I never planned (or wanted) to be a project manager. In fact, my first experience managing a project team was so stressful that I ended up leaving my job (and the company).
I was only a couple years out of college and I was just starting to get comfortable in my first coding job when my manager and her manager both quit — in the same week.
Overnight, I went from being responsible for my own time and work to being responsible for the entire team’s output. I had no project management experience, and the people who might have mentored me were gone.
To say that I was out of my depth would be an understatement. I persevered for long enough to bootstrap some tools, pick up some project management skills, and notch some successes — but the experience was so stressful that just 18 months later, I left that job and that company for C++ developer role at another investment bank.
At the time, I never planned to take another project management role. (Things change, obviously!)
What I didn’t realize then was that project management skills are a professional necessity for EVERYONE.
Organizations achieve their missions by executing projects — and that means that any employee at any time might be called on to spearhead a new initiative or lead a new project.
Even in organizations with a dedicated project management team, there are dozens of smaller projects led by staff on other teams. And those projects will often live or die with the skills and experience of the person who is assigned to manage them.
Project leadership roles are frequently stretch assignments for team members — a chance for them to develop new skills, take on new responsibility, and perhaps advance in the organization. They get these assignments because they’ve shown potential — but they often don’t receive the mentorship or coaching they need to be successful in the role.
But when employees lack the skills they need to lead their projects successfully, it jeopardizes their career path, the team’s goals and the organization’s priorities.
Given that project management is such a critical professional skill, I believe that it should be a required subject to graduate from high school or college!
But since it is not, I want to talk about the basics of project management over the next few weeks — so that any member of any team can feel confident stepping up to a new challenge, even if they’ve never led a project before.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore the 4 steps of successful project management:
- Start with a solid foundation
- Really understand what is needed (and why)
- Break down the work and develop a plan
- Manage all the details and drive momentum
And we’ll dive into the skills, mindsets, and tools that will enable anyone to successfully lead and deliver on their projects.