A Skill to Raise The Bridge and Avoid a Crash and Burn

Want to know of another foundational skill that can serve to catapult your career (raise your income) to the next level? A skill that is applicable regardless of industry and the role you play? And, one that just might help you avoid a serious crash and burn?

The skill is: Project Management.

Before we begin, let’s acknowledge a few of the excuses I’ve heard when encouraging people to develop this skill: “That is for people in IT (Information Technology).” Or, “That is a skill for someone at a higher level than I.” Or, “My boss hasn’t assigned me a project and hasn’t suggested I develop this skill, so I guess it isn’t necessary for me.” Wrong, wrong and wrong again!

Bottom-line: Project Management is for ANYONE who must get stuff done with and through other people. If you’d like to elevate your career beyond the level of transaction processing, or the management of status quo, then developing this skill is critically important: to create leverage in your career.

Let’s start by answering the question: What is a project? For this, I’ll reference the authority’s (PMI – Project Management Institute) definition which states:

It’s a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result.

A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.

And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.

The development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building or bridge, the relief effort after a natural disaster, the expansion of sales into a new geographic market — all are projects.

And all must be expertly managed to deliver the on-time, on-budget results, learning and integration that organizations need. ~ Project Management Institute

And, therefore, “Project Management” is, per PMI’s definition:

The application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. It’s a strategic competency for organizations, enabling them to tie project results to business goals — and thus, better compete in their markets. ~ Project Management Institute

Another common objection I’ve heard when reinforcing the need for Project Management (PM) is “I don’t manage anything BIG enough to warrant putting together a project plan or team. So, Project Management isn’t necessary for what I do.”

Certainly, there are Projects with a big “P” (those involving numerous people, many months of activity, significant budget and risk) and projects with a little “p” (small projects involving a few people and perhaps only a few hours of work).

Let’s illustrate the point of how important PM is, even for small projects. One of the worst crash and burns experienced under my watch was when I was VP of Customer Care for an Internet Services Provider. On my team were people who managed large account relationships. Our company needed to perform an upgrade to a customer’s solution (a company most of you have heard of). This upgrade involved 3-4 people making a handful of tweaks to the customer’s computing environment over the course of a weekend. It was supposed to be simple, risk free and transparent.

It was anything BUT risk free and transparent. In fact, it was a (painful) comedy of errors, going “something” like this. Person A did what they were supposed to do. Person B wasn’t aware of the completion of the prior task and therefore didn’t do their step, and Person C completed their task. Nobody confirmed the completion of the various tasks or spoke with the customer. Monday morning arrives and the customer was ON FIRE with indignation as their site was still down – during the last business day of the month!

How could this happen? There was no project plan. Just a few well-meaning people who thought they were doing the right thing.

In a future post I “may” share the interpersonal exchange necessary to peel the customer off the ceiling. For this post, I’ll share the SIMPLE approach we took to tackle this project the very next weekend. In summary, we:

  • Brought together the 3-4 people involved in the activity.
  • Listed each step that had to be taken, by whom and when.
  • Listed each stakeholder on the project and their 24×7 contact information.
  • Identified the “overseer” (a.k.a. Project Manager) who would monitor the steps, ensure timely completion and effective communications took place amongst all parties (including the customer).
  • Documented all of this in an MS Excel spreadsheet. If I recall, there were less than 15 lines on this rudimentary project plan.

The result, the activity was performed FLAWLESSLY and transparently the following weekend – without incident.

If sound Project Management can benefit such a “small project”, one that took less than 5 hours to complete, it becomes exponentially more important for anything larger.

There are many resources available to develop this skill. If you’d like a quick primer on Project Management, checkout the following:

download

To take things to the next level, visit PMI’s website to locate a chapter near you. They provide PM training, resources and, if you really want a clear point of differentiation on your resume, multiple levels of certification.

As you begin taking on medium to larger-sized projects it will be important to use a comprehensive PM tool such as MS Project. If you don’t have the budget for MS Project (it costs hundreds of dollars) there are free (cloud-based) tools such as Asana which I’ve heard good things about.

As a reminder, PM is but one of a few critical skills that, when developed in conjunction with other foundational skills, can make a big (HUGE) difference in your career. The other foundational / complementary skills (which I’ve previously written about) are:

  • Time Management – To be an effective Project Manager you will need to first demonstrate that YOU are someone who does what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. And, that you are ALWAYS on time. If you aren’t there yet, your efforts to manage someone else’s time will be futile.
  • Interpersonal Management – To define and manage a project requires that you effectively engage and interact with others. I once checked a reference on a PM candidate I was considering. His prior boss said: “This guy is an outstanding PM. He will definitely get the job done. The ONLY issue is that he will leave behind a scorched earth.” I didn’t hire this guy. I want someone with the skills to build relationships to get this (and the next) project done in a way that everyone feels good about; not run over and/or completely burned out by.
  • Public Speaking – While managing a project you will often find yourself leading group discussions (of 3 or 33); in front of your project team or the project’s steering committee. It therefore is important for you to demonstrate competency in this regard.

In closing, Project Management, and the other critical skills mentioned above, are not rocket science. Far from it. Yet, they ARE valuable and applicable to any industry regardless of the role you play. Develop them in concert and you will become an extremely powerful, sought-after and indispensable resource. Sounds like a person who would be pretty secure in their employability, doesn’t it?

You can wait for your boss to push you into developing these skills, proactively ask your manager to invest in your training or you can do it yourself (by funding out-of-pocket). Bottom-line: These skills will serve to catapult you in your career! Go for it, don’t wait; you will NOT be sorry!

4 thoughts on “A Skill to Raise The Bridge and Avoid a Crash and Burn

  1. Ed Desautels says:

    Hi, Craig.

    Several years ago I took an AMA project management course taught by someone with twenty years in the field. He boiled project management down to one word: nagging. Having done project management prior to taking that course, this instructor’s witty observation rang very true with me and explained why I’m not as effective as some people are in the role. If you have a hard time being a PITA, you’ll likely have a hard time being an effective project manager.

    Yes, of course, there’s the planning. Anyone with reasonable analytical skills can and should be able to handle that part. The public speaking part is a necessary but, I would argue, ancillary skill. The interpersonal management piece, however, is the real nitty gritty and the toughest part for me (and, I would imagine, others) because: nagging.

    The project manager, as I see it, is in a double bind because 1) the aforementioned nagging, and 2) as the old saw reminds us, “The project manager has all of the responsibility but none of the authority”–in other words, he or she must manage resources not under his or her direct authority. So, you have to nag people you have no true authority over. Now, this isn’t so much a problem if everyone’s pulling the rope in the same direction. But, woe unto the project manager who needs to enlist the help of key resources intent on working projects they consider of higher priority.

    I might also raise the specter of things like requirements creep and stakeholder creep, but there are only so many hours in the day!

    In spite of my preceding comments, however, people who find themselves in charge of projects large or small would, indeed, do well to learn at least the basics of project management. PM courses, however, really should come with a “your mileage may vary” statement! 🙂

    • Craig Bailey says:

      Good observations Ed.

      The interpersonal skills are the key to the “nagging” without seeming like you are nagging.

      Regardless, the combination and effective application of these skills can take someone a LONG way.

      Thanks for your comments and perspective!

  2. […] a prior post I covered a real-life scenario resulting from the lack of project management and how it was […]

  3. […] in addition to acquiring the foundational / prerequisite skills necessary for Project Management (outlined in a prior post), aspiring Powerhouse PM’s are encouraged to develop SIGNIFICANT domain knowledge. You pick […]

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