How to be a successful project manager in your first project

You have been called by your supervisor and you have been asked to manage your first project as a project manager. It’s not just luck, it is a result of all the hard work you have been putting in, your ability and confidence that you have gained over time was the reason you were chosen for the assignment. While you are happy to take up the challenge and prove yourself, you are also scared of failure. If you can execute it successfully then it will establish your credibility as a good project manager, else, you may be asked to go back to your old work. 


We will go through  some of the key concepts and tools that a mature project manager uses to help him significantly increase the probability of project success.

  • Credible project schedule
  • Effective communication
  • Stakeholder management
  • Risk planning

Credible project schedule
Plan, Plan, and Plan. It is being said that you can never plan enough. Although actual project execution will never go as per plan, still planning is a very important aspect. With proper planning, you will be able to start execution with confidence. By the time you finish your planning, you should know answers to the below three very important questions

  • What needs to be done or scope
  • By when it needs to be done or time
  • Do I have the sufficient resources, and time to deliver my project on time with quality?

Get answer to the first question from client. Generally, you will also be told the answer to the second question, but you should not take it at face value and validate if the timelines are realistic. Using this information, you need to answer the very important third question.

Once you know what needs to be done, break it down into smaller manageable tasks also called WBS (Work Breakdown Structure). WBS is defined by PMBOK (Project Management Body Of Knowledge) as ‘deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team’.

Then derive project estimate through the newly created WBS. Even if the project estimate is given to you, you need to validate if it is accurate and if you and your team are comfortable with the same. You can work with an SME (Subject Matter Expert) to come up with an estimate. Make sure that activities like team meetings, reviews, testing, and audits are included in the estimate. 
Once you have an estimate, based on high-level milestone plan, you should be able to derive team size, resource ramp up, resource ramp down plan and the project schedule.

Effective communication
It is being said that communication is what a project manager spends 99% of his time on. You need to communicate regularly to all project stakeholders including your team, supervisor, upper management and the client.

Communicate regularly with your team to ensure that the tasks are being executed as per plan. Communicate informally during team lunches and formally through e-mails and meetings to get the pulse of the team. Gather not only the progress status but also engage yourself by removing any roadblocks for the team.

Keep your management and client informed about project progress as per communication plan. Relevant risks or issues should be communicated through channels such as project status reports and regular reporting. Use communication tools to gain attention and seek help from the management if required. Before going to the management, list down steps you have taken to resolve the problem and any specifics you need from them to solve the issue at hand.

As the management may not have time to go through lengthy reports, try to keep them as simple as possible by removing technical details or moving technical information to the bottom. Use RAG (Red / Green / Amber) indicators to communicate project status clearly and in an easy-to-understand manner.

Stakeholder management
As per PMBOK, stakeholder is ‘an individual, group, or organization, who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project’. Any project will have a lot of stakeholders but all of them are not treated equally. It is important to know their position on their power/interest matrix and manage accordingly.

For stakeholders with low power, if the interest is low then they just need to be monitored for any change in power/interest. Stakeholders with low power and high interest need to be kept informed as per their needs. Stakeholders with high power but low interest need to be kept satisfied so that they can support the project if required or in case their interest increases. The stakeholders with high interest and power need to be monitored closely and kept engaged. We can also add a third dimension to this matrix called “attitude” which can be positive or negative towards the project.

Stakeholder management is not a one-time activity as during the execution of a project, new stakeholders might get added and existing stakeholders might get dropped off. Also for each of the stakeholders, their position on power, interest and attitude matrix might change and prompt you to act accordingly.

It is said that people are the most important and most complex piece of puzzle. Stakeholder management using the above technique is a key to influencing your stakeholders for better support of your project.

Risk planning
As per PMBOK, risk is defined as ‘an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives’. It is important to understand the difference between a risk and an issue. A risk is an uncertain event which has not occurred yet but has a probability of occurring. When a risk occurs, it becomes an issue and needs to be managed differently.

While you will implement the cycle of risk identification, create their mitigation plans and monitor the risk log. Prioritizing risks using impact probability matrix is the key to identifying which ones to focus on. Once you have identified all the risks, they must be rated by their impact on the project and their probability of occurring. Risk probability can be marked as high, medium and low, or any value between 0 and 1. Risk impact can be in terms of cost, schedule or scope. Risk priority is derived by multiplication of impact and probability scores or from the impact probability matrix. A sample impact probability matrix is shown in diagram where green cells show low risk, yellow cells are for medium risk and red cells are for high risks. A risk with higher risk priority score is more important than the risk with a lower score.

Once you have arrived at risk priority, risk log can be sorted by risk priority and managed accordingly.