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Wanna Be a Project Manager?

Page 4 — Managing People

Your most time-consuming task will be managing people. Obviously you can't do everything yourself, although sometimes you’ll wish you could.

Language is a big barrier -- design, engineering, production and editorial all use different words and make different assumptions about problems. The project manager needs to understand all these and make sure the engineers know what design is talking about (and vice versa).

I did some consulting work setting up a process for a Web company last year. They began correctly by brainstorming and setting a feature list, but by the time they started work, the engineers’ and designers’ interpretations of those features were very different. They entered the integration phase with essentially two different products because the project manager was having problems getting the two sides to collaborate.

Meet regularly with your team one-on-one. This can be quick and informal, to see how they're doing and whether they have problems or questions. Many people find it easier to share their problems one-on-one rather than in a large meeting. Don't make it easy for people to complain. Try to solve problems quickly and nip conflicts in the bud. If it's a something that will affect your project, deal with it immediately regardless of feelings or politics.

It helps to be involved in day-to-day work on a project and not just overall issues. If you understand what your employees are doing, you can better manage them. If they see you working alongside them, they'll have more respect for you and will trust that you understand the challenges they face.

Defend your employees if they are put in a difficult situation. Do you have the guts to stand up for your employees, defend them when they need it and inform them when they aren't living up to expectations? You picked your team for a reason -- stand by them and make sure they have the tools and information to get the job done.

Do you have the authority you need?

Before taking on the job make sure you're given the authority you need. It is essential that your role be clearly defined and explained to your employees and to other departments at your company. At the e-commerce site where I worked briefly, I wasn't given sufficient authority by my boss. I was hired to create and run a production department but was never presented to other departments in the company as the head of anything. It made dealing with them impossible. I disliked the job so much that I soon gave up and quit. I felt guilty about leaving my new employees, but figured whoever replaced me might have a better chance of getting something done.

Project managers are easy targets for criticism because the success or failure of a project is often dependent on their decisions. I know it's impossible not to have at least a slight ego -- especially if you like being in charge. But don't let the endless commentary get to you. You've signed on for a reason -- you like to lead others, and part of leadership is the ability to deal well with stress and criticism.

Now that I've covered what it takes to be a project manager, I'll go through a general process to get you started managing effectively.

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