VOICES ON PROJECT MANAGEMENT
BY MARK KOWALCZYK
“Hold this.” I grabbed the tape measure and stood in the freezing-cold corner of the living room. I squirmed and tapped my foot and bit my tongue again and again. Not every day was going to be exciting, I told myself. Not every day would be full of adventure. I guess this is what starting out in project management is all about.
Boy, was I wrong.
Since those days as an architectural project manager measuring one room after another in empty houses, I've learned the most valuable lesson a newcomer to project management can learn in those formative years: Be happy when it's slow.
These days, I work with a team of burgeoning talent that handles some significant projects of real fiscal impact to the company. The pace is never relaxed. Yet young adrenaline junkies such as myself seem to enjoy (nay, need?) a profession like this. And I think that's actually a good thing.
Here's some of the other knowledge I gleaned as a greenhorn. (Another secret: I've learned that everyone in project management likes steps.)
1. Ask. This is intuitive, right? So why don't we do it more often? Don't be embarrassed. You're smart, but you don't know everything. Project management as a job, a style and a theory can be difficult to grasp. It may seem as if the old-timers know everything and everyone, but they don't. I work with a senior project manager who has over 20 years of experience at my company—and even he asks questions. I'll never know it all, no matter how long I work at this job. But I most certainly won't learn anything if I don't ask. Find subject matter experts and seek out their help.
2. Listen. It's tempting to want to offer suggestions right away. After all, you're a fresh face, a perfectionist hoping to rise through the ranks. That's why you've picked this field and why your company picked you: You like to get things done. But don't underestimate the power of shutting up and patiently opening your ears for awhile.
3. Study. We're all familiar with the phenomenon of the accidental project manager, those go-getters who did well on one project and now they're given more and more. If you fall into this category, study up! Project management is an art and a science. Pick up A Guide to the Project
» It's much easier to admit you were wrong about scope, cost or performance when you've built a relationship with an executive who understands the situation and trusts you to resolve it.
Join the discussion on PMI.org/Voices
In “Clearing Your Team's Blind Spots,” Dmitri Ivanenko, PMP, writes about internal roadblocks. Often labeled as “communication issues, team dynamics, management style, and cultural and organizational biases,” blind spots are actually specific to each team member.
One of the many comments to this post came from Paul Naybour, PMP: “Many project managers have a blind spot when negotiating early in a project with the client to find out what the real requirements are.”
Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) every now and again and actually use it (or at least read PM Network). Take lifelong learning seriously. Learn from other people's experiences and stay current.
4. Convince. You're new and don't want to make mistakes, but that doesn't mean you won't. Make sure you lay the groundwork with management so they trust your style and approach. It's much easier to admit you were wrong about scope, cost or performance when you've built a relationship with an executive who understands the situation and trusts you to resolve it. Ultimately, you're a leader (whether you know it yet or not), and that's why you've been chosen as a project professional. People like your ability to take charge and get things done—just not at all costs and certainly not flying solo (and blind)!
At my company, there is an open-air creative workspace that allows employees to think big and bring fresh concepts to the table. We are able to innovate and implement new ideas. However, none of that would be possible if at first we didn't talk to our executives to get project buy-in. It sounds corny, but they want you to succeed.
Each action is a task—and it's all about tasks, isn't it? Each conversation is a negotiation. Project management has many different strategies and nuanced approaches, and for newcomers it can be daunting. It's also a rapidly changing field that requires you to rapidly adapt.
Find a mentor and read those books, but also remember to trust your gut. After all, you're smart, and that's why you're in this field. (And maybe you're a little bit masochistic and crazy, too.)
Last, but not least, take some time to catch your breath during the slow times. As I've learned, they're usually few and far between. PM
As construction coordinator for design and delivery at Disney Core Services in Burbank, California, USA, Mark Kowalczyk is currently involved in projects worth more than US$165 million. He's also getting his master's degree in construction management from the University of Southern California.
RAISE YOUR VOICE No one knows project management better than you, the practitioners “in the trenches.” So PM Network launched its Voices on Project Management column. Every month, project managers will share ideas, experiences and opinions on everything from sustainability to talent management, and all points in between. If you're interested in contributing, please send your idea to email@example.com.
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