Read on to find out and discover real strategies for elevating your PM skills to a higher level.
Many companies and even blog articles boast the process of this and that in order to be successful. To be a Project Manager these days you need two things; a PMP in your back pocket and the ability to calculate earned value without a calculator! The reality is there aren’t many project managers that are even capable of delivering and following processes. How are we still at over half of all projects failing and only 2.5% of companies meeting time and budget with all these PMPs?
Well if you believe that knowledge is all you need to be the successful, then herein lies the problem. The PMP implies knowledge. Knowledge is great, but there is a difference between street smarts and book smarts. To have both is an awesome, unbeatable combination. However, most people are “snowed” with the PMP title; that knowledge is more valuable than anything. A PMP couldn’t be responsible for a failed project!
Project Managers that are able to manage a project to the book are the Prima Donna’s of the PM world. They manage by the book. However, when you flip the ideology of ‘managing the project’ to ‘the project being managed well” you have crossed over into the light! Experience and knowledge are like watching a conductor conduct a symphony; like watching an artist paint a masterpiece; like a chef creating a master in culinary arts. So, how do we get out of this destructive cycle?
How do we turn these PM Prima Donna’s into an asset of management grandeur?
- Concede that all knowledge is not known by you alone
- Make Project Management your career goal
- Make friends in high places
- Communicate effectively
- Mentor and be mentored
- Be a ‘natural’ leader
Experience does not need to take a lifetime or even years to achieve. You can gain experience by managing your own personal life and family. All the books in the world will not replace the experience you will get from running your own project. If you are one of those PM Prima Donna’s that writes books, white papers and teaches everything you know; sit down every day and take in something new for yourself. And always do what you are preaching. In my experience, I have been unfortunate to see companies push out processes only to find that the project by which to push out this new process did not follow any processes itself. If you tell people to report their time every single day, report your time every single day. You need to gain the same experience. Sure your knowledge tells you that reporting time every day is the best approach, but of you do not have experience doing it yourself, you will lose respect. You may actually come to realize that reporting time everyday was not feasible and improve your own process!
Experience can also come from shadowing others. We will get more into this topic in the following bullet points. Shadowing allows you to witness the experience of another PM, without actually “doing” the managing. In this case, you are simply learning and storing experience.
Conceding is the most difficult of all. There are so many PM’s not ‘managing projects well’ by the book and it’s obvious in our national statistics. How many times have you sat in a meeting and someone had to tell you, “that’s not reality.” Stop and think to yourself, “Am I really a Prima Donna? Do I have the experience to get this done on time and on budet? Do I have the experience to really satisfy my stakeholders?” And finally, “Do I care?”
Your PM career choice
“Do I care?” Is Project Management what I really want to do? If you don’t care and you are still a Prima Donna, this advice is not for you!
Project Managers that have made the decision that Project Management is their career goal need to ensure 2 things:
- You are in a supportive environment to promote yourself in project management. Having a purpose and being valued will determine anyone’s fate, especially a PM.
- Follow these steps to be the best you can be. You, your teams and your projects will benefit!
Companies that promote better processes and invest in project management are better suited to advance your career and support your vision. Most companies know that they want projects that are successful. They don’t know what it takes to do that, but you do. They hired your knowledge and experience to deliver those successful projects, so they will listen to your needs and respect your approach. This is a winning combination.
The most destructive position you can be in as a Project Manager, is with a company that does not believe in processes and does not support your growth. Your growth should be valuable because it results in their growth.
Friends in high places
It may be time to re-view the landscape around you. An associate of mine enjoys going to gym early in the morning. She says that most of the new moms in there have more weight to lose than she does, so she feels great. What she is missing out on is the drive to make herself better than she is. When she walks into the gym, she feels great about herself, so she doesn’t work as hard.
Are your friends in low places? Do they inspire you to be better? Do they encourage you?
Your friends will define who you are, like it or not. Finding and making friends in high places will, subconsciously, encourage you. Even if they do not personally drive you, their presence will be uplifting. These people will have more experiences to share with you also. I can feel your storage tank filling already!
