5 Tips for Managing Your First Big Project at Work

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Managing a major project at work can be a huge undertaking. And if it's your first time in that sort of position, it can be nerve-wracking as well. If you're a project-management newbie, here are a few tips to help the process run smoothly from start to finish.

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1. Create a timeline

Most projects have deadlines and a series of moving parts that need to come together to meet those deadlines. Your first step as a project manager should therefore involve mapping out the various components that need to get done, and the order in which they must be completed to meet your deadline. You can use a spreadsheet or even a calendar app to establish your project timeline, but give yourself wiggle room as you develop it. You never know when a critical element might get delayed because of uncontrollable circumstances, like a computer system malfunction or a coworker who gets sick, so build in some room for error.

2. Find the best people for the job

Most multi-steps projects require various hands on deck, so if given the choice, make certain to find the right people to tackle the different components involved. Say your project is data-dependent, and you're able to choose someone from your company's 10-person data team. It pays to sink some time into vetting those data analysts up front and seeing who not only has the strongest skills, but the best track record of following directions and completing assignments on time.

3. Set clear expectations for everyone involved

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Just because you know what you want out of a given project doesn't mean those helping you have the same ideas. That's why it's wise to call a quick project kickoff meeting and get everybody involved on a similar page. Setting clear expectations is a good way to ensure not only that your team does the job right, but also that there's no push-back down the line when you start making (reasonable) demands.

4. Follow up consistently, but in moderation

As a project manager, it's your reputation on the line, so it's natural to want to keep tabs on everyone involved to make sure things are moving along. That's why it's smart to do a regular check-in with the key players you're depending on, whether it's once a day or once a week. (The frequency will depend heavily on your specific project timeframe.) That said, don't cross into the realm of micromanaging those folks who are working for you, because not only might that annoy them, but it might also slow them down. In fact, it's a good idea to let your team know how often you'll be seeking updates during your kickoff meeting so that everyone is aware of what to expect.

5. Show your appreciation along the way

It's often the case that people who work on long-term assignments don't get recognition until the final product is complete. But that can be a bit demoralizing, especially if those around you are pushing themselves to the limit for weeks on end. As a project manager, part of your job is to keep your team motivated, and to achieve that goal, it's critical that you offer a reasonable amount of praise and appreciation every step of the way. You don't need to go overboard -- in fact, you shouldn't, because that might come off as insincere. Rather, be cognizant of the effort everyone is making, and acknowledge it appropriately.

Managing your first big project can be an exciting career milestone, especially if it goes off successfully. Follow these tips, and with any luck, your first experience as a project manager will be a positive one throughout.

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