For our final client project of our training I had the opportunity to take on the role as Project Lead. I had been excitedly waiting my turn to lead the project, and it was finally time to take all the feedback and experiences from past projects and combine it all to help make this project as smooth and successful as it possible can. Of course, there are many ways to act and lead a project, and it is in fact a very personal thing. But I thought I would share some of things that I felt a project leader should strive to do during the project week that helped to make sure we not only delivered the project with great success to the client, but also enjoyed and learnt a lot from the experience without burning out!

 

Know the data inside & out

 

As project lead, you are the main point of reference for the team, so you need to make sure you deeply understand the data and be across everything. You must know exactly what each field is, how all the rows and columns relate to each other, and what the data is actually trying to show. Now, this only really works when you have the data. However, in some cases, you mightn’t necessarily receive the data until Monday or later. To combat this, you can try to understand what the business is, what their goals are, what they need to keep record of in order to operate etc. Doing so can actually give you a reasonably clear idea of what data to expect. It is always better to have a strategy and general conceptual idea of the data if you don’t physically have it, that way, if when you get the data, you can hit the ground running and eliminate any time delay trying to decipher the data.

 

Know what the end goal will be & the steps that are needed to get there

 

In order to minimise any time delay from when you get the data, have a clear strategy and grasp for the project, what the end goal is, and the steps to get there. I found it extremely helpful essentially doing a mock run of the whole project on the weekend prior so I have a complete understanding of what needs to be done, how to split up tasks, possible blockages, what data is needed for calculations, what the client wants to see, how to show that, how to structure the data for visualisations etc… Pretty much, you need to strategise and scope out the whole project so you can truly lead your team through it.

 

Having a concrete strategy and conceptual road map for the project not only saves a lot of time, but also reassures the team that you are confident in what needs to happen. Having a sense of certainty and structure really helps to maximise efficiency and brings out the full potential of the team, as they don’t spend as much time worrying about how things are done and what to do. By knowing the exact steps in the project, you are able to give team members clear, concise instructions, as well as explain to them why these steps are needed and how to go about them.

 

Don’t lose sight of the MVP

 

No, this isn’t the “most valuable player”. Rather, you need to make sure you set a clear, concrete minimum viable product. It is very easy to get sidetracked working on all this cool and complex things, but at the end of the day, you need something concrete and functional to present to a client. You need to regularly ask yourself, what does that client want. Usually, it isn’t anything wildly complex and earth-shattering, we just tend to overcomplicate, or add on too many extra things that detract from the main product. It is always best to present a product that is less “cool”, but is function, of excellent quality, and on time, rather than a half finished product that “could be really cool if there was more time”.

 

Also, a tip for new project leaders, try not to overpromise on the requirements you send to the clients to confirm. It is very easily to bite off more than you can chew, and it does take time and experience to realise the limits of the team within a week’s timeframe. This kind of ties in with the point before of knowing what the steps/end goal is. That way you can assess what is realistic in the time frame, as you have essentially done a mockup recreation of the whole project yourself.

 

Know what your team is doing

 

This one you have to be very careful of. I feel it is essential to know exactly what each member of your team is doing, BUT you mustn’t micromanage them or be constantly leering over their shoulders. That will just annoy them! This also comes from having a clear plan and set of steps for the project, as you will already know who is doing what and how they are doing it. Still, it is highly important that you know what everyone is doing, partly for time management, but also so you can immediately answer any questions or help with their work without needing to be brough up to pace and walked through what they are doing.

 

YOU ALWAYS NEED TO BE 5 STEPS AHEAD! You are the leader, you must know the path for the team members, and clear the way for them to ensure they don’t get lost.

 

Go to bat for your team

 

It is a fine balance to manage client expectations with the ideas of your team. Of course, it is pertinent to deliver what the client expects, but there can be instances where team members have fresh ways to show something that the client mightn’t have necessarily thought about. You can support your team by presenting the ideas to the client, and explain why this could be a good way to show something, and why you think it could be more beneficial and effect in achieving the outcomes. If a team member is struggling to present this point, you must support them and ‘go to bat for them’. It is your team, and you must make sure their ideas and insights are valued. That being said, you must also value the client’s wishes. If a client is persistent in wanting a specific thing, then as a consultant, you must deliver that. But there is no harm is humbly presenting new and fresh ideas that may enhance the overall product in a polite and constructive way.

 

Know your requirements

 

Yes, this does sound a little fundamental, but is is vital to confirm requirements with the client early on, and stick to them. Without requirements, the project is just going to head in a random direction.

 

Finally, look out for your team

 

As the project lead, you not only are responsible for delivering a top quality product on time to the client and guiding the team to achieve the outcomes, but you are also responsible for the welfare of your team. If your team is struggling, step in and help. If they are feeling exhausted and drained, tell them to get an early night and you’ll cover the work. It may sound a bit unorthodox doing the technical work as a project lead, but I believe having a healthy, happy team pays off in terms of energy, efficiency, and desire to achieve the best result possible. The final product is only one portion of a successful project. Having a team that isn’t absolutely smashed and worn to the ground is another portion of the equation to a successful project.

 

Ben Devries
Author: Ben Devries

Ben graduated with a Bachelor of Music Performance (Honours) from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 2023. For the last few years, Ben spent his time working as a professional jazz saxophonist which led him all around the world performing in cities such as London, San Fransisco, and of course, Sydney. But despite his musical background, Ben’s interest in data analytics came from his passion for problem solving and understanding the little details of how and why things work. From there, Ben went on to discover the Data School Down Under, and throughout the interview process became further inspired not only by the logic and flexibility of data, but also the ability for data to provide valuable insights to help solve complex business problems and present meaningful stories. Ben is excited to join Data School Down Under, and hopes to utilise his creativity, improvisational skills, and ability to draw connections upon diverse areas of information learnt as a musician within his new career in data analytics. In his spare time, Ben still enjoys playing his saxophone, as well as downhill longboarding, and spending time with his family.