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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Making It in Project Management

How do you find a job as a project manager?
Here’s a simple how-to system:
1. Get a job.
2. Act like a project manager.

See? Nothing to it.

Well, actually the process does require more than just showing up and appointing yourself. But prospective project managers must understand that this is an environment unlike education, accounting, bartending or any other relatively defined field of endeavor.

My experience is that true project managers do not always come clearly labeled, and some people who do carry the title aren’t really doing the full project manager job. In fact, the job title has always been inadequate in specifying just exactly what the holder was doing.

The information technology and construction industries have, for decades, listed “project manager” as a distinct position. The jobs often are defined so narrowly, though, that their occupants really don’t manage projects. In fact, they sometimes don’t manage anything of consequence at all – they simply tend technical slices of predetermined processes. Necessary work, sometimes quite important work, but not project management.

Other people identified as project managers do indeed handle key responsibilities in originating and conducting significant project work. You just never know until you look into it.

In the current world, organizational decision-makers are becoming more aware of project management as a way to handle complexity, rapid change, growing risk and all the consequences of globalization. Conventional management is neither agile enough nor comprehensive enough for the job.

When that perception results in action, the organization consults some source in the project management profession to obtain a job description that more than likely demands extensive, specific experience in the work. Then they may add their own wish list and create a fictional silver bullet of a position.

Where does this leave the person who is looking to have a project management career, and is wondering where to start?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Same Old Wheel

History is the how-to manual for the future – but only if it lasts that long.

People are studying project success rates all the time, and they find that well over half of all projects fail to some significant degree, even when the standards of measurement are relatively forgiving.

Why are things this way? Well, there are the people, generally very good people. Then there’s the process, often not a very good process.

First, the people. Project managers, when they’re successful, are action people. They typically are not contemplative types. They thrive on engaging the multiple simultaneous challenges of complex innovation. Their days are consumed by the trials, errors and revisions that keep projects moving through the fog of uncertainty. If something works, great. If it doesn’t, let’s move right on and try something else.

This is the way to go, as far as it goes. When it doesn’t go far enough, the project manager’s workstyle, combined with other typical factors, does not encourage a cult of preparation and documentation. If they’re not careful, project managers are tempted to shortcut planning and tracking.

That can limit the formal planning/operating process to combining adoption of some old paperwork with finger-crossing for what’s new this time. There is no history. Individual memories tend to be selective and incomplete, and of course the memories leave when their owners do. The institution doesn’t develop and retain knowledge for use the next time.

When that happens, it results from a false choice: Either we get going and tackle this challenge, or we sit around and waste time attempting to plan the unplannable.

Don’t be tempted. Professional project management methodology, thoughtfully employed, works. It engages the unfamiliarity, the complexity and the risks – while actually taking less time and hassle.