We project managers have hard time explaining to curious people what exactly we are doing. Our professional responsibilities are not widely understood. The same should be true for those who want to enter this profession. If you are among them read on my tips.
How did I get into this profession? I was a software developer, after that I was appointed an operations director of a small software development company. Among other things I was responsible for projects. When the CEO of the company mentioned I was doing project management that caught me by surprise.
I started reading specialized books to understand what he meant. It seemed quite an obscure concept at first.
A Project Manager is solely responsible for the success of a temporary undertaking
The role of a Project Manager is similar to that of an Orchestra Conductor. A Conductor leads an orchestra to deliver a concert. A Project Manager leads a project team to deliver work that is finite in scope and time. These characteristics set management of projects apart from ongoing management and administration.
If your project is successful, this is considered normal and expected. You will not get much praise. If the project fails though, there may be a lot of trouble waiting for you. Decide for yourself if venturing in this profession will make you happy.
People skills are more important than technical ones
Most specialized books and articles focus on project management techniques. Majority of these techniques were inherited from scientific management developed during the Industrial Era.
In the Information Era conditions have changed. Work has shifted from manual to mental. You will work with clever people who know their stuff much better than you. So you’d better facilitate the team to achieve project goals rather than command them like an army sergeant.
Make things manageable and know what you are doing
Every project must have a structure. It is your job as a project manager to organize the work in such a way that the project will run as a good engine. As I show in “Why Project Management Fundamentals Make Sense” all you need to make the project success may be just to follow some basic rules. First you need to define what your project will achieve.
Less is more or the 20/80 Rule
As a project manager you will have to heavily prioritize and navigate through contradicting requirements and stakeholder agendas. Just think which 20% of what you have on the table will make the biggest impact and focus on that. Postpone the rest or better discard it.
Be flexible and be ready to fight
World of IT projects is challenging and can be quite fast moving and unpredictable. Complex organizational factors can make running such projects even more tricky. In such an environment it is vitally important to be flexible and able to react to changing conditions as opposed to sticking with rigid plans. But it is also crucial to be able to say No and influence people. Otherwise no project management is possible.
Learn but don’t trust gurus too much
There are lots of people around selling their ideas. Much of this stuff is quite high-level; nevertheless, it is often presented as applicable to everything. It is like somebody who sits on the moon claiming to know best how you should renovate your house.
As a project manager it is you who should decide what can work in your project and what not. As Yogi Berra has once said: In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.