Project Management Institute

5 signs that it's time to go

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5 SIGNS THAT IT'S TIME TO GO

BY RACHEL BERTSCHE

A missed promotion, measly pay, a truly horrible boss: Some signs make it easy for an employee to know it’s time to leave a job. But sometimes the signals aren’t so blatant— especially when it comes to project managers.

When you’re mired in a project, it can be tough to see the big picture regarding your career, says Rommie Callaghan, vice president of human resources at Synapse Product Development in Seattle, Washington, USA. “Whatever your dissatisfaction, you need to figure out the root of the problem,” she says. “Is it an issue that you have control over? Then maybe you can restructure the way you’re working. Or is it the company you work for? If it’s the company, you need to speak up to see if your concerns can be addressed or start looking elsewhere.”

But making the decision to leave an organization is often easier said than done, says Justin Burnham, CAPM, project manager at South by Southwest, Austin, Texas, USA. “A good project manager will have a hard time walking away if a project is already started. We’re taught to see a project through,” he says.

Plus, leaving a job is risky, especially when another position isn’t yet lined up. As Mr. Burnham points out, project managers are trained to take as few risks as possible.

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“A good project manager will have a hard time walking away if a project is already started. We’re taught to see a project through.”

—Justin Burnham, CAPM, South by Southwest, Austin, Texas, USA

Still, once dissatisfaction sets in, it may be quitting time. “Leaving an organization often is the last straw,” says Paul Lowney, PMP, senior project manager at Barclays Bank in Coventry, England. “It comes in two forms: You get offered a job you want that you aspire to, or you get pushed out, either through redundancies or because the signs are there that the organization is no longer right for you.”

So what exactly are the signs? “Everyone has their different deal breakers,” says Ms. Callaghan. Even so, some red flags are common to project managers. If you’re feeling stuck in a work rut and wondering whether it’s time to take the next step, look for these troubling signals.

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Organizations that employ project managers generally understand that those practitioners play a vital role in achieving stakeholders’ goals. But that perceived value can change in an instant, says Sandro Cesar da Silva, PMP, a São Paulo, Brazil-based manager at Accenture, a PMI Global Executive Council member. “If there’s turnover in top management, there may be a shift in the vision of what a project manager can provide an organization,” he says. “Experienced project managers have a long-term career path in mind, and if we find that a company doesn’t have the vision to support our expectations, that may mean it’s time to leave.”

Even if the executive bench doesn’t change, shifts in company direction or policy may signal that the organization devalues project managers. Paying attention to high-level strategic decisions gives project managers a sense of where they fall in the company’s overall vision.

“I’ve worked at a company that combined operations and tech, where previously they were two separate areas with project managers in both,” says Mr. Lowney. “If you want to specialize in tech and the organization is moving away from specific technology project management, you need to make your career choice accordingly.”

Before you go: Look within the company for a mentor or sponsor who values project management, says Mr. Silva. “Finding someone, preferably at the executive level, who shares your passion for project management can work in your favor,” he says. “If they believe in your value to the company, they will try to create opportunities that will be enticing enough to keep you.”

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“If there’s turnover in top management, there may be a shift in the vision of what a project manager can provide an organization.”

—Sandro Cesar da Silva, PMP, Accenture, São Paulo, Brazil

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The economic downturn has tightened the purse strings for many projects. But there’s a difference between asking project managers to be cost-conscious and slashing their budgets across the board. The latter can be an indication that the projects you’re working on aren’t a high priority for the company.

“Project managers don’t control the purse strings—the stakeholders are allotting the budget,” Mr. Burnham says. “And if your numbers are suddenly fluctuating, that should arouse suspicion.” If management doesn’t place a lot of monetary value on your projects, he says, maybe you should go somewhere that does.

Attempts to cut costs can affect project managers even more directly in the form of compensation and raises, says Mr. Silva. “In Brazil, we have very experienced project managers competing with newcomers in the market,” he says. “There are potential employees out there who have just left college or post-grad and think they know about project management, but they don’t have the experience to take over big projects. At the end of the day, a company might still choose to hire or promote less experienced—and thus less expensive—people, rather than pay a more experienced project manager what he or she is worth.”

Before you go: As a project manager, you rarely have a say in the strategic budget allocations from a program level, says Mr. Lowney, but you can get a sense of whether a budget change is a one-time occurrence or a harbinger of things to come. “Talk to your senior managers to understand whether the organization is being hit by special events that are abnormal and causing budget cuts that will pass over time, or whether there is a general downward trend for supporting transformational change,” he says.

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“If executives are happy for you to churn out the same level of projects year after year, that’s when a lot of project managers choose to move on and seek new challenges.”

—Paul Lowney, PMP, Barclays Bank, Coventry, England

Dead Ends

More than money, many project managers hunger for bigger and higher-profile projects, says Mr. Burnham. If those opportunities are dwindling or you feel stuck handling projects of similar size and scope, it’s likely a sign that you can’t climb much higher on the company ladder.

