Advice for a new project team leader
I just got selected as one of 2 project team leads for a target for drug discovery. Since this forum has been my go-to place for advice, I was wondering if anyone has any advice or suggestions for a newbie.
I tried finding books about project management, but they seem more geared towards software or other products. Also most assume you will use project management software, which I probably won't. Do you know of any books or resources that were helpful for you as a scientist project leader? Looking back, what are some things you felt you could have done better when you started or things that you thought helped you.
As you probably already understand, but I'll make a strong recommendation, when it comes to project management, the rule is KISS. Keep IT Simple Stupid.
Alot of the software you will find and as you noted are for high complexity projects like software infrastructure projects or big engineering projects where there are hundreds and hundreds of tasks an sub-tasks that need to be tracked and mitigated.
So, in pharma, my advise is keep it simple and tailor your Project Managment to the team needs. KISS. Common sense works and simple tools avaialbe in MS Office help you with that Excell, PPT, word. Does not have to look complex, you just need to get the job done.
As a team lead and project manager expert myself, my advise to you: get people aligned and get them aligned early! Align align align. Learn the art of project kick-off and map cross-functional tasks and projects that will help delver on the agreed team objectives and milestones. You need strong leadership by influence compentnecies, obviously you were hired because you probably have that, so leverage that. Keep in communication at all times and ensure you're proactively mapping project and risks!
Empower your team, a part of proejct management is ensuring your team is responsible for their tasks. Sounds like common sense but this can be a task in it self. You may find yourself competing with a team members functional objectives - maybe one of you tream members are not fully allocated to your team and project, or maybe you a project that needs to be done but there are no resources. Beyond project mangement, you'll need to master "stakeholder" management and really get people following you. So empower your team and do have periodic meetings wiht your teams functional supervisors.
I think for me, leading teams the biggest challenge was in fact gettting fully alignment and resources and everyone on board - even when I did everything right, kick off, empowerement and so on I still ran into hick-ups...and enter politics. You'll need to learning to navigate that, hense back to stakeholder management skills.
So key learnings, always have an official kick off to your projects/objectives. Align and ahve everyone agree on what they need to do. Empower your team to go back and define the task that need to be done, they shuld take ownship and do let them in a team-environment present back, everyone should agree on tasks, resources, timelines, etc. If you don't have agreement, then you can run all the excel files, and dashboards, and templates and still be ineffective.
All of us, in everyjob have project management as part of our job, in your case you'll be overseeing that across a team - see you team as your allies and your team will see you as such.
I'll also say, its not your job to be a SME (subject matter expert) for all the functions on your team. Learn but learn to defere to expertise, ask questions.
And finally, learn when to take the final say. And be ready to defend that. As team lead you will find yourself at times when you'll have to take a decision that maybe many members of your team will disagree with, it's OK. Be above reproach, communicate, listen and keep it real.
And one day if you need to take a high complex project managment certificate program ..go ahead, you'll find maybe you learna few pearls from a highly overengineered training, but in the short to mid-term you don't need it. Use common sense and by the time you take such program, if you do, you'll kinda laugh and you'll be experienced to decide what you need and don't need.
Good luck, let me know if you have more questions!
Great to have you here again. Thanks for the great post -- and congratulations to you on the position as a Project Manager! Thanks also for the great response by our wonderful frequent poster, DX.
One of my favorite books which indirectly discusses Project Management is by Gifford Pinchot and it's called "Intrapreneuring." It's perfect for the biotech or life sciences industry. One of the sections that I like, which I'll paste here, are his "Ten Commandments of the Intrapreneur." I add my own comments here after each of his comments.
From my article "Project Champions" in BioPharm Magazine:
In his book, Intrapreneuring, management consultant Pinchot outlines one of the most encouraging new concepts for American business of the past decade (2). He describes the process that successful innovators use to create a cadre of entrepreneurs within their organizations. The evolution from employee to intrapreneur is primarily an attitude adjustment; that is, being an intrapreneur is essentially a state of mind. But employees won't evolve unless their company culture fosters it.
There are no rigid rules that define the skills employees must have to start intrapreneuring within their companies. In the creative world of corporate intrapreneurs, nothing is rigid. They have only one rule: Get the job done. There are, however, some key ingredients of a intrapreneurial attitude adjustment. You can find them in Pinchot's 10 "commandments" for intrapreneurs.
Pinchot's 10 "Commandments"
1. Come to work each day willing to be fired. An intrapreneur, like an entrepreneur, must be so committed to a dream that nothing is off limits that can advance it in the organization. Intrapreneurs realize that this kind of commitment to a project sometimes ruffles the feathers of the more staid members of management.
2. Circumvent any orders aimed at stopping your dream. Sometimes the way you interpret an order can work to your advantage. Engineering intrapreneurs at Hewlett-Packard were disappointed but undaunted when Dave Packard appeared to kill their project by saying, "When I come back here next year, I don't want to see that project in the lab." When Packard came back a year later, the project was, indeed, out of the lab. The project team had worked 70-hour weeks to get the three-year development project out of the lab --and on the market -- in less than one year.
