Starting a new project can be both exciting and challenging. As a first-time project manager, I learned several valuable lessons that helped me navigate the project successfully. In this blog post, I’ll share the five most important lessons I learned from my first project experience.

Lesson 1: The Importance of Regular Sanity Checks

During my first project, I quickly realized that regular sanity checks are essential to keep the project on track, even when facing unexpected challenges. The project was a three-day sprint to analyze data and provide insights to our client. On the first day, we encountered a major obstacle when we couldn’t connect to Tableau, the data visualization tool we were using to access the data.

Initially, we felt frustrated and anxious, as we were wasting valuable time trying to resolve the issue. However, we quickly realized that we needed to stay calm and take proactive steps to address the problem. We began troubleshooting the issue and contacted our IT support team, who worked diligently to resolve the connectivity issue.

In the meantime, we decided to use the time to review our project plan, double-check our assumptions, and ensure that we were all aligned on the project’s goals and expectations. We also held a quick brainstorming session to generate ideas for data analysis and visualization techniques, so we could hit the ground running once we had access to the data.

The next day, we successfully connected to Tableau and started working on the data analysis. However, we knew that we couldn’t take anything for granted and needed to maintain a regular cadence of sanity checks to ensure that we were making progress and staying on track. On the mid-week check-in, we reviewed our progress, identified any challenges, and discussed potential solutions. We also made necessary adjustments to our approach based on feedback from our team members and the client.

Lesson 2: Learn How to Manage Stakeholders Expectations

Another lesson I’ve learnt was the critical importance of managing stakeholder’s expectations. From the very beginning of the project, we made sure to communicate clearly with our client and other stakeholders about what we could deliver within the given timeline and resources.

As the project progressed, we kept our stakeholders informed of our progress, shared any challenges or concerns we encountered, and provided updates on our plans to address them. We also made sure to seek input and feedback from our stakeholders regularly, so we could adjust our approach as needed to ensure their satisfaction.

Sometimes it is necessary to be assertive in order to effectively manage stakeholder’s expectations. This can involve communicating clearly and firmly about project limitations (e.g. time, resources) , setting boundaries and expectations around communication and feedback, and advocating for the project team’s needs and priorities. To give an example, instead of delivering a complex dashboard, our team prioritised data modeling for each table. This allowed the clients to potentially use the data for creating visualisations in the next steps of the project.

However, it’s important to approach assertiveness in a way that is respectful and collaborative, rather than aggressive or confrontational. This involves active listening, empathizing with stakeholders’ perspectives, and finding mutually beneficial solutions that balance project needs with stakeholder expectations.

Lesson 3: The Importance of Connectivity Checks

Before each project, it is crucial to check the connectivity of the server on Friday to make sure that everyone can start their work sharp on Monday morning. In my first project experience, we learned this lesson the hard way when we encountered connectivity issues on the first day of the project.

To prevent similar issues in the future, we established a practice of checking connectivity and other technical requirements before the start of each project. On the Friday before the project began, we would verify that all necessary servers and systems were accessible and that everyone on the team had the required access and permissions.

This practice helped us to identify and address any potential issues before they became major problems. It also ensured that everyone on the team had a smooth start to the project and could begin their work on Monday morning without any delays or technical difficulties.

In addition to checking connectivity before the project, we also made sure to schedule regular check-ins throughout the project to ensure that everything was running smoothly. This helped us to identify and address any issues or concerns quickly and proactively, before they could impact the project timeline or outcome.


Lesson 4 : The Importance of Confidence in Data

In any project that involves data analysis, it is essential to have confidence in the accuracy and completeness of the data. Without confidence in the data, any conclusions or insights we draw from it may be inaccurate or misleading.

In my first project experience, we learned the importance of having confidence in the data the hard way. We encountered several instances where the data we were working with was incomplete or inconsistent, leading to challenges in drawing accurate conclusions and making informed decisions.

To address these challenges, we developed several strategies to ensure that we had confidence in the data we were working with. First, we established clear guidelines for data collection and analysis, including defining data sources, variables, and any assumptions or limitations around the data.

We also made sure to validate the data through regular quality checks, verifying that it was complete, accurate, and consistent with our expectations. If we encountered any issues or inconsistencies in the data, we made sure to flag them and work with our clients and stakeholders to address them proactively.

Another critical aspect of building confidence in the data was ensuring that we were transparent about our analysis and conclusions. This involved clearly documenting our data sources, assumptions, and methods, and sharing our analysis with clients and stakeholders for review and feedback.

Lesson 5: The Need to Make it a Cohesive Story

Finally, I learned that it’s not enough to simply analyse data and draw conclusions. To communicate our findings effectively with team members, we needed to think about the story behind the data.

By considering the story behind the data, we were able to present our findings in a more compelling and memorable way. This involved identifying the key insights and trends in the data and framing them in a way that resonated with our clients and stakeholders, helping them make the business decisions.

To ensure that we were thinking about the story behind the data, we made it a point to have a dedicated stand-ups session to discuss and brainstorm different ways to present our findings. This session allowed us to think creatively and strategically about how to communicate our insights and engage our audience. Rehearsing before the actual presentation can be valuable to troubleshoot any last-minute issues that may arise.

By focusing on the story behind the data, we were able to create more effective and engaging visualizations and presentations that clearly communicated our findings and recommendations. This, in turn, helped us to build trust and credibility with our clients and stakeholders, and ultimately, led to a more successful project outcome.

The Data School
Author: The Data School