Tuesday, 01 March 2011 15:34

Worth the Effort: Why I love being a PM

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When I sat down to write an article for Project Times, I thought long and hard about what to write. I could tell you about the project I’m working on, the numerous rewards and challenges, the usual delays that one encounters on any project, the great people I am working with, the issues I’m experiencing and everything I’m doing to overcome them. But stories like that have been told before, and while valuable to all of us who are still learning or enhancing our craft, I wanted something a little different. I hope it to be but definitely more personal, and more positive – hopefully inspirational.

People ask me what I do for a living and to keep it easy, I simply say “I’m a project manager.” But that in no way encompasses everything I do or how I feel about what I do. I think being a PM is one of the coolest things in the world. Okay, being a movie star or an astronaut is way cooler but the majority of us who live in the real world and aren’t struck by lightning, becoming a project manager is pretty neat and a very rewarding career to embark upon. And I mean rewarding - both personally and professionally.

Having been in the field for over 10 years, I have read a lot about project management including articles and white papers on how to do the job better and/or easier; how to overcome barriers and challenges; what skills to acquire, etc. I don’t see many, if any, on “WHY you should become a project manager.” That’s the million dollar question.

What I want to address is why I think it is worth all the effort, frustration and sometimes sleepless nights to become a PM. When you are a project manager, you are the captain of the ship, the commander of the fleet, the conductor of an orchestra. You are the one trusted to lead the way. It is one heck of a big seat to sit in that’s not realized until you are sitting in it the first time.

When I started my project management journey, my goal was to follow all the guidelines, avoid as many risks and problems as possible and get the project delivered on time and on budget. That should be the goal of all new PMs.  Become comfortable in your new role and keep the process that you have been assigned to simple. There is nothing wrong with starting simply while you become familiar with what it means to be a project manager.  Get used to the tools of your trade.  Start determining what your personal style is going to be. Every PM has his or her own management style and just because each one is different, it doesn’t mean that one is better than another. I personally am a very hands-on PM.  I like to know what is going on with my team and be “down in the trenches” with them.  It makes me more comfortable with this level of involvement. But that may not work for the next PM -- and that is totally fine.

As the years passed, I have grown in experience and taken on more complex projects, both at the local and provincial levels. I enjoy the challenge and have actively sought out larger opportunities in order to become more knowledgeable and skilled. In the midst one of engagement, I literally had my own “ah ha!” moment when it hit me.  I realized what I had become and what my role was now.  Up to this point I guess I hadn’t really been paying attention, I was busily working away -- following my project management methodology, delivering projects and keeping clients happy (at least I hoped so!)

It was in a team meeting where I was describing to a new project team member my role and purpose on the project when the question was raised. This particular project had been attempted previously with internal resources acting as the PM but they were not able to successfully complete that effort. That’s where I was brought in as an external project manager to rescue the implementation and make the stakeholders happy again. In my answer to her question, I started out by saying “I am the one out in front who keeps the way clear so that you and the rest of the team can stay focused on getting the project related work done.” Then I stopped and realized what I had just said: I keep the way clear for others by doing whatever needs to be done.

I personally believe why being a project manager is so cool. It’s not just about completing documentation or following guidelines. You are the one who makes it possible to get things done.  What you do to accomplish this is different with every engagement, every team and every day. A PM deals with everything from the vendor, the stakeholders, the sponsor, the project team, to external sources (and more). It is an art to manage all these spokes in the wheel so that the wheel can keep turning. You negotiate, convince, cajole, assert, pester, question, report, justify and produce. You are the one to whom all involved stakeholders go to when something is needed – whether it’s a budget matter from your sponsor, a task conflict from your team member, a problem from your vendor.  All these requests go to you to help resolve.  You are managing your team to keep them motivated and enthusiastic about what they are doing, while you are also managing your steering committee and sponsors to keep them informed and happy with what is being accomplished. Sometimes you are put in the position of defending one side or the other. Being put in the middle is not always a great place to be but it sometimes is inevitable. You just have to remember that your primary objective is to manage the project, even if it means calling activities to a halt because something like the funding question hasn’t been settled yet.

This can be quite daunting at first but once you commit yourself, it can be the most exciting and self-gratifying thing you have ever experienced. It’s realizing that you can deal with and handle all of these different scenarios, questions and people every day and you are able to do it all by yourself (not to say that you don’t have support from colleagues or friends but that is not what I mean). You find within yourself reserves of strength you may not have known that you possessed. You are able to gain confidence in your own abilities so you start to feel like you can conquer anything. You just know, without question, that you can handle anything thrown at you and it will not bring you down.

After you have delivered a successful project result, having run the gauntlet and met all of the challenges along the way, you feel the pride inside that makes all the effort worthwhile.

That is why I am a PM.

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Caroline Ouimet is a healthcare professional who began her career as a Registered Nurse 20 years ago. She worked as a clinical nurse in long term care, home care and acute care settings before turning to information technology and project management. She added an IT diploma to her degree in Nursing as well as her project management professional designation (PMP). But her focus and her passion has remained firmly on healthcare. She is dedicated to bringing clinical initiatives across the finish line successfully and to the satisfaction of the client. Whether it is at a single community hospital, a hospital corporation, government agency or a provincial initiative, Caroline has proven that she can get the job done. Her manner and attitude promotes engagement by project members, stakeholders and colleagues to form collaborative and supportive teams. She is resourceful, determined and tenacious when delivering for the client. Caroline believes in open and transparent communication, commitment to success and never backing down from a challenge.

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