3. Do any job needed to make your project work, regardless of your job description. An intrapreneur wears many hats. Sometimes the world sees no need to cooperate with an intrapreneuring project manager. To push through a concept for a new drug, a scientist-intrapreneur may suddenly find herself doing market research or exploring regulatory issues.
4. Find people to help you. An intrapreneur should always be on the lookout for friends and colleagues to share the excitement. When you find someone who shares your enthusiasm, ask for that person's help. Finding and getting support from others is a key factor in pushing new ideas through the corporate pipeline.
5. Follow your intuition about the people you choose, and work only with the best. A vital skill for intrapreneurs is team-building. Effective team-building transfers enthusiasm from intrapreneur to staff members; in effect, building an entire team of intrapreneurs. Because so much of your success will rest on their emotional strength and enthusiasm, go with your gut feeling about the people you choose. Your instincts will usually be right.
6. Work underground as long as you can -- publicity triggers the corporate immune system. Have you ever noticed how quickly a new idea can be shot down when it arrives without a fully developed plan to support it? Creative ideas are like balloons. And everyone in the organization seems to be standing around with pin-cushions.
7. Never bet on a race unless you are running in it. Don't be too disappointed when someone else drops the ball. One thing that intrapreneurs quickly learn is that no one else is ever quite as concerned about their project as they are.
8. Remember, it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Art Fry, 3M's intrapreneuring developer of the "Post-it" notepads, was told there was "no way" engineering could build a device to manufacture the sticky yellow notepaper in less than six months, and then only by spending a small fortune. Had he asked permission to use company resources to build the device himself, he would have been denied. Instead, Art went forward and built a prototype out of odd parts in less than 24 hours. It worked.
9. Be true to your goals, but be realistic about the ways to achieve them. Most successful project managers are achievement-oriented individuals, often most concerned about setting goals to better their past performance. By always setting goals that push you and your team beyond your past success, however, you may find that you soon pass the point of realistic expectations. Remember, you are treading new ground, and innovation never happens as planned.
10. Honor your sponsors. Your most important resource is that person or group of people inside your company who shelter and protect you from the buffeting you would receive if you were out there on a limb, alone. Honor and respect these mentors. Do everything in your power to develop potential new sponsors at every turn.
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
I find it interesting on a question on the technicalities of project management that both Dave and I answer with topics relating to Leadership Competencies and navigating Corporate Politics or, as I like to call it "organizational behavior", more P.C. and less causative to corporate initiating "corporate immune response". Love that latter statement.
That's the reality of the role, or really of any role.
When you think about it, the job responsibilities of a Project Manager are fairly clear, and likely to be almost elementary. You have a goal. You have a team. You take the team, divide the work, assign deadlines and goalposts, and then implement. Sounds easy enough.
So - I guess this is why both DX and I pushed to talk about the OTHER elements that impact the way that project managers succeed. There's a fair headwind blowing against the project, and as the Project Manager, one has to find the best way to circumvent those headwinds and align all the forces that one has to pull in to support the project. That's what really separates the successful Project Manager from the person who is simply checking off boxes.
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
Thank you! I appreciate all your advice! I'm understanding it more day by day. This project leadership thing is very different from just being a scientist on a team! I've never had to worry or think about the human element of my job as much as I am right now. I feel like my days are mostly running around talking to people. They're all excited to talk about their data or their ideas and sometimes they're concerned and it's my job to listen and show appreciation. I do feel a responsibility to know everything that's happening at any time because they all assume I do. I also spend a lot more time talking to higher ups, which I rarely did before. There's a different kind of human element there too. I need to balance between optimism and not over promising. I also spend time thinking how to ask for resources in a sneaky smart way. This is all new to me but I'm enjoying it. Being in drug research, I know there will be storms and headaches ahead. But it's been a great learning experience. I got the intrapreneurship book. I've had plenty of time to read lately and I like the ideas in the book.
One thing that I am thankful that I read on here was DX's advice to always ensure to have a kick off meeting. People tried to combine multiple projects into a single meeting and I remembered this post and fought very hard to get a kick off meeting for my team's project alone. It paid off in a big way. The project got its own moment of fame and the research organization got excited about it. I also felt that the team members were brought closer to each other and are now collaborating more. It felt great. So thanks again!
Happy to read you found value in my advice and glad to see you're navigating your way though "the matrix". You've probably seen, expecially in the deep scientific and technical functions, many you work with are not capable of raising their view to see the bigger picture - its about their project/within function objectives and part of your job as a project manager and a leader is to help them raise their view, prioritize and execute towards a common, an agreed objective and vision.
And yup, a lot of up-management - do continue to share your experiences, learning is a great thing especially when shared - the emphasis on team work vs. individual work and what that can look like in the real-world is especially important for those in transition from at-bench academic careers to those in industry and beyond.
Remember, people actually "Pay" to learn vis-a-vis glorified MBA programs that try to create at best artificial environs...for what YOU being "paid" to learn in the real-world.
All the best, enjoy the learnings! You'll see a lot of stuff them textbooks don't write or talk about .