Tuesday, 7 July 2009

You want to manage me?

Having heard yet another IT graduate tell me that they do not want to waste their entire career being a developer, business analyst or tester and instead prefer to start in project management, I've had to hold in the scream and write this post instead.

A good friend of mine was recently tutoring at one of the Sydney universities and mentioned to me her disbelief at the fact that the majority of the students she had contact with had sights on project management as an entry level role after finishing study. In their project teams, there were hardly any indians but lots of chiefs.

In my career, I have managed to work with a vast array of project managers. The quality has varied, as it does in any professional role. The one thing I have noticed is that the good project managers are worth their weight in saffron. A good project manager doesn't use Microsoft Project to plot the predicted progress of a project. They manage time, money, risk and people in often Machiavellian environments with a finesse that is not learnt in a book or during a degree.

At ThoughtWorks, I am lucky to work with only the best project managers there are. One is known as the "Ego Wrangler" because she can get peak performance from a team of alphas who if left to their own devices would degrade in to a Tank Girl style society. Handling smart individuals with great enthusiasm for what they do in the conservative business world takes a lot of experience with people and situations. It takes experience in risk management and that doesn't mean avoiding risk. It means knowing when to hold 'em, knowing when to fold 'em, knowing when to walk away and knowing when to run. There is the skill of listening and hearing more than what is said in meetings, over coffee, on the lift and during staff tantrums.

If I was to sum it up, project management takes years of experience working on many projects. You have to fail and succeed and learn from yours and the mistakes of others. The ones I know have my trust, dedication and respect. Unfortunately, that is just not something you give to someone straight out of university no matter how brilliant they will one day be.


Adriano said...

Agree with you. And what drives me crazy (and sad meanwhile) is that these "new wave" of project managers believes in such things as calling people resources. They just didn't have the necessary experience or maybe the sensibility to notice that project management is more about how to deal with people instead of how to deal with deadlines and pressure. If people goes well, the deadlines will consequently go well too.

Ange said...

Firstly, thank you for recognising the value of a good project manager. Hopefully one day if we get to work together, you can put me in the same bucket as your ‘ego wrangler’.

I think it's important that I respond here, as I started my career in an entry-level project management role, as a graduate with no experience other than casual and part time work.

In this role I shadowed brilliant, experienced project managers, while playing a project admin kind of role. This progressed to taking on responsibility for parts of a large project and then to taking on small projects ... etc, etc, etc, until I'm where I am today.

I get concerned when I hear people talk about project management as role to be promoted into, as I feel it is a completely separate discipline. For example, I believe a step from BA or Dev to PM is a step sideways in the same way as a step from QA to BA or Dev. As such I believe there should be a career path for project management to support and foster growth from entry level onwards. I often wish the word "manager" was not included in the title, because I think it has a lot to do with this misconception.

I agree with you, that to be a brilliant and successful project manager does take a lot of experience, in all the ways you describe. I also feel that to be a brilliant and successful "insert any role here" also takes a lot of experience, also in the same way you describe.

I think my larger concern would be with why these grads want to go straight into project management. Is it because they believe the aforementioned misconception? Or is it because they think they have an affinity towards the role itself? I’m also unsure if appropriate entry-level roles with the right kind of support exist in project management anymore.

I’m glad the opportunity existed for me to enter project management in that way. I quite like what I do. And I think I’m kinda good at it ☺

Ankur Bhatia said...

Nice Post.
I agree with you about the desire in many new entries to IT world wanting to be a project manager.
To some extent I feel its the fault of the industry over the years, as they have given lot more power to project managers then they should have And Not emphasizing on the role he/she plays in the team. It would have been a lot better if we did not call him a project manager but but "team coach".
What i want to stress is that, project management is teams responsibility. Everyone in the team takes some decision to manage the project better at various spheres -- BA/QA/Dev. One person can just recommend based on his/her experience.

Dean Cornish said...

hehe you know its funny, when I was in Uni and we did a group project (it was comp sci), nobody wanted to be the project manager, I ended up doing it.
Still ended up doing a bunch of the coding and doco, but still, things must have changed.

Agree on your account of good project managers. I've worked with some good ones and some less than mediocre ones.
The ones that are truly good, are ones you dont even know are there. They behave more like facilitators than their overlord behind a gantt chart brethren.

I honestly dont know how to 'bake' a good project manager. Every good one did hard time in the trenches. The worst were the inexperienced or overly ambitious.