My latest private project is relocation to Europe and part of it is looking for a new job. After attending several job interviews, here are my learnings on how to get ready for jobs that require project management or business analysis competency (or combination of both).
For project-based professions, the obvious focus of showcasing your skills is portfolio of delivered projects. Demonstrating your past experience is natural response to the job interviewer who is looking for a fit to their current challenge. But that may also mean that you are positioning yourself into the range of assignments you have already undertaken, in other words more or less to continue the job you were doing before. That may be perfectly fine if that’s what you want. Frankly speaking, being a project manager or business analyst is challenging enough.
It becomes harder when you have ambition to grow in your career, for instance to manage larger and more complex assignments, to enter new industry or different subject area, such as move from IT project management to broader organizational changes, or to move up from execution focused jobs to more strategic level. But what helps is your preparation and presenting the right experience from your list of accomplishments.
Here are my personal learning points, I would be happy to hear about your experience!
Be prepared. If you intend to enter new industry, learn the basics first. Research the current trends, look at the activities and direction of the main industry players, check articles and any other publicly available information about the company itself. Do your best to understand what challenges are probably on the table and map your past experience to them to show that you have capabilities to solve them.
Entering new industry is hard, but doable. Some industries are very closed and have natural resistance to admit newcomers. To prove that you are the right candidate, go through your past accomplishments and pick up those that demonstrate your ability to learn or, another strategy how to enter new domain, to build networks and teams of experts that help you to deliver the results.
After several years of being in project environment, you’ve accomplished a lot. But not all the experience is relevant to your potentially new job, so be careful to select the best examples. For instance, if you like to hire a plumber, would you be excited to listen to stories how that person was also a bus driver, librarian and learned foreign languages by being an au-pair? Guess no. Avoid this trap of presenting unhelpful information by putting your focus on staying relevant to the job description.
What matters is to present that you have the right skillset, even if that would be just 30% of what you ever achieved. Especially when you look for bigger job than you had before, select your particular achievements that put together a puzzle clearly showing that you have all the skills on the list, even if not yet used on one single project.
Being relevant also demonstrates your good understanding of the potential job. To make it even better, be specific when talking about how did you do things, how did you deal with situations, which tools and approaches you put in place. Being specific helps your interviewer to relate your experience to what the company is looking for.
Staying confident and being prepared to answer all questions is your target. Project management profession is very broad and makes you ready for dealing with stress, communicate in difficult situations, handle risks, use soft skills, there’s a lot. Business analysts train their learning skills, complex thinking, attention to detail as well as seeing business context. Staying confident is then well earned and should be fully justified.
Good luck with your careers in 2019!!
Companies are initiating projects to support their business strategy by achieving improvements, delivering changes, introducing new products or solving issues that may threaten the whole company existence. Project ideas are collected, assessed and prioritized in a project portfolio with a purpose to bridge company strategy and its execution. Where is the difference between a to-do list of project ideas and balanced portfolio that helps to manage strategic risks?
Every organization has to deal with limited resources and need to decide which projects will be initiated, postponed or even canceled. But how to assign the project funding and other resources to make the best out of the list of the collected project ideas? Several views have to be taken into consideration which makes portfolio management a complex discipline. I don’t aspire to describe all of that but I would like to mention a tool from different area, company growth strategies and product management, and link these together to create inspiration on how to balance a project portfolio.
BCG Matrix is a product portfolio concept formed in 1970 by Bruce D. Henderson for the Boston Consulting Group. BCG Matrix is also referred as Growth Market Share Matrix, tool to support long-term strategic planning by considering growth opportunities and deciding on their funding. The matrix has 4 elements to which are company products assigned. Each of the elements represent a product category and suggest how should the management invest and develop the products to further support company growth.
Over the time, BCG Matrix was criticized for its over-simplification and misuse, mostly due to the misleading wording for the main 4 types of products. I agree, calling products cows and dogs sounds awkward, so I dare to adjust the wording to give the 4 elements a bit more general meaning.
