15 Tips for being a Project Manager

by Henry Mak

A couple of weeks ago I was the project manager for my cohort (a team of 9 including me), for an internal client project involving Snowflake. After reflecting, here are some tips that I have. I hope it helps you run a great project, especially those in future cohorts at The Data School.

1. Understand the data

This can elevate your PM game by quite a lot. Understanding what is going on in the project, both in the macro and micro, is vital. This includes the data that is involved. By understanding your data it enables you to easily identify and solve the roadblocks that your team will face/are facing.

This also applies to the wider team. Make sure everyone understands the context.

2. Have the team work in parallel, if possible

Running a project with the waterfall method (i.e. in a serial manner) is not efficient. If it's possible then run your project in parallel so you reduce bottlenecks, allow more time for iterations, and keep productivity consistently high. One example of this was that the front-end team did background research on the topic (pollution) whilst the back-end team partially parsed the data so the front-end had some data to work with.

3. Prioritise team agility

"Agile" is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot. However, what /I/ mean by keeping your team agile is to make it such that team members are able to be redeployed into other areas, as necessary. One example from the project was that Ali and Jos, who were originally on the front-end, moved onto the back-end.

An added benefit of this was that knowledge was transferrable. The information gained from working within one team could be carried over to help another team.

In a project with limited time and lots of moving parts, flexibility is key.

4. Trust

Trust your team. Trust (and respect) is something that goes both ways.

5. Make sure you scope out the project fully

You don't want to be caught off-guard because the team didn't control the controllable and didn't scope out the project fully. If there's anything you're unsure about, make sure you ask.

6. You don’t need to know it all

Day 1 of the project was quite overwhelming for me since the first time I had seen the brief was the same time that the rest of the team had seen the brief. I felt quite stressed out because I was the PM and I didn't know all the answers. However, upon looking back - that is okay. Remember, you are a part of a team and you can work through it together.

7. Mistakes will probably happen

During this week I made a mistake as a PM, which I won't be forgetting for a while. However, it's valuable to remember that this is training and mistakes are okay. These things happen and you are human, after all. The important part is how you (all) respond to it.

8. Understand the teams strengths

If you can understand your team's individual and collective strengths, you will be in a better position to extract maximum performance out of everybody.

You may even use this as an opportunity to learn (as is the culture at The Data School) by putting yourselves in uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory, in order to promote growth.

9. Communication

You and the Client. You and the team. The teams themselves.

Similar to Trust, communication is a two-way street. Ask for your team's opinions and ideas. As Head Coach Andy once said in training (non-verbatim):

It's project manager, not project dictator

Good communication is essential for running a successful project.

From best to worst:

Face-to-face > Video call > Voice call > Text

10. Enable collaboration

With virtual working staying for the foreseeable future, you have to enable collaboration wherever you can. Without the office, it's not as easy as simply walking across the room to get help or to find out what the other teams are doing.

One way you can enable collaboration on Zoom is by keeping breakout rooms as flexible as possible. Don't assign people to rooms. Allow the team to choose their own breakout rooms and let them jump rooms whenever they want. This is so teams can ask other teams questions with minimal disruption or barriers.

Also, open more rooms than you think you might need. This is so individuals can work in silence. By having empty rooms they are still able to be on the call, and thus easily reachable, rather than being forced to drop off. Moreover, this enables teams to split off in an ad-hoc basis.

11. Buy-in

Getting buy-in from all of your team is crucial. This way the team is motivated and are engaged.

One way you can do this is by keeping the team in-the-loop about what everyone else is doing and how it all ties together. Even if some teams are in their own "bubble".

I achieved this by creating a flowchart (which went through multiple iterations) and kept referring to it over the week when talking with the team. I also kept this flowchart in the public domain so they could check it themselves whenever.

This flowchart was also helpful for deciding the next steps and for knowing how the project was progressing overall. It lessened the stress and cognitive load.

Another way to encourage buy-in would be to involve the whole team as much as possible. For example, in decision making.

In addition make sure you recognise, acknowledge and give thanks to the team's progress and effort.

12. Identify risks and potential bottlenecks early

By doing this you are less likely to be surprised and you can keep productivity high.

One example in this project was the fact that we had not flattened a JSON in Snowflake before. We identified this a possible bottleneck so we did it in Alteryx first meaning we could have at least some data and see what it looked like. This call paid off massively because the back-end only made a breakthrough in Snowflake quite late on in the week.

13. "How can I make your life easier?"

One responsibility of the PM is to enable the team to do what they do best. Be proactive in helping your team. Of course, this doesn't mean that you take over their work because this is not what the PM should be doing.

14. Make an agenda for meetings

If you call a meeting, make sure you have an agenda which you will cover.

See these meetings as an investment. By taking a relatively small amount of time out of everyone's working day, you will all get a positive ROI e.g. in work output and clarity.

15. Have faith

It will all be okay, when it comes to Friday.

Tableau Public



Extra reading:

Why Getting Employee Buy-In is Worth Your Time

13 Leadership Styles and Their Characteristics