Introduction to the Solo-PM blog.
Welcome to the first post of this blog. The Solo-PM, is a blog focused around doing and managing projects by yourself, AKA: the ‘solo’ way. It may be that you need to assign tasks to people those tasks, for them, count as ‘solo projects’; or be it that you need to deal with solo projects by yourself. ‘Solo Project Managing’ is something that happens way more often than it’s commonly acknowledged. It happens to people at work, it happens to people at school, it happens to people in life, and it happens that I want to help people by sharing my experience and expertise on this concrete aspect of project management, and a way to do that is with this blog.
When I was a student at university, I remember that every time project management has been mentioned in any kind of class, teachers recalled huge historic projects like the Egyptian pyramids, London’s sewers, or the Roman roads, and then right after, teachers would leave some homework project, generally a group project. In these cases, I always raised my hand to ask if I could do the project alone. Teachers would say that individual projects would be more work for me but I insisted and most of the time, I ended up doing better projects and in less time, therefore receiving a better grade. Otherwise I ended up in random groups, hating the project, more stressed and having to deal with the team instead of dealing with the work and putting in additional resources to achieve a good grade.
Once, a friend struggling with a project while working in a group asked me how I managed all that work alone. At that time, I immediately answered that it was because I only had to ‘manage’ the work itself rather than having to also manage team problems, like meetings that never happened or that did not amount to anything, people who leeched off of the work of others, the ghost who never answered messages or showed up, having to coordinate with everyone homework details, etc. But after that answer I was left wondering. After all, there were teams who did manage to deliver really nice projects. So, was I doing something different while working alone? Were we doing something in common? Or was there something strange happening in teams that I was not seeing because I was working alone most of the time?
It was quite a few years later that I achieved better insight during my master’s degree where I found myself working with a couple of comrades from other government agencies. We immediately hit it off with each other and formed a team for the rest of the classes during the master postgrade. One of them had been working in the Education department for middle level education and was used to dealing with an old syndicate and the stagnation of bureaucracy. The other one was working for the Treasury department in the audits unit and was used to the pressure of imminent deadlines and the inefficiency and/or lack of resources for the work needed. As for myself, I had been working for the national monopoly of electricity on IT for the administrative parts of the company. Having worked in similar but also different environments let us know that we were used to situations which would make a normal project manager from more organized countries scream in frustration, but we managed. We always delivered.
At the master grade when we started working together, we discovered with glee that we were not experiencing any of the common dreadful pitfalls of teamwork we had back in lower levels of education. This was the first time in my life I had experienced meaningful teamwork. We were top performers and when we analyzed this along with a round of beers, we concluded that such was because we worked incredibly well alone and just coordinated together for results. We managed our projects alone, adapting any needed or available frameworks and methodologies (even without knowing) to solo or small projects, and that allowed us to work towards achieving our objectives.
When working small on developing countries or in government experience taught that there were no finite deadlines; just a ‘get it done at some point’ or a ‘it needs to be done for yesterday!’. There were no established pre-set rules or requirements to document or analyze. Any procedure was so convoluted and bureaucratic or even obsolete that it was unknown or ignored to do fast work, or followed and causing horrible delays and great anger over bureaucracy. Rarely there were chances for innovation or iterations, things had to be decently done on the first try. Budget? Ha! The budget is your salary, your time, the PC at your desk and/or home, and whatever office supplies you had managed to secure. And finally, there were no teams, just people passing out some document/file/module/etc and perhaps some general meeting before you had to get the project done. If there is any scenery of horror for any PM it would most likely look like that. And more importantly, you have to deliver; always. You can’t say ‘no’. If you fail, thousands of people may be affected, while with every small or big project which helps improve the organization, there's a direct improvement to the country and the people through the snowball effect.
After years of professional experience in solo projects, I finally have an answer for the friend who asked me how I managed to deliver when working solo. Back then I managed it because I solo managed my work as projects with a structured approach; and now that I know more about the project management process, I also realize (that) there are better ways to do it and that I can share to save people the pain of not knowing how to deal with small and/or solo projects.
