crouch, touch, pause… engage!

» 23 August 2009 » In management, productivity »


There I was, stuck in the middle of the scrum. Heafty, sweaty men all around me. Helpless. Hopeless. Struggling to breath amid the stench of stale sweat and testosterone. My feet start to slip in the wet mud and suddenly the scrum collapses on top of me, 15 0.1 tonne men cram onto every inch of me and their weight starts to squeeze the consciousness from my body…

I wake up, sweating. Breathing hard. Tired. So tired. Just a dream. Phew! That one would’ve hurt! The irony doens’t escape me, even at 3am. A metaphore. My life – a constant struggle against forces bigger than I. Forces over which I have seeminly little control. Yes world, that’s right. I’ve recently become… <insert overly dramatic music> a Project Manager.

OK, OK. So that never actually happened. Not for real. But most mornings those first few months, it felt like it had. Long nights, stressful days, endless meetings. I was not ready for this.

What just happened? I went from a role where I thought I was getting a pretty good apprenticeship for work as a PM. I had dev responsibilities, client facing responsibilities, operational responsibilities and control over my day to day and week to week management.  These all sound like important skills to learn before taking on a position as a Project Manager. In reality, things were a little different. Why?

Update: This post got way, way too long, so I split up the main bits into four mini-posts. Hit the ‘More’ links at the end of each taster paragraph to read the rest of the post.

Learning to focus:
I think this is a lot harder than it sounds. My current role requires that I Project Manage, Tech Lead, Line Manage, Develop, Account Manage & help Tech Support; a role where I go from meetings discussing the problems we’re likely to face with resourcing in six months time or where we’d like the products to be a year from now to advising a developer on exactly how that method should behave under those particularly esoteric set of circumstances for this tiny corner of the codebase – all in the space of time it takes me to walk the length of the office (about 15 seconds, we’re a small company!). Keeping an eye on what’s important at each of the different levels within a company is really hard work, and having to switch between them constantly is a huge drain on your time…. More

Learning to control without control:
This was a hard one for me. Just after I started this gig, our biggest client decided they wanted to use one of the apps I look after in a big way. Like two orders of magnitude larger than our current biggest client used it. There was lots of uncertainty. There were lots of meetings – internally figuring out how we were going to do this and externally convincing the client we could do this. I had to be at most of these meetings but, worse, I had to keep track of what my team were up to, how they were getting on, how likely it was that we were going to meet our commitments…. More

Learning to communicate & empathise:
The facts are this. You can no longer sit in a nice, dark corner of the office, hacking away at a bunch of bug fixes and new features, ignoring the Marketing department. You are in charge of a team of people. People who need your guidance – not because they are less intelligent than you but because they are paid to sit in a nice, dark corner of the office, hacking away at a bunch of bug fixes and new features, ignoring the Marketing department – and you are paid to ensure they can stay there, without interruption. To do this somebody must talk to the Marketing department. And Product Dev. And the Senior Management, Account Management & Sales teams. That somebody is you… More

Learning to read:
Reading is good. New skills require practice and learning. New jobs require new skills. Maybe you were lucky and had a super-manager from the day you graduated and you can just emulate them. For the rest of us we have to aim to better our personal experience. Here’s a list of stuff I’ve read that I found really useful to help managing people… More

Still with me? Good work! Quick pat on the back.

So it’s been 12 months since I started working as a PM. I’ve got loads more to say about it but I don’t want to take up any more of your valuable time. Not just yet. Needless to say it’s been a rocky road and many a time things have felt out of control. As a company we’re growing up – fast. This has lead to some very ‘interesting’ times and I’m happy to say I’ve really enjoyed (most) of the them. There are bound to be more problems around the corner but each day I feel a little more capable of handling them.

Bring it on!

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