Joining a project mid-way through can be both daunting & challenging so although it’s common, (in fact it’s entirely expected especially when you’re a contractor) it doesn’t make it easy! I wanted to write a blog post on how I get stuck in, because ‘how I approach this situation’ is often an interview question & as I enter my foray into working for myself I found these tips useful to look back on.
How to start, and things to remember when you join a project mid-way through.
The world isn’t perfect let’s remember and getting an opportunity to start a project from ‘greenfield’ status is exceptionally rare. Further it’s very common that there’s one of the following scenarios occurred, which is why you’re being asked to come aboard;
- A project is failing and needs you as the replacement, maybe there’s some issues which need working through and you have those key skills to assist the existing PM incumbent.
- The current PM is drowning, been fired, about to be fired or has been removed from the project
- The PM has rubbed the team, the client, or the business up the wrong way and politics are rife destroying things from within.
No matter what the organisation or the project, one of the above is usually entirely accurate. I always assume the incumbent PM will not be in a position to hand over to me in any capacity so there’s a few things I always do to help get myself up to speed. I thought the need to write this blog post as with what I mentioned above, how one starts a project is a common interview question, and I like to answer questions with specifics as opposed to woolly vagaries which I can have a tendency of doing. So an aide memoir to me, and hopefully useful to you! Grab yourself a Crème De Menthe, settle into your Wingback & read on.
Meet with the PMO or Exec team.
Understand their requirements, where the project is now, from their perspective and what they think needs to be delivered next. Understand why the project exists, any internal project related politics, and get your hands on any existing project documentation. Now is the time to set out your Project Manager Manifesto!
Peruse existing Project Documentation
Get hold of the last few status reports, RAID logs, current Project Plan, bug lists, online libraries & BRDS and other Project Documents like Scopes of Work and get yourself a coffee and read through them. Twice! It’s usually at this time I like to get a good understanding of the commercials. Especially if I’m responsible for the entire project. This is where I usually start to learn where the dead bodies are and whether the project is in the shit or not. If key documents are missing, there’s a good likelihood you’ll need to write them yourself & that’s what I start doing. Read here about what I look for document wise in Digital Projects specifically and what tends to make up a Digital project specifically.
Conduct some internal meetings.
This is a good opportunity to introduce yourself & what you’ll be working on, who is who in the team, your background (I love talking about me!) & you can hopefully start to get a feel of who is doing what & when and how. This is a good time to start instilling some confidence in people & also showing what you’re about, your personality & with this, you can hopefully win some hearts & minds right from the outset.
Introduce yourself to the AM or Customer
If the project has a AM or Customer or you will be forward facing, now’s the time to introduce yourself as the PM. Say hello, act confident (even if you’re not) and let them know your role in the project & your responsibility. ‘Faking it until you make it’ is an important aspect of starting your on boarding the right way. You’ll need to exude the right level of confidence even if you don’t have all the information or understanding yet, otherwise you’ll put the client off in one fell swoop. Do that from the outset and you’ll be playing catch up for the rest of the project.
Into the nitty gritty I have written about using Microsoft Project here (if you’re interested) and I’m a big fan of the Digital Project Manager which sums up the DPM life in GIF form. Good for when you want some light relief & a smile. If you find yourself nuts deep in a project, both the above are a good resource. Check them out!
Getting the downlow on the TLAs
Whilst somewhat amusing, every company has it’s own set of TLA’s (three-letter-acronyms) , it’s own ‘internal language’ if you will on how it describes systems, platforms & sometimes even people! Often a lot of companies also have different understandings or assumptions of common industry terms such as ‘Agile’ or ‘Toll Gate’ or ‘MVP’ or ‘UAT’ or anything else in relation specifically to technology so understand what the company means. Now is not the time to be worried about if you come across as thick for asking what ‘MVP’ stands for, for example. You’ll look much thicker if your assumption turns out wrong several weeks later!
Coming on board and the success of it relies on how smoothly you can manage the transition. The aim is you want everyone to say something along the lines of “ooh it feels like you’ve been here ages” and to do that, you have to avoid rubbing people up the wrong way usually in the first few hours & days into your new project. Learn the politics around who is who, kitchen politics for tea and milk (sounds silly but quite important), peoples attitude to leaving early, coming early, staying late, that type of thing. Do people get pissed if you don’t empty the dishwasher? Who gets ansy when you don’t contribute to the company charity affairs. Now’s the time to find out.
It pays to not be a bull in a china shop at the outset though, now is the time you can mould your brand and set your cards out how you mean to go on, and you’ll only get this one opportunity to do it so tread very fucking carefully. It’s also worth remembering if you don’t know people assume everyone talks to everyone because only a rookie gets caught out on the ‘what do you think about him or her’ question/fishing line to subsequently get caught & reeled in after you’ve thrown several social grenades. This also goes for office pairings, couples, couples to be, affairs & other such matters of ‘extra-curricular’ activites. Assume everyone’s banging one another and act accordingly until you know different. Offices are dirty cesspits of morally dubious examples of the human race. Fact.
Learn the general order of things.
The biggest take away here though is don’t assume there aren’t any politics, don’t think you can ever be ‘outside’ of politics or above it, as it forms an intrinsic part of any business and to be effective & make changes alongside getting things done, you must participate one way or another. Believe it or not, you can be both political and entirely ethical.
Grease IT as it if you were giving bae an oily massage.
IT forms the backbone of any company & any project. Get in with those motherfuckers. Insert all the cliché’s here from buying them coffee & donuts, to additional ammo for their Nerf guns. Sort them out with cake, An Amazon Button for their Monster energy drinks, Star Wars memorabilia & the odd XCBD coaster wouldn’t go amiss either. But joking aside, pay them some respect & understand their pain points. No one likes an over-bearing PM with no clue of the goings on or knowledge of history, so get to know them and befriend them – even if you have to do it on Xbox Live at 1am. It’ll be worth it later down the line. Ensure they understand you know what they are about, it’s important.
The life of a DPM is never easy, especially when you don’t get the chance to get up to speed slowly, so consider the things I’ve mentioned above to ensure you have a fighting chance of finishing your project. Got a comment, question or opinion? In the same position yourself? Tell me what you think in the comments or interact with me on Twitter @mariodc