Solo PM-ing and what this blog is about:
Even in the biggest projects that involve many stakeholders, working teams and faraonic resources, when broken down to their most basic activities, one can see that such small activities are done generally by individuals, and to that individual, such activities might be a project for her/him to accomplish. More so, there are genuinely small projects individuals carry out on their own all the time; be it starting a small business or a side gig, planning a wedding or a vacation, writing a book, or all that homework at school.
Any project manager knows that life is full of projects, and any project manager knows that the rate of project failure is quite high around the world; but what many do not consider is that there are small projects that are important projects that most people don't know how to manage and which get dismissed as menial stuff. Perhaps the funeral of your mother is by no means as big of a project as a new airport, or perhaps a database as a school project for a class is not even remotely as grand as a national census. But something going wrong at a funeral can be terrible for dozens of individuals of a family and without that database, the student won't graduate. More tangible is the rate of small businesses that fail. The failure of launching a small business hurts the finances of a person and in mass, as it happens on national levels, can hinder the growth of a country and punish the economy.
For example, in my country alone around 97% of all businesses are micro-businesses, and statistically, 2 out 3 new businesses will die before their first year (source: INEGI. México). Why such a high rate? Why are their plans failing? ... I noticed a hard truth after researching about this. Not just weren’t these people and businesses making any projects in any formal way; they weren’t even planning anything. Most people just had an idea, launched it as best as they could, and hoped to get lucky. This struck me hard, more so because the situation is similar in most developing countries, which is the majority of the world. And if this happens with something as important as businesses, then what about all other small projects?
Most people have no idea about project management, and when they stumble upon it, it is normally always about big projects, so I seek to address the small but impactful projects.
I want to help. I do not seek to revolutionize the world, the international standards for project management, or have the great PMs to focus on the small stuff, but I truly think projects and project management can change the world for the better and people should be able to afford the knowledge to plan and complete projects on a small scale so that everyone can benefit at a bigger scale from the many small successes.
Thinking about it, I realized that I don’t remember having a formal project management class until I was in the late terms of my Masters degree, and any previous experience I had was because I was personally interested in project management and on the lookout for general knowledge, but most people had zero knowledge on it. This let me make a note about one other thing. All the knowledge and most books or training I had always assumed projects to be ‘team efforts’. But what about when they weren't? And thus, that's how this blog idea came to be.
I am taking the approach to solo projects. This approach can provide opportunities for students, novice PMs, and workers that have to get into projects. Really, project management happens to many people before they become aware of the world of PMing and they need help on the small scale before they dive into it. Doing small projects for your own benefit or because you were assigned such tasks at work or school is how many people get introduced to projects, but managing such small projects tends to be a try and fail approach, do it as you believe/understand it’s done or fail, and many times it ends up in failure or in a costly success with a lot of resources and potential wasted on the attempt.
This blog seeks to help the people that want and need to approach project management individually, like students, office workers with small projects (or part of big projects but with activities that count as projects for themselves), professionals with personal small projects, people wanting to test water with project managing, etc.
What you will be seeing more of in my posts:
This blog exists because solo PMing is too common and many people begin their approach to PMing with solo efforts, and that isn’t always recognized formally in the frameworks or standards, so you need to adapt those for the small needs. Now that I have the professional experience of solo work in projects, I’ve also come to find ways to simplify the complex parts of project management so that they are usable at a small scale and for the needs of individuals rather than seasoned teams.
With that into account, this blog will provide information, stories, tips, tricks, approaches and materials to give concrete help and answers to solo project management on how to adapt the general practices to small useful bits for individual situations. Following the lead knowledge on the PMbook and the PMI, I will propose how individual approaches differ or adapt (when it does) regarding project management, and provide materials that I hope are useful for the individuals interested in the solo aspects of project management.