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Five First Steps for a New Project Manager

For a new project manager (PM), assuming authority over the first project can be intimidating, exciting or both. At a minimum, the experience is guaranteed to produce frustration and anxiety. Frequently, projects encounter obstacles along the way, and a first time PM may feel discouraged. However, these five key steps will help ensure a smooth transition to the new position.

Define the Desired Outcome Prior to Initiating Work

While this may seem obvious, a novice PM may be caught unprepared. It is true that the project charter and scope statement will specify the desired outcome. However, in order for those documents to be completed, the key stakeholders must agree on the outcome. To avoid this dilemma, the project manager should communicate directly with the project sponsors or owners about their specific expectations for the finished goods or services. Asking open-ended questions and listening carefully to the answers will prevent a lot of miscommunication, additional costs and missed deadlines later.

Define the Roles Clearly

Projects may miss key milestones and veer off into severe scope creep when the stakeholders are not clear on their individual responsibilities. In worst case scenarios, the PM may discover that each of the stakeholders is working towards a different outcome. To prevent this, the new project manager must ensure that the charter and scope statement detail clearly the roles they play and their relationships to the sponsor and manager. In addition, the PM should document all of the required signatures before each phase ends and a new one begins.

Perform a Pre-mortem

Experienced PMs routinely conduct postmortems at the close of a project. However, a pre-mortem may be conducive to highlighting potential obstacles. This gives the project team the ability to implement corrective action prior to the problem growing out of control. During the initial planning process, asking certain questions will elucidate weaknesses. For example, the PM should ask the team, “If the team is approaching the final milestone date without successfully completely the antecedent tasks, which essentially defines failure, what will we say went wrong?” “What should we do or change now to address that?”

Establish a Routine Schedule for Project Verification

Milestones provide regular checkpoints throughout the life cycle of a project, yet a new PM may want additional verification opportunities. While it is the PMs responsibility to stay in communication with stakeholders and contractors, he or she can add a few additional meeting dates to the calendar beyond the milestone meetings.

Conduct a Postmortem Debriefing upon Completion of the Project

Some novice PMs may be tempted to skip this crucial step after the successful close. However, while it may be difficult to face constructive criticism as well as positive feedback, that information will help the PM with subsequent ventures. A reflection on what could be done differently and what was done well serves a professional PM well especially in establishing concrete relationships with the stakeholders and contractors that will carry on in the future.


Lee is a new Project Manager and is looking to progress his career further. He recommends visiting Milestone training for Project Management Solutions, and to help move his career forward.

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