PS Villiage: June 3, 2009
By Jodi Cicci
I’m not sure anyone ever said ‘when I grow-up, I want to be a project manager’. It’s the type of job that is critical in many companies but not one that necessarily is anyone’s dream job out of school. Part of this may be due to the fact that becoming a project manager is not a book-learned skill but an investment of time and gaining of experience that defines and hones the basic skill set required to do project management.
In general a project manager must have the 3 ‘tions’ to be successful: Communication, coordination, and organization. I find that in many cases these are personality traits just as much as learned items. Your project managers will stand out as technical leads or project leads simply due to their ability to keep on top of things and keep their respective team members in sync.
The 3 ‘tions’ are the starting point to the project management cultivation cycle. The project manager cultivation cycle is made up of three stages: Learned Techniques, Role playing , and Experience. Each stage is a progression in the level of your project management skills.
Learned techniques covers those items that you can pick up from reading books, taking project management courses, and attending seminars. In this stage your project managers are introduced to tools of the trade including project plans, budget management, issue tracking, status reporting, and so forth. The execution of these learned techniques, however, is what makes an effective project manager. A project manager needs to know when to reach out, when to escalate, when to let others take the lead, and how to keep the entire team in sync. By combining the 3 “tions’ and learned techniques, the beginnings of a great project manager are seen. Unfortunately some project managers will stop here which limits their ability to take on challenging projects or expand into a mentoring role for other project managers.
The Role Playing stage is one that typically is covered as Project Managers rise through the ranks. The best project managers are ones that have performed many of the roles of the project team and so have a basic knowledge of what the role entails. What this means is that your project managers usually have a technical or industry background in the types of projects that are being managed. I started my career as a software programmer and eventually started managing software development projects. I would always have the ability to apply my ‘role-based’ knowledge to team discussions to resolve issues, revise timelines, and insert contingencies and dependencies based on my experience in those roles. If you step into a project manager role in an unfamiliar industry or technology, you tend to revert back to the learned techniques stage until you gain role based knowledge.
The last stage is experience.
There really is no substitute for this phase. Project managers gain knowledge and skills by simply dealing with what comes their way each day on a project. This knowledge cannot be taught by courses. Many people would call this Intuition. It’s a skill like anything else but it’s a skill that comes with time. Once a project manager reaches this stage they never leave since learning is a continuous activity. Instead they evolve into a mentoring role to those up and coming project managers that are just starting the cultivation cycle.