The Tech Project Manager- who is she?

This is not an article to make women feel better about anything.  The title says SHE not HE only because I am a woman. But this IS going to be your standard LinkedIn P.M. drivel, with a standard Millenial twist, because we’re also a hot topic.

Project Mangers come in two hybrids- Big Corporate Style and Startup Style.

Big corporate style PM’s have origins in the early 1990’s, when downsizing trends created flatter organizations.  Middle management was traded in for ’empowered’ employees (including a layer of PM’s).   As a result, today’s big corporate PM’s have ’em’power.  No, it’s not heady Donald Trump hair POWER, but all limitations are relative.  We are mostly all somebody’s bitch, somehow.  PM’s report to VP’s.  VP’s are 10 years older and report to CEO’s (+15).  CEO’s are hired and fired by Boards of borderline elderly white men who telecommute from Tahoe and can barely figure out how to use email attachments.   BOD’s report to shareholders, customers, and their 28 y.0. dominatrix mistresses.  The mistresses report to social media, aka a web of Millenianls, who complete the circle of empower by reporting back to PM’s- at this time 5-7 years older than they are.

The Startup Style project manager came about in late 90’s/early 2000’s, during the internet and tech explosions.  Seed money was given to anybody who pretended to program computers.  Partially because of this, those PM’s had (and continue today to have) more varied responsibility and challenges than their Corporate cousins. Here is a graph showing that the demand for startup style PM’s is likely trending up, at least based on the number of new startups being formed.

startups

So that introduced the history of PM’s, now for the training.

Project Management is not a major in college, but there are some related options.  Management Information Systems (MIS) is a typical choice for CS Freshmen and Sophomores who realize they’re too dumb to hack it in Hackathons.  Management Science is for the football players at any tech school, and students everywhere who couldn’t do engineering math or figure out how to otherwise work the system and graduate.  The above types will likely end up as Big Corporate Style PM’s, with PM their actual job title, and that last italicized point is important.  These PM’s are not the cream of the crop, they’re not people who can figure out how to get difficult things done.

Meanwhile, Startup Style (and also many Corporate) PM’s come from a normal technical education, and start careers as programmers, scientists, engineers, etc.  They’re probably pretty good at technical work, but their higher social skills gradually move them towards organizing and communicating, which leads to leading, and a new job title is born. It may or may not be Project Manager, but this is what they are. Before long (another 2-3 years), they’re no longer on the cutting edge of tech.  Their lives are full of PowerPoint and conference calls with words like scope and buffer.

Since there is no college degree to validate a PM, an organization formed to fill what was once this void.  Project Management Institute.  PMI is (sadly?) destined for failure for the following reasons:

  • Despite what their homepage states, today’s employers do not demand certification.  PMP is like GPA- you could write it on your resume, if you want to look like a douche bag.  Good PM’s these days are promoted from other positions within the company, or externally recruited based on experience, just like any other job.  As a PM, just use white font to write PMP at the bottom of your resume, for the bots, and you can skip certification.
  • At a time when a full MIT CS education is basically free, PMI classes start at $199.
  • The knowledge base being maintained and tested is = common sense + math + arcane definitions.  Example:sample qeustionThese definitions can be learned as needed.  Hey Siri.
  • “Networking” is no longer a valid benefit of any organization other than LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.

So PMI is out for certification, but their 1 week in-person seminars might still be ok.  Personally, if I wanted to brush up on my skills, I’d find the best local university with a similar offering, and know that the curriculum would be less restricted.  And I’d do it for a 1 week paid vacation/change of scenery more than with expectations to learn something remarkable.

FAQ

Q: What is the biggest challenge faced by you, Project Manager ?

A: (I asked this question to a room of 50 and will repeat the most common answer:)   The biggest challenge I face is coordinating work across multiple sites and/or divisions in multiple countries.  The difficulty is not only the time zones/ language differences, but also differing priorities (aka my project is not getting attention it needs at other sites).

Q:  As a Startup Style PM, I also do engineering, recruiting, sales, etc.  How do I know how much time to use for Project Management vs. others stuff?

A:proect plannin

(Also, in the plan you’re maintaining, make sure no high risk task is unspecified, no supplier is missing, milestones are all included, and you can provide a clear answer to what any given employee is doing right now.)

Q:  Should a MS Project Plan required for all projects?

A: No, see above.

Q:  What should I watch out for when estimating?

A:  Experts tend to be aggressive because they imagine themselves doing the work.  Estimating databases tend to be conservative.  Relying on past data can create paradigms and ignore new technology or other changes. Humans are optimistic creatures; it’s a prerequisite for our survival.  There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics.  In other words, it’s all BS, and the nice thing is that everyone knows it.

DAY TO DAY WORK

 

In order for a PM to be successful, he/she needs to encourage adoption of his/her project and keep team members engaged.  Important skills to these ends include organization, communication (acting as a filter up to executives and down to team members), trust, experience, persistence, multitasking, global perspective, sense of humor/charisma, and speaking multiple languages.

Speaking of speaking, a PM should (for historical reasons) be aware that arbitrary, questionable, impossible to verify studies once showed that communication was broken down as follows:

communiations.PNG

But, Millenials are changing this.  In the future, short typed messages will dominate the communication market and there will be no need for 100+ versions of this pie chart in Google Images.  That or something with virtual reality, outside our scope.  For now, ignore the advice.  I have had plenty of successful supplier and contractor relations with people I’ve never seen, sometimes even with people I’ve only communicated with through .PDF documents.

PM’s are risk managers.  The important thing to know about risk is that while society generally sees risk seekers as successful (Donald Trump), studies show that the risk averse have better results (Bill Gates).  No source for this one, but I have a vague memory of researchers who were able to make a computer act very human by programming just one principle- that the robot should minimize future risk.  It’s an interesting idea when you think about Evolution.

A Project Manager earns not a salary but an ’em’salary .  It’s ok.  It’s in line with what the average engineer makes, with the same 7 ish years of experience.  From Salary.com:

pm3

And the most common career paths (Indeed.com analysis of resumes) has not been glorious:

pm flowcharet

But all is not lost

unite.PNG

 

If Project Management was a stock, I’d buy and hold, and here’s why.

We live in a time when there are ~14,000 people on earth with an IQ above 160, and the vast majority of them are not working in your group, your company, your county.  This genius help, as we figure out how to find, educate, and manage it, is ridiculously cost effective (reasons why to be discussed in future article).  In other words, outsourcing, bla bla bla, freelancing, bla bla bla, open source movement, bla bla bla, etc.

What are today’s challenges associated with these trends?

  • Loss of control
  • Increase risk
  • Loss of transparency
  • Communication disconnect
  • More time required on detailed documentation
  • More need to train
  • IP or trade secret exposure
  • Quality control
  • Legal related
  • Cultural differences

Of every job title I can think of, Project Managers have the best background to meet all these challenges (at least, for the money), and they are increasingly figuring out how to do so.  Their “consolidation and communication” function becomes increasingly important as the world becomes flatter and information becomes more and more available.

 

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