According to the author of BCG Matrix, balanced portfolio should have:
Then there is also Base, products that are sometimes kept just to continue legacy or they may be required by legislation. For instance, regular post services in distant areas are not profitable, but must be provided. BCG product strategy originally suggested that companies may get rid of such products, but later managers concluded that this idea may not be the best.
Just to summarize, BCG product strategy portfolio was developed to provide a guidance how to categorize and structure products to provide support for company growth. Now, when we transfer the original BCG Matrix concept of product strategy in a project portfolio, we may determine project categories by their impact on company strategy:
By assigning projects to categories related to their impact on company strategy and summing up investment in these projects, we may determine at a glance where is the focus of the company. Regardless how aggressive is the company strategy on paper, the reality is far more reflected in particular changes that the company is decided to undertake.
Gender bias is like any other bias we face at work. It has a lot to do with the way we were raised, what we were taught, what is the culture we are coming from. But it is also caused by receiving too many information we can’t process and rather use shortcuts in our thinking to quickly come up with conclusion. In other words we are sometimes following stereotypes rather than spending time to rethink what’s going on.
Gender stereotypes are not one-way directional. It’s not at all that only men would be biased about their female colleagues. We as women fall into stereotypes too, for instance we often feel we are not ready rather then to go for ambitious task and show our strengths. Bias or stereotypes come from mental models that got coded in our minds over the time. To avoid falling into these traps, we first need to be aware of them and than bring the practice of challenging the bias in the workplace so that both male and female team members benefit. Being aware is the first step to reprogram our mental models towards more objective situation assessment.
Why is it important specifically for project managers? Project teams are temporary and have limited resources, that’s why it is important to correctly assess skills and competencies of the team members to promote the team performance and address areas for further development. Being biased as Project Manager may result in overestimating or underestimating abilities of individuals and unwelcome team dynamics.
The source for the second part of this post is article “Tips for the workplace” from Leanintogether.org. LeanInTogether is NGO co-led by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. The article lists 6 biases and tips how to raise awareness and deal with them. I’ve shortly summarized them below. Please feel free to challenge them in the comments section or to share your experience.
Challenge the like-ability penalty
Successful man are more like-able, but successful women are not. Assertive women are seen as aggressive, ambitious, but men with the same behavior are seen as confident and strong.
How to deal with this: The advice from the article is to listen to the language of like-ability penalty and when you hear it, request a specific example of behavior when a female colleague was seen as pushy or aggressive. Challenge the situation by asking if men with the same behavior would be seen the same way. The answer is probably no.
Evaluate performance fairly
There is a difference on how we evaluate men and women performance. Women are promoted based on what they already achieved, men are promoted based on their potential.
How to deal with this: The key is fair and transparent performance evaluation.
For instance when you check top influencers on this forum you see very few women. Would you think that someone pushed competent women back and put men on their places? Of course not, the system is transparent. But whenever is evaluation based on gut feeling, the transparency is lost and fairness is in question.
Give women credit
Men attribute their success to innate skills while women see reason for their success in external environment, e.g. I was lucky in getting this job. As a result, women often undervalue themselves, have lower confidence and are undervalued by the others. They are then less likely to go for stretch assignments or promotion.
How to deal with this: Make sure that your female colleagues get credit they deserve and don’t let them downplay it by saying: oh, I just helped.. Encourage women to go for it!
Get the most out of meetings
Men tend to talk more on meetings and sit at the front. Women held themselves back and choose to sit at the end of the room.
How to deal with this: Facility the project meetings in a way that everyone have space to talk. Encourage women to sit in the front, ask women directly to share their thoughts. Be aware of “stolen” ideas and recognize your female colleagues for their contributions.
Share office housework
Women tend to take more of the office housework, for instance to arrange meeting rooms, to take notes, to organize events. We expect women to do it, it’s for granted. When men takes over such task, we appreciate him for supporting the team. But it’s not only the small office work, the article is pointing out that 2/3 of executive women in Fortune 200 companies are responsible for supporting business parts rather than for profit and loss units.
