Confessions of a Project Manager

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.

Supertramp: The Logical Song

About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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8 Responses to Confessions of a Project Manager

  1. alesiablogs says:

    Working a job means cooperation and knowing your position. 30 plus years I found my niche early on and stayed in that role most of my career. I enjoy a lot of autonomy and my job allowed that for me. You make many good points.

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  2. Pingback: Confessions of a Project Manager | eamnyllc

  3. Yeah, co-operation is right, alright. 30+ years, wow! Autonomy is good, of course. Seems that’s what people want, mostly. Thank you for keeping up with my posts Alesia! Hope you have a nice weekend. – Bill

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  4. Pretty sure that if I took my theater scrapbook in to the Project Manager Certification folks they’d be all BOOM there you go. Certified in taking ideas and feelings and making them real.

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  5. Sean says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been a PM for several years now and I’ve been at my current gig for a year. I can definitely relate to the challenge of being marginalized. Although it doesn’t happen now, early on I was frequently referred to as “overhead” by our chief architect. To him, I was just the guy who reported status, scheduled meetings, and yes, created bridge lines. To overcome this I constantly, and vigilantly, search for ways to show value. Often this ends up with me being the “guy behind the scenes” that seems to pull everything together to stay on track. What has helped me is keeping an eye out for those tasks that nobody wants to do, documentation, communication, change orders, and fighting other teams for resources, for example. For context, I work in software development.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Hi Sean! Thanks for sharing your message and relaying your story. I didn’t receive your comment for some reason, seems WordPress is acting funny. Yes, I never knew the dangers of being marginalized until a year or so ago, and it’s not a good place to be. The margin is right on the edge…:) thanks for taking time out to read and share your thoughts. I appreciate it. – Bill

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