After 6 years at my company (smallish consumer products company) I am being promoted from a development engineer to a project manager with a team of half a dozen engineers reporting to me.

I've always sought leadership roles in my private life and am excited to be able to continue that trend in my career. I've been an MT listener for about a year now (thanks James for the referral!) and am now currently reviewing the 'blocking & tackling' casts- feedback, one on ones, etc.

A couple of challenges specific to my position I'd love to get some advice on from experienced managers (especially technical / project managers):

Due to some recent departures (including the boss who's position I'm taking) my team is down to 3 plus me. I have 5 reqs to fill. However the project load is still oriented at a full team and we have impending deadlines for our 2008 product season. I'm currently diving into the hiring process. Under intense pressure to get a high workload done with a partial staff how do you keep the hiring bar high?

2 of my current directs are significantly older than I am. I was peers with all 3. How do I make the transition to the 'boss' with a minimum of fuss? I'm well respected by my team and was seen as the clear successor (although there were some reservations about youth [28 years old]).

One of my directs is a low performer. I'd like to work with him intensely to increase his capability. He is also a difficult person to work with who alienates our other partners in the product development process. How long should I focus on the transition before I start developing a strong handed coaching plan and giving corrective feedback that will probably not be well received?

I currently have a full project load of design work carrying over from my old position. This will not be alleviated until I can bring the team up to full strength or at least until I get 1 or 2 new engineers in. I'm having problems juggling the two roles and am finding I need to work 10-14 hour days to keep up to speed. Are there any techniques to managing this in the interim?

There is a tension of styles (aka politics) between my boss and his boss (who had pushed for me to be promoted). What's the best way to keep both relationships strong?

My predecessor was immensely popular both with his team and our internal customers within the company. I want to keep his management style (he was my mentor for 3 years) while also implementing the MT tools (such as one on ones, quarterly reviews, etc). Any tips to making this transition?

I'm extremely excited about meeting new challenges and developing a whole new skill set. Any other thoughts for someone making the management leap?

jhack's picture


Obviously, you're keeping up with the Manager Tools basics, and that's great. One on ones will help establish your role. Your transition to be the "boss" and your new set of responsibilities don't have to be a secret and you can discuss them with your directs.

My first managerial position required that I also be an individual contributor, too. I HIGHLY recommend you move quickly to get yourself out of the critical path of any project. You will get sucked into the project work and your management activities will suffer.

Hiring is your top priority (as you've indicated in your posting). Give it the attention it needs. All good things will flow from that. Consider bringing in a contractor or two for some of the "commodity" work so your team can focus on the proprietary stuff.

Never lower the bar - you'll end up wasting cycles and getting rid of that person later. You're better off waiting until you ramp up your recruiting engine and get good people.

Your underperformer doesn't need to be trained by you. M&M's coaching podcast has great tips for developing your people without having to do all the training work yourself.

Don't worry about your predecessor; they'll forget him in a year. Do your job well.

I also recommend the "manage your boss" podcasts. Understanding your bosses priorities, styles, schedules, peers, etc, will absolutely improve your relationships with them.

As for the projects, it's hard to know whether you're in a real triage situation or if they can all be pulled off. I'd prioritize them and make sure some of them get done. Getting 60% of your projects complete and ignoring the rest is way, way better than getting all your projects 60% complete.

Engage your team in problem solving on these projects. Have a team meeting and say "we've got to get all this done. how do you think we might do this?" Brainstorm it. Hey, you might figure out a new process that gets you to 100%.

Again, congratulations. Keep us posted and have fun!


WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

Okay, 10 minutes of writing and then a delete.

Ditto to everything John says.

John's detailed post didn't discuss your workload much, so here are my thoughts. 10-14 hour days are not good, you'll burn out. Prioritize your life. Put work in its perspective and don't let it rule everything else. I only get a couple hours a day with my daughter after work before she goes to bed. If that time is lost it can [u]never [/u]be regained. I think M&M said it clearly: "You cannot manage time." You can't make time appear. You must choose. Choose, then live with it. :)

As for maintaining your old boss's style, yes and no. Insofar as it is your own style, make use of it. But it won't do you any good to pretend you're someone else. Work the O3s, feedback, coaching, and brainstorming tools. Your own personality will come through. Be honest and genuine with your directs and they'll follow you into hell and back. You might be surprised how much a few motivated people can accomplish.

thaGUma's picture

1. Keeping the bar high while under pressure to hire - shotgun get your needs out to as many sources as possible to increase the likelihood of a hit.
2. Low performer with alienating tendancies? Unless there are redeeming qualities - either park the problem and have more dead weight or fire him. Is the time spent finding a replacement going to yield more than an hour spent coaching?
3. Dealing with short term crises? You are doing it. Work 10-14 hours and try to delegate to spread the load. Get a pizza budget for late nights.
4. Older DR's. Not usually a problem to the DR's who are experienced enough to know when a younger man is better suited for boss-ship.