How to deal with this: distribute the project office administrative tasks equally. Appreciate whoever is setting up meeting room and don’t assume it’s a job for female.
Make work work for parents
Well, this is a nice one. Motherhood triggers so many assumptions, for instance that mothers are less committed to their careers. This bias can not be further from reality and completely undermines very hard decisions that parents have to take when it comes to figure out care for their kids. But this bias does not impact only women, men who take family time off face similar “punishment”.
I personally consider this bias as the most deep rooted and the most damaging.
How to deal with this: Don’t assume that parents, mothers or fathers, are less committed. They are not. They just have more on their plate to manage. As project manager avoid planning meetings too late or too early in the day, respect parents‘ needs and let them finish their job in flexible hours. Parents are committed. After all they really need their jobs to take care of their families.
I’m happy to say that I see less and less gender bias throughout my career. I believe we as society are changing but it’s also me who grew professionally in much stronger and confident women. Bias is just a bias after all, we can minimize it by being aware of it and fight it.
I was recently talking to my friend, product manager in large financial institution who is dealing with projects delivering process digitalization and large systems integration. I asked her what would really help her teams in the context of their projects. I expected anything but this: improvement of quality of meeting minutes.
In large organizations with concurrent running projects, numerous stakeholders and distributed teams is communication a key. Sharing information is vital for making the right decisions, assigning priorities and managing tasks across multiple projects. Meeting minutes are supposed to inform its recipients about decisions made, tasks assigned and discussed issues. It really is important to do the meeting minutes right because otherwise information get lost and things do not happen as intended.
Here are my personal tips how to write good meeting minutes:
Meeting minutes are not only part of basic project communication or, as often seen, administrative task that just takes time. As a project manager, you may use the meeting minutes as a tool that helps you to build trust with your stakeholders. Meeting minutes that document well what was discussed and what was agreed are sign of transparency and open communication. And that counts on a long term!
Complex problem solving was predicted as the top required skill by 2020 by the Future of Jobs Report by WEF in 2016. Now, in 2018, the report highlights need for analytical thinking and innovation with complex problem solving remaining in the top 10. Skills demands are related to the trends in job market driven by adoption of sophisticated technologies such as AI, urge for digitalization, IoT and big data analysis.
So I was thinking to introduce here Business Dynamics, a complex problem solving method that fits any situation and is designed to tackle truly complex issues. If you like challenges, try to use the method to solve an issue described in the second half of this post.
What is Business Dynamics
Business Dynamics originates in cybernetics and is basically a system theory applied in business environment. Its founder is Jay W. Forrester and its current guru is prof. John D. Sterman at MIT. The method is based on understanding principles of feedback loops that forms structure of any system constellation. Business Dynamics is the opposite to the linear, event -> consequence, thinking.
Regardless how much complex it sounds, it is not that bad… Although the method itself is designed for computer simulations that consist of number of integral equations, you can use its simplified version with pen, paper and set of basic rules.
How to create simplified Business Dynamics model
The best is to work in a group and discuss. Because your model will change as you work on it, my tip is to use large sheet of paper and post-its for the model variables. When you need to change the model, just rearrange the post-its and redraw the lines connecting them.
Island Borneo bubonic plaque outbreak – test your complex problem-solving skills!
Here’s a problem that actually happened. Because people’s lives were in stake, the decided solution must have been proved to be right before applying it. The team that solved this issue used Business Dynamics method.
On the island Borneo, villagers were dying of the Bubonic plague. Seemingly unrelated to the problem, roof beams in the village are collapsing and a swarm of dead fish have washed up on the river banks. The plague is being caused by rats that transmit the disease to humans through bites. Bubonic plague causes human death, but rats are not affected, they only transmit the disease. But why have the rats suddenly started biting humans?
You have found the following facts:
Problem to solve:
What must be done to save the villagers from more bubonic plague, falling cribs and dead fishes?
I used Business Dynamics method for several years as part of my Strategic Management course for MBA students. Island Borneo was favorite exercise for my students. Complex problem-solving is definitely a skill that can be learned and trained. Let me know if you would like to learn more.