Being a project lead is not an easy job. If you are doing it right, you will feel responsible for every little thing that goes wrong and undeserving to claim credit for everything that goes right. It can be a lonely road. In this blog, I will go through my experience as a project lead during our training at The Data School Down Under.
The week before
Usually, the project lead gets to meet the client prior to the project week to find out what the project is about and what the data will look like. This is your chance to ask the right questions to prepare for the week. It is also the perfect opportunity to tell the client what you need for your team to be successful.
- Make sure the client understands that it is extremely important to get the data ASAP. The worst feeling is when Monday comes, and you do not have any data for your team to start exploring.
- Draw out a plan for the week over the weekend. Make sure it is somewhat flexible, things change, and your plan should be adaptable. You still have training during the week, so make sure you plan for 3 half days!
The project week
The week is full-on. It is non-stop working and the team barely takes lunch breaks. Once everyone has a task and they know what to do it goes fairly quick. The days are short, and the nights are long, lying awake thinking of what else you could do. So, what happens during the week and how do you manage it?
- Getting the team to the point where everyone knows what to do is the tricky part. Judging from previous project weeks, I decided to put people in teams of two. Two heads are better than one after all. It is always a good idea to match people up based on their skills. Try putting pairs together which contribute to different skills.
- Put the goal for each team in writing so they know what to work towards. It is a good way to keep the team on track. Let them write out the steps they need to accomplish to achieve the end result.
- Don’t assign any work to yourself! Your job is to manage everyone else. Make sure everyone understands what their doing, going around to see that everyone is on the same page and working at a good pace. Identifying blockages and solving the problem in the shortest amount of time. Keeping contact with the client on a daily basis, passing on questions the team has and making sure everyone understands the answers from the client.
- Lift the pressure! Make sure the team gets a break. Go out and bring back a treat. Gather everyone so the team can enjoy a break together. These are the moments that they will remember most. Try to keep the conversation away from work for a few minutes.
- Stand-ups are extremely important. It should not be a long discussion. Keep it short and simple. My best tip for stand-ups is to go do them in a different location. I have noticed that the team will continue to work and not fully take part in the stand-up if they have access to their laptops. Walk them to a different room.
Presentation day is probably the busiest day of the entire week. Everyone is so focused on perfecting their work before the client comes in. It is extremely important to have a run-through the presentation with the whole team. Try and do this as soon as possible. The run-through will take longer than the actual presentation as people will have comments and suggestions. You also must make the presentation flow well so there might be a few changes that could take time. I would put aside a good two hours for the run-through. The sooner the run-through is scheduled the more time the team will have to make necessary changes.
You do not want the team to be rushed and flustered, so make sure everything is happening at a good pace and that there is time left for the team to take a breather and have some lunch before the client arrives. If I could go back and re-do the week, I would schedule the run-through from 9h30 to 11h30. This means that the project deadline is 9h30, not 3 pm when the client arrives! If he is free, ask PK to join the run-through. You will be surprised how much better the delivery will be after just a few suggestions from him.
Ultimately, what makes a good project lead? Constant learning and development! You will never be a perfect project lead. The only thing you can do is to not only learn from your own experiences but also from other project leads before you. Every project is different, and you cannot compare yourself to others. You just need to do the best you can and be open and honest with your team if you do not know what to do. They will appreciate it and possibly help you solve your problem.