Want a Career Edge in 2013? Carpe Diem
Categories: Career Help
In my last post, I promised some pointers for what to do after you've identified your career goals.
My suggestion is to toss them aside. It may seem to defy career logic, but here's why it works: While our definition of success evolves slowly, the specific steps and goals that get us there can and should change with the circumstances. And circumstances are changing ever more rapidly.
For example, a meaningful goal can quickly turn into a waste of time with a corresponding opportunity cost.
I remember sitting down for my first career-planning session when I got into line management at IBM in the late 1980s. My manager and I carefully mapped out a plan that included various entry-level positions, followed by roles in middle management and then executive management. It all looked pretty good. Then along came the great upheavals of the late '80s and early '90s that stripped away entire layers of middle management.
I found myself with a plan that led to a place that no longer existed. I was trapped in career limbo, until finally I was forced into a role as a system architect. Frankly, that didn't work out very well. But in that role, I attended a conference on software development and learned about project management as a profession. It intrigued me, so I sought out more information about it.
You see, the system architects on my team were brilliant technologists. But they weren't good at planning their own work. Opportunity! I suggested that perhaps I could add more value in the role of project manager. The rest, is history.
Had I relentlessly pursued the goals outlined in my career plan, I probably wouldn't have survived past 1992. But when serendipity and opportunity intersected, I seized the moment. As a result, I've had a rewarding career, one in which I see myself as successful. (In this regard, my perspective is the only one that counts.)
The moral of the story? Where you will end up in your career 25 years from now may have nothing to do with your grand visions of today.
Here are a few other suggestions to keep you on course but flexible:
Systematically pursuing relevant goals and adopting new ones as others become irrelevant is a delicate balance. But the resulting career agility is well worth the effort.
|I recently heard an interview with Antonin Scalia, an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, regarding the rulings he has handed down over the years. The reporter wondered if Mr. Scalia ever worried about public backlash or the opinions of his fellow justices. |
Mr. Scalia simply replied that he didn't worry about that. He has life tenure, given to him by the U.S. government. He believes that tenure allows him to do and say what he thinks is right and not worry about how it will affect his career or colleagues.
This answer had a profound effect on me. I often wonder if I am "doing the right thing" when I make decisions at work. I try, but I would not be honest if I did not admit that the career survival instinct hasn't kicked in once in a while. Perhaps sometimes I compromise on issues that I know are not good for my projects or my team. But I'll give the client the answer they want to hear, or perhaps tone down the weekly status report to avoid stirring the pot when there are real issues to discuss.
I've now started applying what I will refer to as the "life tenure" rule to all of my decisions and activities. I try to look at a decision or situation through the lens of "If I did not have to worry about politics or personalities or self-promotion, would I still make this move?" I have to say, thankfully, that I appear to achieve that about 90 percent of the time. But clearly I think that can improve.
I know it is naive to think that someone could or should perform their job as if they could not get fired. Or to think that if we all had that freedom, that we would always make the right decision. But it is an interesting concept to ponder, and a fascinating test to apply.
Think about it: How would your professional life change if you had life tenure as a project manager?
|Our careers exist in the context of that intricate web of family, friends and colleagues that we call our network. |
I've often drawn an analogy between that network, as an organism of sorts, and our own brains. For example, when our brains make more robust connections, our network of cells becomes "smarter." Likewise, we become more adept at things that we use our brain connections for and our network becomes more adept as we use the connections we've created.
In the same way that we as project professionals are bombarded by an overwhelming number of stimuli, so too is our professional network. And likewise, the network can only take notice of a very small number of things. The majority of what it encounters simply has to be ignored.
I previously wrote about how we can sensitize the part of our brains called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) to help us achieve career objectives. If the above the analogy holds up (and I think it does), we should be able to sensitize our network to help us advance our project management careers in the same way that we can sensitize our own minds.
Simply setting a goal mentally sensitizes the mind to events that can help us achieve that goal. Similarly, articulating a goal to our network, especially in writing, sensitizes our peers' minds, creating spots of sensitivity within the network. The network becomes sensitized and can attribute new meaning to the same stuff that has been happening all around it. All of a sudden, everything seems to become aligned to your purpose.
