In your new role you want to be seen as taking action and adding value from day one. That’s understandable. But producing a hurried project plan and quickly getting the team moving may not be the best use of your first days. Instead, you want to focus on getting to know the organization, your new client and the team – and resisting the temptation to kick off the project straight away. Building relationships and understanding the environment you’re operating in is the foundation for everything else you’ll be doing. This may sound obvious but many project managers only build relationships at a superficial level. They meet and greet people in their first weeks but don’t take the necessary steps to actively build trust.
Ask the “dumb” basic questions
In your first month I’d like you to ask lots of questions and listen to the answers. Really listen. When you are new in a role you have a unique opportunity to ask the “dumb” basic questions that help you build trust, agree the rules of engagement and set you up for success. Ask your new client and stakeholders how they do business and in which ways your project will help them to do that more effectively. Find out as much as you can about their world and shadow someone in a line function. Ask them what the project managers before you did really well – and not so well – and in which ways they feel that you can add the most value. Also find out as much as you can about their communication style; how they would like you to keep them informed and in which circumstances they would like you to escalate to them. Your task is to form a clear picture of what success looks like in their eyes so that you can partner with them and provide it.
Find out what makes each person tick
In a similar fashion you want to build strong relationships with the members of your team. Ask people what they like the most and the least about their jobs, what they feel the team has done well in the past and where there is room for improvement. Your job is to open up and find out what makes each person tick, as that is the building block for creating a high performing team. Have a frank discussion with everyone individually about what they need from you and what you need from them. No one likes to be micromanaged, so talk about how you will be working together in a way that gives each person sufficient autonomy whilst providing you with enough transparency.
Needless to say that in your first month you also have to look at defining and kicking off the project. Enquire about the project’s business case and strategic objectives, establish the project’s governance structure and uncover the major risks, constraints and milestones. But don’t prioritize these classic project management activities over and above building relationships and understanding the business. Your initial priority is to build trust and gather information by asking questions, listening and observing.
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