I’ve worked for, with and as a project manager, and for and with managers, as many of you have. Among them, some have been great, others horrible, many mediocre. What brings this to mind is that I was having a conversation with someone not long ago who was talking about their project manager and just making some general comments, neither positive nor negative, but merely descriptive. In hearing the comments, I realized both that the person had no idea what a project manager actually does and also that their project manager doesn’t actually do project management. As an aside, I’d been reading “The Spy and the Traitor” and realized that story is relevant to this (which I will get to later in this post).

Is Redefining Terms Wrong?

In the LIMS industry, for example, many people coming from the product vendors’ services groups who call themselves “project manager” actually aren’t managing the project – merely managing the services used for the account. Or, on the customer end, people are sometimes called “project manager” but are almost more of an administrative assistant, merely setting up meetings for the team and handling the tedious work that the team doesn’t want to deal with.

Is it wrong to redefine what a project manager does or what a manager does? Is it wrong to put your own spin on it? Well, I wouldn’t say that it’s specifically wrong as long as your own organization knows what you’re talking about. However, the problem I have seen is that when that person goes to get another job somewhere else that there is a real shock for both the interviewer and interviewee to find that they’re not able to speak in a common language or, even worse, that person gets hired and they and their new employer realize they have no real experience in the job to be done. The other problem is that if that person needs help, they can’t go to their respective professional community to get any assistance.

The other issue is this – if you do define what your needs are as needing a specific role but you then put entirely different goals and tasks on the person doing it, you’re not going to get what you expected out of it.

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

That’s my big question to everyone doing this, “Why are you reinventing the wheel?”  Go out to the many published (and many are free) resources out there and properly define both what you need and the goals for the person to do them. That way, when employee (or consultant) evaluation time comes along, you’re comparing apples to apples. When you’re not doing that, if the person isn’t successful in doing what you expected, you don’t know if it’s their failure or the failure of your definition. What I’m saying is that, you can give that person a negative review and dump them for someone else, but get EXACTLY the same result if you don’t carefully review this.

For Those Living in More Populous Areas

If you live in a an area with a larger population, you also have the advantage that you could send your people to all sorts of in-person meetings that are closeby. Many of these areas have PMI (Project Management Institute) meetings for project managers to speak with other professionals to get ideas on how to address various issues. Managers have access to AMA (American Management Association) meetings. Business Analysts can attend IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysts) meetings.

Of course, this is the tip of the iceberg – there are groups that have meetings focused on mobile computing and all sorts of other topics, as well. I hear people struggle with all types of topics, and often, these people have access to these resources but their companies don’t encourage getting involved in these types of groups and this is where I’m going to talk about “The Spy and the Traitor.”

“Not Invented Here” Syndrome and Other Issues

One problem with companies that don’t encourage their people to better learn their job is that some of them have “not invented here” syndrome, thinking that anything that isn’t learned within their own walls from their own people isn’t “their way of doing it” and isn’t valuable. Another issue is that many of the companies punish people for admitting they don’t know something. In “The Spy and the Traitor,” a major defection is missed because those people watching the spy weren’t certain what to do and, if they’d admitted them, would probably have been punished so, guess what, just like in our own projects, the “watchers” just didn’t do anything because doing nothing wouldn’t get them punished as badly as admitting they didn’t know something. I found it so interesting how much spying turns out to be just like any other job, in some respects.

In any case, I see this too often on our projects. It’s not uncommon to have managers who have no management experience, are NOT natural managers, and are doing a horrible job. Yet, they remain in the job because a lateral move would be seen as a failure. They are also given no additional training because those who promoted them think they can just learn it over time, even though it doesn’t seem to be happening. Often, people get moved into management, or even project management or business analysis, as a promotion based on doing a good job in whatever they were doing, before, or merely based on seniority, not because they have demonstrated any talent that would suggest they’d be good at the new job.

In addition, what’s truly stunning about this is the “management” courses have been around for so many years, there are so many resources on the topic, or for anything else we’ve discussed here, that it seems ridiculous that these companies won’t step back to sort out the issues. It’s not that I say these people can’t learn the job, although some probably truly can’t, but that they’re never given the tools to do so. We force many people to have degrees in what they do, even to the point of specialization, but we don’t make our managers take courses or have degrees. Once, again, I’m not claiming everyone has to, but just saying almost no-one does.

One More Resource

And with that, something that just came to my mailbox was the suggestion I read this and I’m sharing it will all of you who think you, some day, might need to understand more about working with other people and possibly managing them, but only if you’re interested and if your boss won’t punish you for showing that you don’t actually already think you know everything there is to know about people:  Adam Grant on Work and Psychology  In any case, if you read this, your secret is safe with me. I won’t tell anyone you have any desire to learn anything.  😉

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

2 Thoughts to “Learning to Manage and Project Manage”

  1. Nice post Gloria, triggering a reaction…
    As both a scientist and a spritual engineer, I experienced that the managers and leaders that don’t have integrity and conscience as one of the most important values, have the most difficulty with handling me and other people.
    One of the most important terms related to this aspect is Truth Discipline, which is one of the toughest aspects I found so far. Truth Discipline plays an important role in science and in LIMS(quality assurance), but also in mental and spiritual wellbeing.
    It is a pain for the managers that want to see money on the short term. It is a blessing for the companies and the people that run them on the long term.
    It is the key to happiness: knowing you are doing the right thing. Testing is one of the things, necessary to know something for sure.

  2. […] Here’s a past post from this blog about learning to manage and project manage. […]

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