Every engineer starts their career with their first project. It’s an awesome and exhilarating feeling to manifest all your education and preparation to contribute to the greater good of a project. In all that excitement it is possible to get caught up in the pressure and skip some key rules to make the most out of the experience and be successful. Here is the list of “must do’s” that I developed from my experience and based on feedback from a number of other experienced engineers.
1. Know the roles.
Every project consists of a Project Manager, a Project Lead, a Project Coordinator, and other various team members. While the Project Manager is in charge of the project at a business level, the Project Lead is the person that the entire team reports to. They assign tasks, create deadlines, ensures the overall vision is executed, and answers any questions the team may have. Even though they are busy, a big part of their role is to ensure the success of the team and each member within it.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
During your first project, it is intimidating to ask the Project Lead, or more experienced members of your team, questions. However, it’s important to remember that even the most experienced Project Lead was once in your shoes. It’s almost certain that they asked similar questions in the past and have a quick response with a straightforward explanation for you. It’s also important to evaluate if you can move forward without the answer to a question for a limited time. If the question is crucial to continuing your work, ask them as soon as possible; if not, write them down and address them all at once when the Project Lead has time.
3. Understand the whole process.
More often than not, your first project experience consists of multiple small tasks that don’t encapsulate the full breath of the project. Therefore, when beginning a new project, it’s important to understand the high level goals of the entire team. This could mean asking your Project Lead or team members for an overview of the processes involved, ultimately this is a professional learning experience. This will help you understand the purpose of your part of the project and show your team members that you are invested in the outcome of the project.
4. Take quality notes and be curious.
Usually, projects have weekly, or even daily, meetings that consists of the Project Lead going over individual tasks, future deadlines, and remaining budget items. Depending on the size of the project you’re on, there may also be weekly customer meetings to discuss deliverables and functionality components. The importance of quality note taking during these meetings cannot be understated. Many decisions come out of these meetings; having solid notes will ensure that you will not have to ask your Project Lead questions they have already answered.
5. Ask for the timeline of the project.
Understanding what is expected of you in a project is extremely important, including knowing the timeline of the project and individual tasks. When assigned to a task, ask your Project Lead what kind of timeframe you are working with. If the timeline is fuzzy, unclear, or undetermined, make a reasonable timeline for yourself knowing how quickly you can realistically get your part completed. Be sure to keep your Project Lead updated if you think you will finish a task early. That way they will have a chance to prepare the next stage for you without much wasted time in between.
6. Make a task list for yourself.
You don’t want, or need, your Project Lead to micromanage you, so make a personal task list to keep track of your responsibilities. Sometimes, the amount of work you need to complete can seem overwhelming, but actually becomes a lot more straightforward when you break it down into a list with different components. It also helps to prepare you for future project leadership; making a project task list for others is an important part of being a Project Lead.
7. Use all resources available to you.
Although your Project Lead is the best source for questions that are specific to your project, there are also many other resources that are available to you. If you have a specific question about a certain type of software or technology, there may be a Subject Matter Expert, or SME, that can answer your question. Your manager is also a great source, like your Project Lead, they have been in your shoes before and can be very helpful with giving you a sense of direction. They usually have lessons they can share with you that will benefit your project performance. Finally, there are also many recorded trainings available that range from specific products, software, and role training. If you want to look into a new area of interest or research a new technology set time aside for these trainings.
That’s what I discovered and compiled. What do you think is important and let me know if I missed any key things that made you successful in your first “real project”.
P.S. to “the first timers”: Don’t worry, they get easier as you do more of them.🙂