How I came to be a Project Manager
What did you want to be when you grew up? A project manager? I doubt that any 2nd grader in the history of the world has ever said that. Ever. From 8th grade on I was going to be an doctor. Not sure why because it doesn’t suit my personality at all. My brother was a pharmacist and my best friend’s dad was a pharmacist – it did completely suit their personalities. Project management was not on my radar.
During the 2nd semester of my freshman year during class registration for my upcoming sophomore year at the University of Iowa – I was trying to get into a biology class I needed and it was completely full. This one class and my inability to get scheduled for it was going to throw my whole college schedule off for a long time and I asked myself… “Is this really what I want to do?”
So I switched to business. MIS to be exact. Came out of college with a job as a programmer and I liked it ok for awhile, but a project manager was needed on an upcoming government contract and they proposed me, we ended up winning the bid for the contract and the rest is history.
When they really want a tech lead
If you’re not a project manager or if you think you might want to ‘check it out’, you need to know that it is not for everyone. Those organizations posting that they want a lead developer to also act as a project manager are kidding themselves. What they really want is a lead developer who can talk intelligently to a team and a customer from time to time… and maybe lead a meeting. But they really want a technical lead resource. They don’t really want a project manager. They may need one and find that out the hard way later when the project starts to fall apart from lack of real leadership, but they probably didn’t have the budget to support a PM resource on the team anyway.
Some organizations and some company leadership and some customers get it. A real project needs focused, dedicated, and experienced leadership. They need the go-to decision maker, financial planner, scope manager, resource manager, and project customer manager all wrapped into one project lead resource – that’s a project manager. That can’t just be a technical lead on a project of any size or importance…in most cases. Likewise, individuals can’t lightly take on the role of project manager thinking it’s an easy role and they aren’t likely to be successful at getting their ‘feet wet’ in and getting quick experience on a highly visible project.
If you’re a new project manager or an individual looking to move into a PM role, do it for good reasons – do it for the right reasons. It can be very rewarding and you can turn it into a nice career. But it can be grueling long hours, lots if travel, little recognition and at times plenty of blame and the success or failure of the project rests on your shoulders even if it’s decided sometimes by factors outside of your control. Take the classes – get the certification if you want or if it’s something your organization requires. PMI and other certifications are nice – and can definitely legitimize your role as a project manager – but nothing replaces experience and you’ll have to proactively act to get that experience. Start small, if possible, and see if it’s the right move for you.