A reader writes:

I've recently accepted a new job and I'm into the second month. I've quickly realized I've got a challenge on my hands that I haven't experienced before.

I'm the first DPM at my company and the roles and responsibilities I'm used to owning don't seem to be the same. I've been taking my time to observe and learn/respect what's currently working in terms of our process - but we're missing deadlines left and right. My boss is super busy and it's hard to pin him down to extract what's in his head that will guide teams forward.

Help!? What do I do?

Ah, the first DPM at a company.  "The role is really wide open, you can make it your own!" and "We're really looking for someone to help shape what a DPM does here!"  You get in there, and you realize that they don't really know what they want.  It really can be a great challenge, and you might get some solid experience.

....Or it can totally blow.  It sounds like you're somewhere in the middle between your company/boss knowing what they ultimately want and allowing you to shape how to get them there (good!) and dropping a whole bunch of crap in your lap and running off (bad).  

Okay, so first, know this isn't your fault.  Sometimes you "know" that but you don't really KNOW that.  Now then, what do you do?  Well, I think I would stop my boss and tell him I'm putting time on our calendars to talk about some important issues around deadlines.  Then, I'd go ahead and schedule that, and in the meeting invite, I'd say "I know you're always very busy, but it's really important that we talk about this.  I appreciate you making this time a priority."

I'd prep for the meeting by trying to get all my ducks in a row - what is different about this role?  What am I used to doing?  What are the problems I'm seeing?  Is there one meaningful thing that we can change or address to alleviate the worst issues?  I'd write it all out, figure out what makes sense to talk about right now and what can wait.  I'd want to try to limit what I'm talking about to a) the overall issue that you're still trying to get footing (but I would only mention it so that it can set the stage for the next convo) and b) one important problem.  I have even written out things I know I want to say, so I don't forget them once I'm in the meeting.  So I might write down "I wanted to sit and observe and not barge in, but we're missing so many deadlines, so I think the first thing we may need to do is ______ but I need your input to help me make this change effective."  You really do need his support in this, and it's important that whatever you address first is successful, so you're able to continue affecting positive change.  In other words, the first one's gotta count.

So let's say you do all that and it doesn't go well.  The change flops or your boss ghosts you or you get tongue tied and get too emotional.  It's okay to have setbacks, it doesn't mean this job is ruined forever.  You might just have to live with missed deadlines until you can get your feet back under you and try again. 

Or, you might realize this job just isn't right for you.  

My ex husband told me something when I found myself in a job where I asked exactly the question you asked - what on earth have I gotten myself into?  I wanted to walk away from it, but I didn't want to seem like I gave up, like I failed.  And he said "it's not failure, it's adapting."  That little gem is now emblazoned just above my monitor on my wall.  And who better to tell you something like that than your ex husband, you know?  So just remember, if you do everything you can and you come to the realization that it's not going to work out, it's not failure - it's adapting.

Good luck!