Here are some of the things I learned from my week as client project week lead:
Managing people is difficult
Project management is as much about people management as it is about project management. When you’re working with very talented and knowledgeable people (as you would in the Data School) you’ll find that the technical issues are by far the easiest to solve. And when you’re not as used to managing teams of people with different backgrounds and work styles, trying to figure out how to best allocate your resources, maintain team morale, and get the most out of your team is quite tricky. Understand what your team is receptive to and what they aren’t. Your goal isn’t to strongarm them towards the goal, its to guide them to greatness.
Adaptability and flexibility is the key to success
One of the things I have always disliked about plans is how easily they fall apart. Its easy to say I’ll do this and that then this then that. But when you hit a roadblock, the true test is how quickly you can adapt. This project was all about adaptation and flexibility. Navigating both logistical and technical challenges, uncertainties in user requirements, and a massive time crunch can really test your adaptability. And while all those things were unexpected, I found that having multiple contingencies, and multiple ways to pivot really helped. If A happens then do B, if C happens do D instead. More often than not, things don’t go the way you plan, so you better be able to flex your way to success.
Pay attention during other client project weeks
I was lucky enough to NOT be the first project lead for the Data School client projects for this cohort. There were two other client project weeks before me, and both projects had their own unique set of challenges. I found that I learned a lot from the previous projects, especially regarding how the team responded to challenges and how they responded to different leadership styles. Each client project week is a new challenge, but with the same people. So as a project lead, I took the information I learned from previous weeks and made changes. Make the most of your resources when they’re available to you. Every failure is an opportunity to learn, even when you’re not the one failing.
Trust your team
This probably goes without saying but always trust your team. You end up doing seven different client project weeks during the first four months of training at the Data School, and each of those times you’ll get to a stage where the goal seems just the tiniest bit out of your grasp. And fair enough, come Friday afternoon, when the client is in the office watching you present, your team will pull one out of the bag and surprise you. Really what it is, is a testament to how much everyone has learned during the training, but also how good the coaches were at selecting your cohort. The team you have is good at what they do, utilise them well.
Bribe them with food
When all else fails, bribe them with food. Works 100% of the time.
Overall the reviews from the coaches and my team were surprisingly good, even when it felt like I had so much to improve. And while I am glad that my client project week worked out well in the end, I am in no way content with my own performance. In many ways, the retrospective confirms that the strategies I chose for this team were the right ones, even though they weren’t the strategies I find most comfortable.