What I Learned as a First Time Project Leader

Being a one man team, or just small teams who never exceed 5 people make me an awkward person when I am assigned to lead people in application development. Since last year (December 2013), I have been assigned to lead a team which consists of 12 people, and honestly it’s so difficult and emotionally burdening. However since this is the first time I ever lead a team with this number of people, I have learned many things, some by hard way, some by soft way.

I’m not a management person, and I usually get the position as technical or field operator. The past forges me to be a person who have qualification in technical and analytic, but have flaws in social and management. I know these aspects can be improved by the experience, however as I told you, this is the first time I lead the big enough team. Just for information, the team consists of me as senior programmer, 6 junior programmers, 3 system analysts, 1 database designer, and 1 system documentation.

The summary of the story is that one by one of this team left the team, especially since many of them (9 of them) are fresh graduates, and as usual, this kind of project take times to be finished, when at the same time they have to choose to stay in this project or continue with their own professional job. For some of them, it’s as easy as flipping the hand, so some of them leave to get what they think as better jobs, some of them just going back to their hometown, one of them focused in his parent business, and some of them leave without any valid reasons. In the end, currently there are 5 people, and one of them is still don’t decide what to do.

Here are the list of the mistakes I made and what should be done:

1. No Commitment Contract

This is the first noticeable things. Without contract, the team members may just leave or slacking of what they should do. Actually, even with signed contract they can still do that, but usually they will think twice since it has more power than non-contract system. From the experience, even a contract will not stop the worker to flee from their job.

2. No Good Communication

Communication is very important in team. A good communication determines if your team will go in the right direction or rather in wrong direction. I’ve done the mistakes when I communicate with my superior and in the end had argument with him. Also I hardly report the progress to my superior so he don’t know if there are any issues in the development. If you are the leader, you should communicate well with your teams and also with superiors.

3. Emotionally Attached to the Team

Actually, it’s okay to be attached to your team, it’s naturally will happen when you work with the same people in some period of time. However this usually leads to emotional problems where you will think them more as friends rather than professional partners. You may think that giving an order to the teammates is the same as telling your friends to do something, and you may develop uncomfortable thought about this. Keep your professional life separated with your personal life. Personal issues which are brought to professionalism is really devastating.

4. You Don’t Select Your Teams

A team leader should choose who will be in the teams and who will be outside of the team. In my case, I must accept any people who are assigned to me without knowing if they are into this kind of jobs. From my experience, the person who tested before joining the team will yield a better result than the person who I don’t test. If you really can, make sure you are the one who select the team members.

5. Have Personal Romantic Relationship

Sometimes in multi-gender team, you cannot avoid of being too close with your team member and in the end might want to have romantic relationship with your teammate. Unless you’re sure this will be fine and your relationship is always in good mood (of course, this is virtually impossible), you may do this. Avoid romantic relationship as far as possible, or at least, postpone the urge to have romantic relationship until you have finished at least about 90% of the project.

6. Unstable Team

A team should stay as long as possible until the project is finished and perhaps have more time for the maintenance. However in my case, since the majority of the team members are fresh graduates, it ended up as failure when they have to choose stable job instead of this part-time job. Always look for team member who have more time and commitment.

7. Don’t Make Sure Your Position

I have dilemma when doing this project. When I first met my team, I am introduced as senior programmer and also assigned to lead the team when we are in the field, and the project manager is held by my superior. In the end, the superior never shows up and I have to handle all the field project leading, and I don’t know what the real project manager do. The worst of all, the team who left only reporting to me, not the real project manager.

8. Too Talkative

Usually when there is problem, I write to all my team members about the issues. In the end, the awkwardness happened. If there are issues with one of your team member, try to talk to them personally. And when there is an achievement that they done, praise them publicly. It’s what I learned from internet, but yet I don’t implement it in this team.

9. Experiment on the Team

The moment I was trusted a team, the first thing popped up in my mind was what is the best management style I should do with them. And from that evil thought, I started to try several management style, began with free one, to the strict one, and happened every 2 weeks. This is the wrong decision. Even when I successfully found a good and suitable management style for them, it doesn’t mean it also suitable to other people. Just try to be yourself, don’t change your management style over time, let your team members adapt to you when at the same time you try to adapt to them.

10. Expect Too Much in Loyalty

Loyalty is really rare these days. People tend to find a new place to stay when they think and feel more comfortable than the previous one. The younger generations who have relied in technology will have this thought in mind and their way of thinking is far more dynamic than older generation. You cannot expect them to handle the main module in your project if you even can’t ensure that they will loyal or feel comfort with you and your team. In the end, the one you have to trust is yourself, in which you might have to do all the task in project by yourself. By all, I mean really all the tasks, in my case are coding, analyzing, designing, testing, data migrating, documenting, etc.

Conclusion

Whether you’re new to project management or leading professional teams, always look at your team members no matter what, simply because a team doesn’t exist without team members. Try to be a good example for your team. Well, even if you try the best in your team, always expect for the worst, and have secondary plan in your mind when sometimes the team is broken. At worst, be ready to handle all by yourself. :)

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