Lately, I've had to become an expert at running projects outside of my expertise. I'm heading up a website project and a room A/V design projects, both subjects I know just enough about to be dangerous.
Thought I'd share some of the things I'm learning from being the least smartest guy in the room.
1. Know Your Destination: Even us non-experts can articulate project goals. Our lack of expertise lies in not having the experience of running similar projects in the past. Expertise is built from experience, it is never theoretical. Developing a clear set of goals requires a willingness to devote concentrated time and effort on this task. In this area, we can substitute hard work (and the willingness to revise from feedback) with expertise.
2. Recruit Experienced People to the Project: Just because you are running the project does not mean that you know the most about how the project should be run. Often the experienced people are outside of your department, division or school - and they have their own projects to worry about. Your job is to do whatever it takes to get them to join your project, either as full members or advisors and consultants.
3. Overcompensate with Organization: The less direct experience you have in running a project the more important project organization, and documentation, becomes. Paying close attention to the details of the project, and following a project plan and methodology, are necessary conditions for bringing the project home successfully.
4. Be Willing to Keep Asking Questions: Sometimes not being an expert in the area that you are managing can have some benefits, because you will also not make some of the assumptions that the expert will make. You will see the project with fresh eyes. You will bring another perspective to the work. The key is to be confident enough, and to have the sort of relationship with the project team, that you can keep asking questions until you understand what is going on.
5. Be Honest About Your Limitations: Don't worry about admitting what you don't know. Your authority is enhanced, not threatened, by being confident enough to admit where you lack experience or expertise.
6. Keep Your Boss Informed: No matter how you slice it, the risk to project difficulties (or failure) is higher for projects that you are running absent lots of prior experience. Be very honest about the risks and difficulties. This is not C.Y.A., but rather trying to act as you would want someone working for you to behave. She needs to know the risks, as part of her job is to provide you with the support and resources that you need to get the project completed.
7. Give Credit to Everyone Else: Any success in the project is due to the smart and experienced people that you have recruited. Give them all the credit. If things go wrong, take the blame. You will need these smart and experienced people many times over during your career. The relationships you make at your organization are your most important resource.
8. Stop Worrying So Much: I need to tell myself this over and over again. Not worrying is not my strength. At the same time, it is not up to your project team, colleagues, or boss to assuage your worries. Figuring out a way to make worry productive, rather than draining and detrimental, is our job.
What on this list would you add, delete or change?
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