I’ve been a Project Manager (PM) for the last decade or so and I often get asked the question, “what exactly do you do?” The answer is sometimes more easily understood by describing what it is not before I describe what I believe it is. Here’s my top three things that Project Management is not:
1. Not Consummate
Nearly all professionals are called upon to manage projects at some point in their career. While they go about that, they realize that very few projects go just as they are planned. There are surprises, constraints and changes. It’s a bit like creating a piece of artwork; smudges, tears and drips become part of the masterpiece. The end result is not often the same as the original sketch. Project management rarely involves any kind of perfection. The art and skill of project management is adapting to the changes; changes in scope, budget and teams.
2. Not Controlled
I’ve established that Project Management is not about perfection, it’s also not about control. When I first began managing small projects, I thought I needed to control every aspect, every step of the projects. When I quickly found myself exhausted and not exactly beloved by my team, I realized that control is an illusion and not what was needed of me by the team. While a PM does work hard to understand the project, the system works most beautifully when the team is entrusted to contribute their unique portions to the project. The PM can be the facilitator for the project, but each team member needs to be allowed to express and function in their respective roles.
3. Not Cats
While Project Management shouldn’t be synonymous with “control freak”, nor should it earn the facetious title of “cat herder”. Cats, and coincidentally humans, do not like to be herded. A PM’s role is not to ‘herd’ but rather to lead, to facilitate and to bring out the best in each of the team members, as a servant leader. While servant leadership seems like an oxymoron to some, to me it simply means to view yourself as a ‘giver’ and not a ‘getter’. I prefer to approach projects with a mindset of how I can help rather than how I can command results from others.
What is it then?
Switching our mindset of what Project Managers are not- to what they are, Project Managers are bit like train conductors. A conductor does their best to protect the passengers, as well as the train. The conductor helps the passengers with their possessions and seeks to make sure that everyone makes it safely to their destination. There can be delays and unforeseen obstacles, but the conductor remains calm and steady, thinking of ways to assist each passenger and see them through their journey. As progress continues on the journey, the conductor is responsible for communicating stops, delays or anything else the passengers and crew may need to know. The conductor is also mindful of the cost of the journey and does their best to keep things on schedule.
Project Management at CKH
When CKH sought me out and offered me this position, I was surprised. While I enjoy the benefits of technology, I certainly do not know the inner-workings of how a computer functions, nor do I know how to code, or really have any technical ability that I thought would be valuable to a tech company. And I don't, but then again, they weren't looking for technical expertise or train engineers, if you will. The team here at CKH is exceptionally talented in all things tech, but as their business has grown, they discovered that there was potential to improve their processes by including a train conductor. They hired me to help streamline those processes so that client projects arrived at the station on time and on budget!