Career Advice: How to Succeed in Project Management

Kimpel PM female project manager at whiteboard

Project Managers (PMs) are some of my favorite people. Why? Because they are so diverse. With developers, they exist in a "vein." When it comes to executives, you generally know how they will act, and with network engineers � well, those are my kind of folks.

 

PMs will act differently across different spheres or even inside different business units. While they can't fix stupid, PMs sure can fix what stupid does. They have a knack for approaching projects in different ways, and are always on the lookout for improvements. Even with all they do, and all they accomplish daily, there is always room for more improvement.

 

I frequently hear less-informed individuals say that PMs can cross-function easily. I don't buy it. PMs are trade-specific, and the people they interact with act differently depending on the trade they deliver. PMs have to be multi-talented when it comes to their jobs. IT PMs especially are required to understand technology, construction, and a host of other processes.

 

Being a PM requires a great deal of knowledge and experience, almost all of it hard-won. Successful PMs have learned a few lessons about what to do, mostly by doing the opposite. To help you out and save you some time, here are a few guiding principles:

 

Project Creep

 

No one likes a creep, and especially no one likes mission creep. Your project depends on not letting the guy who has been with the company for 25 years and "knows where the skeletons are buried" add everything under the sun to your project. People and events always seem to conspire to expand the scope of any project, and typically such expansions result in a loss of momentum and frustration.

 

It's just like that old saying, "It's hard to remember that your goal was to drain the swamp when you are up to your butt in alligators." As in life, focus is the key. You can have a big scope, it just needs to always be pointed at the bullseye.

 

Team Members

 

Always make friends, and try to never create an enemy. IT is one of the strangest business models for a PMO. The people you work with on a project don't necessarily work for you (sometimes, they hardly work at all). To accomplish your goals, you will need to make friends.

 

Small gifts, a kind word, or showing an appropriate level of empathy about the challenges faced by team members will help you accomplish your goal. Two key principles to remember when managing a project are cultivating a culture of "git �er dun," and taking it to the next level of workmanship. Be the example — it sounds silly, but it works.

 

On the business side of the interaction, I prefer "Aggressive Customer Service," where you anticipate needs, understand things before the business tells you, and actively push the project to the business. If they didn't want it done, they shouldn't have turned you on to it. Listen to everyone, and have true empathy. It will show.

 

Communication

 

The word "communication" gets a bad rap because it is overused. Did you communicate, are you communicating, did he communicate that? It's really played out.

 

In my opinion, communicating is simply an outward display, verbally or in written form, of your attitude. For instance, if I have to constantly ask you when I or my business unit are going to receive something, then I know your communication is simply a reflection of your attitude towards my needs.

 

Positivity breeds completeness, and completeness encompasses communication. Feel great about your assignment, however you can, and deliver Aggressive Customer Service (ACS). Take pride in what you do, and you will love tossing your updates to every Tom, Dick and Harry, even before they ask.

 

Risk

 

Kimpel PM one on one

Risk is another overused term. Certainly it's nice and boring to brainstorm about all the things that could possibly go wrong on your project, but there is only one thing that will derail it completely — sabotage. Whether you pronounce it like William Shatner or like a normal human, it still means the same thing. It's a person purposefully keeping you from achieving YOUR goals.

 

Identify these people, get the countermeasure setup for this opposition, and beat it down. You can win them over with kindness and ACS, but sometimes people want to be bitter and act like they have no soul. In that case, get a person higher up to be your sponsor, or consider your project thoroughly before it starts.

 

Constant Learning

 

If you don't like the project or are there just to check a box, why are you doing it? If you have a project for something you have never done, learn about it. Do all you can to understand what you are asking your team to do, and really grasp the steps you are asking them to accomplish. Doing so will create true respect from them.

 

Learning from every experience is important. If, by chance, you are doing your 14th run-of-the-mill project, then figure out a way to make it new. What if you had a different person run your project meeting every time? What does thinking differently about the same project do to for the experience?

 

Upon completion of a project, always remember to do a post-mortem. Figure out what worked, what didn't, and what could have been improved. If you can't look back, then you can't move forward.

 

Protection

 

Whether you're investing, doing insurance, or MMA, protecting your assets is the most important thing. Protect your team, because they will need to be self-regulating. Don't be afraid to call out people who are not working, but do it in-house. Just like your immediate family, only you are allowed to talk poorly about them — and only to their faces.

 

As for communicating and protecting the status of any project, I like to think of my favorite scene from Men in Black, when Tommy Lee Jones scolds Will Smith for firing the Noisy Cricket weapon. Smith says, "There's a giant space ship getting ready to blow up Earth." Jones responds, "There's always a giant spaceship getting ready to blow up Earth. The trick is that these people don't know."

 

I'm not advocating painting roses on every communication template. But neither should you paint some skull and crossbones — learn the balance. It's all about balance. Love and protect your team, and they will reciprocate.

 

Go Forward

 

No matter what you do, understand that the most important things to most human beings are feedback loops. Not giving these in a positive manner will erode everything you have worked for. It only takes one "Oh, HELL" to kill a thousand "Atta boys." Use feedback loops liberally and always with a good attitude and people will respond.

 

Celebrations of success will be one of the most important things you do. I recommend even going down to the milestone level for your rewards and celebrations. They don't have to be huge, just recognizable.

 

Project management is a tough gig, especially in IT. Hopefully these tips I've given you will come in handy. I wish you much success in your upcoming projects.

 

MORE HISTORIC HACKS
Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
"Work on Your Wellness" Articles
Want to improve your health and live a better life? Check out Reena's other articles in this series:
About the Author
Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive.

Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills include finance, ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.