For example, if you tell your professional network that you are looking for job, it becomes something your peers are aware of. When they see an open project management position, rather than skip over it, they think of your job search.
As a participating member of this network, you can work with others to sensitize your mind to their purpose. You will pay attention to things that you otherwise would have ignored that will help you to help them achieve their career goals.
As I have often said, networking is a generous activity. When you give without thinking of getting, you will find that the network gives back more than what you put in. Don't doubt it! Not for a moment.
How have you benefitted from your network?
It is always good to groom talent internally to fill vacant positions in the company. It saves cost, effort and time -- all the important aspects of a successful project.
I like to think of grooming a project team member as another project.
To ensure that 'project' is successful, a project manager should look for possible candidates that match certain characteristics. In my opinion, the following are among the characteristics a manager should look for in potential project managers (in no particular order):
A project manager must be able to communicate effectively. Friendliness is a good trait to have because more often than not, a friendly person is able to get information from the least communicative person.
2. Willingness to learn
Learning happens all the time in managing projects. Even the most seasoned project managers still learn something new from each new project.
A project manager must be focused in seeing a project through until it is completed -- or halted. He or she must have a clear vision to be able to steer the project team to fulfill the project goals.
And this doesn't mean the project manager's workstation. The information that the project manager shares must be organized and structured to ensure clarity and understanding to the recipients.
In a project, conflicts will arise -- even from something as minor as a missing network cable, for example. A project manager must be able to act objectively, as a mediator and be able see the whole picture.
When making decisions or providing direction, a project manager needs to be firm. Not every decision will be popular. Resistance may occur, but the project manager must stick to her or his ground.
This, by no means, is an exhaustive list of characteristics that a project management protégé must have. But I do believe these are the fundamental criteria that a project manager should possess to be effective and successful.
What criteria do you look for in a project team member when grooming him or her to be a project manager? What other characteristics do you feel are important for someone who wants to be a project manager?
|As a project manager, leading a project to success provides a feeling of accomplishment. Having been successful at several projects, project managers could see becoming a program manager a likely career move. |
But when PMO managers were asked about the most critical factors for success, developing the skill sets of project and program managers were an area of concern, according to PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession. As a result, many organizations will renew their focus on talent development, formalizing processes to develop competency.
In my opinion, developing a program management mindset is a key first step to successfully transitioning to a program management role. For example, moving from the linear world of a single project to the molecular world of programs can be daunting. Plus, you'll face the new experience of leading other project managers.
Here are some practices I have found valuable to adopting a program management mindset:
1. Think big picture
A common misperception about programs is when they are viewed as one big project. Keep in mind that a program is an interconnected set of projects that also has links to business stakeholders and other projects. Adopt a 'big picture' attitude to the overall program and avoid fixating on a single project's details.
2. Create a project manager trust model
As a project manager, you develop trust with individual contributors performing delivery activities. As a program manager, you have to develop trust with project managers. Create a common interaction framework with every project manager for progress reporting, resource management, etc.
3. Encourage project managers to say "so what?"
As a program manager, you will deal with additional reports, metrics and other information that you didn't experience as a project manager. Encourage your project managers to start dialogs with "so what" outcomes. This will get right to the direct impact on the program. Have them support these outcomes with relevant information from their reports, dashboards and metrics.
4. Establish credibility with business leaders
With programs, customers are typically in business functions. Immerse yourself and your project managers in their business. Training, site visits and status meetings held at business locations are good ways to immerse your team in the customer's business.
5. Develop long-distance forecasting skills
Forecasting several weeks in the future is satisfactory with a project. However, a program with projects moving at different speeds and directions requires a longer forecast horizon. Set your forecast precision in terms of months, not weeks. In addition, look for multi-project forecasting considerations such as holiday blackout periods and external project dependencies.
What have you found effective to make the mental leap from project manager to program manager?
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