I took a bet I’d like this whole project management thing. I liked the idea of bringing order to chaos, helping people think things through, and getting things done. When I studied project management in the classroom it all made sense, it was logical. But it’s not like that in the real world.
When I told a colleague I was taking a test to get certified as a Project Manager Professional, he rolled his eyes and said okay, but just don’t become too much of a project manager. I never wanted to be that guy who’s a complete pain in the ass, riding people to hit their deadlines…but now I am.
I tried to be nice and share control. I tried to give people more time; I tried to skimp on details with roles and responsibility discussions, and risk analysis. But I got burned.
One of my first projects was an IT system for China. The woman who requested me for the position saw something promising in me, thought I could play hardball with IT.
Six weeks in, her position got eliminated and she left the company. I fumbled in the fog for a solid year with a team of 20-some, many high-paid consultants and industry experts. No one really knew what we were doing, and no one really talked about it.
It’s one thing to define and agree upon what you’re building as a working team, then another to get your leaders to understand and agree to that, then yet another to build it to the right specs for the people in China, your customers.
Amid this cluster was me, less experienced than my team, but with plenty of enthusiasm, and a great attitude! Too deep into it, I realized I had no level of authority with anyone and had allowed myself to become marginalized, pushed to the edges with no real role. I was responsible for setting up the bridge line and reporting status, that’s about it.
Two years later, I got off the project and now I have five new ones, ranging from re-engineering Starbucks drive-thru stores to building an exhibit booth for a real estate conference in Las Vegas. I don’t like Las Vegas so much, and don’t care for real estate deals either, but I’ll have the satisfaction of seeing something I helped build.
Project management is tough because it’s taking ideas and feelings and making them real. People don’t just want their bedroom painted a new color; they want the feeling that will come with that, the expectation that the project will change something more.
Getting things done means getting people to do their work, to do their best. Without real authority over people, you have to earn it as a project manager. You need them to see the value in what you’re doing, and occasionally you have to box their ears. It’s not about being nice.