“Let’s say each project you get has a $1 million budget,” he says. “You’ve proven yourself over and over again, success after success, under budget and on time. It’s normal to ask, ’Where is my $5 million project? My bigger team? When do I get to look over multiple projects at once?' If your projects are producing results but you are getting overlooked for the bigger gets, it’s time to walk away.”

Don’t feel guilty for wanting bigger opportunities, Mr. Lowney says. “If executives are happy for you to churn out the same level of projects year after year, that’s when a lot of project managers choose to move on and seek new challenges.”

Before you go: Frustration with career development is the most common reason project managers leave companies, says Ms. Callaghan. But project managers should consider other positions within an organization before walking away, she says.

“I see people who are looking for career advancement and feel dead-ended in their role,” she says. “I challenge them to envision their career path beyond the project manager or senior project manager title. We have examples of people in our company who were in project manager roles and are now directors of divisions of the company.” Before deciding to leave, she suggests, rethink what your next role might be.

Communication Holdups

A lack of communication frustrates even the most seasoned project managers, Mr. Burnham says. “At the end of the day, the project can only proceed within budget and on schedule if you have clear communication from project sponsors. If you continually don’t get what you need, it can start to feel like your time might be better spent elsewhere,” he says.

Poor communication isn’t merely frustrating, it can torpedo a project: 55 percent of project managers agree that effective communication to all stakeholders is the most critical success factor for project management, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications.

Sometimes a dearth of communication starts at the executive level. “In one organization I worked for, there was a big project management office (PMO), which was supposed to support the top executives of the company in certain goals,” says Mr. Silva. “But there was a gap in communication between the top-level executives and the PMO director, and it couldn’t be solved because everyone struggled with egos. This made it difficult to do my job and was one of my reasons for leaving the company.”

Before you go: Communication hiccups are fairly common, says Ms. Callaghan, but they can often be addressed with a few key meetings. “Project managers need to identify the stakeholders who can change the communication flow and get those people involved,” she says. “Project managers are stuck in the middle a lot, and they need to know they can bring in additional resources to help solve these problems.”

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“Project managers need to identify the stakeholders who can change the communication flow and get those people involved.”

—Rommie Callaghan, Synapse Product Development, Seattle, Washington, USA

Work-Life Imbalance

Project management isn’t a nine-to-five job, especially during key project phases. Still, the around-the-clock intensity shouldn’t be a constant.

“Anyone who gets into project management gets used to the crunch points around implementation and deployment, because those are the critical periods,” Mr. Lowney says. “But there should be times—around the design stage, the requirement-gathering stage, the planning stage—where you have a more manageable workload.” If you are expected to go full throttle nonstop, you might need to reevaluate your position.

A lack of personal time prompts many project managers to leave their companies, says Mr. Silva. “Some project managers work 13, 14, 15 hours a day and don’t have time for family, travel or personal interests, and this can be discouraging,” he says. “Having so little time for a personal life forces many project managers to look for new opportunities elsewhere.”

Before you go: Talk to higher-ups who have the power to fix the problem, says Ms. Callaghan. “Maybe there’s a different project a project manager can work on that’s less volatile and requires less of those excessive working hours. Maybe it has to do with the time zone of the clients that they’re working with and another project would solve that,” she says. “I always say, ’If I don’t know there’s a problem, I can’t fix it.’”

Consider your own solutions as well, she suggests. If working from home one day a week would improve your workload, propose that option. “People can ask for anything. I can’t promise I’m always going to give the answer they want to hear, but the more creative the solution they come up with on their own, the higher the likelihood they will be heard.” PM

“Having so little time for a personal life forces many project managers to look for new opportunities elsewhere.”

—Sandro Cesar da Silva, PMP

Easy Exit

Three signs a company isn’t doing enough to retain talent.

Some organizations make it a priority to keep their best employees on board. Others … don’t. “A good company has a retention strategy in place to keep great project managers at the company,” says Rommie Callaghan, vice president of human resources at Synapse Product Development in Seattle, Washington, USA. “Low turnover comes from building a culture of keeping talented employees happy.” But some companies forget that a happy employee is a hard-working one. Here are three warning signs that talent retention isn’t a top priority:

NO INVESTMENT IN TRAINING

Company funding for career development—such as paying for a project manager’s Project Management Professional ® certification—is a clear sign that talent retention is prized. if a company declines to fund certifications and other employee training, management likely isn’t concerned with keeping employees for the long term.

NO FLEXIBILITY IN SCHEDULING

Most companies grant a certain amount of vacation time or sick leave, but how flexible are they in extenuating circumstances? What if a family member is sick or you need to leave early for a personal obligation? Understanding that employees have individual needs can help retain them in the long run. Project managers who devote countless hours during project crunch times need to know their companies will give that same loyalty in return.

NO PERKS OR BENEFITS

Companies that want to keep top talent happy build a culture of perks well beyond health insurance and retirement plans. Maybe employees can bring their dogs to work. Maybe employees get interest-free loans. Maybe there’s a big budget for morale- and team-building events—a perk especially helpful to project managers who are constantly operating within team environments. Work can’t always be a party, but companies committed to retaining top talent know that a flexible office culture goes a long way.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK NOVEMBER 2013 WWW.PMI.ORG

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