Your responsibility is to guide the team to success, and that’s not an easy task. Everybody is turning to you for supervision, and you rarely have someone to turn to. How do you know you are doing a good job as a manager? There’s no simple answer, unfortunately. Your role as a manager changes all the time because your teams need different things at different points in time. Maybe they need a roadmap right now to understand what they’ll be doing in the next few months, or perhaps they need technical decision to work around the problem blocking progress. Your job is identifying what your team needs now and delivering it. Here are a few things that you need to do to manage the team well.
Understand the skills and personal goals of team members
Every team member is different. They have different backgrounds, different characters, different professions and personal goals in life. Understanding where everyone is coming from is essential for motivating people and providing the emotional and professional support they need. If you know that someone has skill X and wants to learn skill Y you’ll have to choose what task to assign to them — the one that utilizes existing skill they already excel at or the one teaching them the new skill. The former will bring the most immediate value to the project while the latter will increase team member’s satisfaction but will be less efficient for the project.
Figure out who to hire and who to fire
You are responsible for the team’s skill set and internal culture, so it’s you who will determine who will be hired and fired. Sometimes you are the best person to provide the right answers and do things that are most important right now. More often than not what the team needs is not you but someone else who can do them better and more scalable than you. You need to identify situations like that and find the right person to hire.
Sometimes you notice that someone on the team is not behaving well. They treat rules as suggestions and don’t seem to correct the issue after being asked several times. Or maybe someone is affecting the team’s morale and productivity because they’re apathetic and can’t get things done. If the situation doesn’t improve over time then maybe it’s time for them to pursue new career opportunities. Make sure to identify individuals like that as soon as possible and feel no regrets. You have to wish them good luck in their future endeavors.
Recognize that you can’t do everything
You probably won’t enjoy managing much if you are a control freak and want everything to be done as you want and like to get deep into details of everything you are doing. You are not an individual contributor, and you don’t have the luxury of focusing on one problem at a time for hours and exploring available solutions. Context switching is your day-to-day job as a manager, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You need to learn to trust others to do the job for. However, even though you’re not making all decisions yourself, you are still the one owning team’s successes and failures.
Play the key role in communication
As a project manager, most of the decisions will have to be run by you. If a team member lacks the information, they need they will ping you for that information. If there’s a delay in the implementation, you will be the first one to know. Same way, when key stakeholders will want to know current project state or get a retrospective on what’s been done, you’ll be the one preparing and presenting the report. Writing, sharing, meeting and presenting is a huge part of what the project manager does. Make sure to communicate effectively. Your meetings and phone calls should have written agenda, notes and actionable steps as the outcome. Your presentations should have the minimal number of slides possible and be straight to the point.
Design better process with frameworks
There’s always a more efficient way of doing things that you do every day. How? That’s the question every project manager asks herself all the time. There are dozens of books on different management frameworks you could use. Of course, every team and project is different so you’ll have to learn and experiment. A good framework will give you a shortcut solution to a similar class of problems. If you find yourself answering the same question again and again or making the same thing over and over then, it might be a place where you can use a framework in your process.
Mentoring and advising
You own the outcomes of your team. It’s easy to turn into a control freak and thing that the best way to affect the outcome is to give people most direct answers possible so that they get the quickest way to do something. Sometimes this is necessary, especially if it’s a crisis when everyone expects clear, actionable directions. But if it’s not a crisis, then all you are doing is micromanaging. You’re acting as a gatekeeper slowing down development of others and negatively affecting their creativity and growth.
If you don’t know the better way, things will get unsustainable pretty quickly. Figure out who relies on you heavily and help them be self-sufficient and less dependent on you. You may feel important having a monopoly making decisions and answering questions, but if you’ll teach them to decide and look for answers on their own, it will free up your time to do something else.
Expectations of managers are different in every team. Sometimes the role between a manager and individual contributor gets blurred, or you don’t have the power to choose your team members. Of course, there’s much more to manager’s work that this little list above — creating a realistic project plan, estimating time and effort, etc are all things that project manager must do. But keeping your team organized and happy is critical to project success and perfecting them will help you a lot throughout your career.