we may get in the habit of poor time management having further implications in our future careers. Seemingly, every data schooler is one step away from burn out. The training is intense and the pressure can feel high, which is exactly why we need to let go at 5pm. Of course the project is important and I care very much about the quality of the work that we will deliver, but it is not worth working late for. By delivering the best quality work that we can in the time that we have, we will be performing in an appropriate way and one that I believe is most valuable to us as employees, to us at trainees, to our company and to our clients. If we are over worked and tired, our quality will drop. If we sustain these habits we will burn out and our quality will drop both now and later in our careers. This week will be 9-5.

Understanding the tasks faced by each of the team
This week I want to know what each of the team are doing in enough detail that I can ensure that what they are doing is on task and to be able to integrate all the outputs of each team member together. There has been excellent exemplar care of this issue taken by previous PMs in our cohort, and I will try and replicate their successes. I will sit with and ask updates from the team, sub-teams or individuals, check how they are doing and what challenges they are facing. I will try to ensure that we resolve their issues and get them on track.

How I’m Expecting it to go

Difficulty dividing up the tasks between the team effectively to be challenging.
People to feeling frustrated with incomplete, imperfect workflows and dashboards.
A confusing kick-off, where I struggle to find the right questions to ask.
Difficulty getting my head around what we have to do and how to go about doing it.
Realisation on Friday that I had no idea of the challenges that would actually be faced.

Let’s see how it goes and continue to learn

We will make mistakes. We will not be perfect. But we will try our hardest to deliver the best quality work that we can. I will make mistakes with my management, but I will try my hardest to ensure that my team feel supported and understand what they should be doing. Let’s see how it goes and learn from our experience, even if it is our 7th one of these.

To the team

We’ve got this

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