Friends in high places do not need to be wealthy. They need to be supportive and be encouraging. They do not need to be a project manager or a CIO, but they do need to have experience that they are eager to pass along. Do not befriend a Prima Donna. Bad habits are more easily obtained. Enjoy the challenge of actually making yourself better!
Introducing my weak spot! For many others also. Communicating can be difficult. There are so many things to consider: mood elevators, gender, age, topic, etc. Believe it or not, these factors are a constant, even when people say it’s all equal and it’s all professional. Well, it’s not true. We are all human, therefore we have emotions and personalities. Unless you are dry or lacking in any emotion (these people are in the “low places” category), you will probably be offended or hurt in a conversation with a PM in your lifetime. Think back on that conversation and learn from it. Was it beneficial? Were you responsive? What was the goal of the conversation?
There are tons of classes just on how to communicate with others. There is more than I could possibly communicate in this blog. However, the point here is TO communicate. Every communication should be a learning opportunity. You will gain experience giving and receiving communication.
If we associate this back to Project Management, let’s think of our sponsors and stakeholders. Our Prima Donna’s are not very good communicators. If they do communicate, question the integrity. Remember, Prima Donna’s are certain that they are on time and budget, even if they are not. They are very ‘busy’ managing.
Communicating with sponsors and stakeholders should be open and honest. It should also be frequent. Believe it or not, they really do want to hear from you and how the projects is doing. They also know want to know how they can help.
Our Prima Donna’s will have trouble mentoring. Truth is, mentoring other PM’s on experiences is a great opportunity. Your mentoree will gain wonderful knowledge and experience from you, but also you may learn something with a fresh pair of eyes. It never fails, once you concede, the flood gates open and you can’t help but learn something new!
Great PM’s should mentor. We need more PM’s with great habits. Great habits are learned from experience. Experience is obtained by doing something over and over. Manage one project well and mentor another project and you double the experience, with very little effort.
While you are gaining mentorees, reach out to be monitored. Are you an awesome, well respected PM, but are challenged with earned value? Search for where the expertise is and invite yourself to “shadow.” This is one of the most welcomed job descriptions. 5 years ago I knew a Sr. VP in the insurance industry, who was anxiously awaiting someone to ask to shadow him. He wanted the desire to be there, so he did not search out someone to mentor. He was looking for a replacement. Funny, no one ever asked him. And a replacement was hired in. This was a missed opportunity. I’m certain the desire was there. Fear was the catalyst here.
There are those out there, that believe you are born to be a leader. Most of these people are bossy, mean and have foul language. They may be able to lead you out of hostile environments, under harsh gunfire and under catastrophic conditions, but they can’t follow their own orders. Leaders can and should allow themselves to follow. Can you take direction? Do you have the experience to lead these people towards a successful outcome? Will they respect you? Once you see your own reactions to being led, you will learn and store experience in following. This experience will make you a better leader.
Project Managers are leaders. They will make the tough decisions. It’s like a doctor of Diagnostics in the hospital. Firefighting is a common, everyday thing and one accountable person needs to make the difficult decisions. These are based on experience with some book knowledge, especially in the case of the doctor. The decisions will not always be right and they won’t always be popular, but the decision was made and the project moves forward.
Recently, a project I was involved in implemented into production. A script was run and erased an entire field from projects in the database. When we tested this, no one could confirm or trace the script design to a requirement. Unable to produce any traceability, I made the decision to pull the script until the requirement was understood and known. This prevented any new fields from being populated. This upset many people and many stakeholders. The tough decision was made. Was it right or wrong did not matter at the time. It was made, carried through and the project moved on.
This was a fun article to write. Thanks to many of you for helping provide this input. This article is dedicated and inspired by my friend, Philip S.
Good luck in your transition! A remember that a little risk planning will safe a lot of fan cleaning!
P.S. There is an excellent book about this same topic. I highly recommend ‘Alpha Project Managers‘ by Andy Crowe.