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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Project Managers

          How do I get to be a project manager? That question is more pervasive now as the profession becomes better known and the treasured “PMP” adorns ever-more job postings.

          One sure way to determine the route to a project management career is to take a look at who’s there already. Who are the project managers? How did they get where they are?
          As a consultant and trainer in project management, I’ve worked with hundreds of project managers. My project management workshops at the University of Southern Maine and elsewhere are designed for working people at all levels of responsibility and experience, but the vast majority are veterans of years in their fields.

          What are those fields? Here is an unscientific sampling from the past few months:
          Hospitals and healthcare organizations (nurses, administrators, IT managers, analysts and programmers). Banks, large and small. High-tech and communications manufacturing and service. L.L. Bean employees (numerous) in marketing and production as well as IT.
          Human resources, state and local government, insurance (numerous), social service, healthcare products manufacturing (numerous), construction, operations management, education management and administration, utilities, nonprofit, funding, student exchange, publishing, quality assurance, payroll administration.
          The old standard that project management was just for information technology and construction is no longer true, if it ever was. Two of the dozens of recent workshop participants were in construction, and no more than eight or 10 were in IT.
          Over the past few years, there has been a noticeable influx of experienced people who have been laid off, sometimes because their jobs have been eliminated, processes have changed or their companies have run into trouble. These “in-transition” professionals want to be equipped for the new jobs of today and tomorrow.
          In short, project managers are everywhere. Typically, these folks have been doing projects informally – sometimes very big and complex projects. They and their managers realize it’s time they stopped re-inventing the wheel and got some systematic understanding on how to do this work more effectively.
          They rarely have actually been called “project manager,” but the growing awareness of the profession out in the world has encouraged their organizations to get serious about doing the work properly. Therefore, the training. Pulling off projects is not easy, and saving time and money has value – as does reducing the wear and tear on valuable employees.

          While the fields represented by the participants are endless in variety, there is a broad sharing of characteristics among the people themselves.
          They are the go-to people in their workplaces. They’re problem solvers, and patient – they don’t give up. They feel responsible, often too responsible, for getting things done. They have trouble delegating, because they have found few people as conscientious as they are. They have high standards of quality, also frequently unrealistically high.
          They are the ones managers and co-workers turn to when something unfamiliar, complicated and difficult is to be done. Everyone is very happy to have them around.
          Sadly, they are very vulnerable to burnout, that condition of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that robs its victims of quality of life both at work and in their private lives.
          They can, of course, learn the new skills of managing their performance at a high level, so can live happily ever after. Andy Crowe describes such people in his excellent study “Alpha Project Managers: What the Top 2% Know that Everyone Else Does Not.”

          Who are the project managers?” They’re the ones who get things done. The title comes later.

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