“How did you get into project management?”
I recently had the pleasure of presenting a workshop on digital project management basics to a group of tech apprentices who are a part of the Urban Technology Project in Philadelphia, and someone asked me that question. I fumbled through my story in response and finally said, “I think I was always meant to do this, it just took me some time to figure that out.”
The truth of the matter is that project management was never offered as a subject when I was in school. And early on, when working at a startup, it wasn’t even a role. And, I’ll admit it: PM isn’t the sexiest or most sought-after title--particularly in our industry. But the truth of the matter is, I found the role through a series of fits and starts, and I’m pretty darn happy with where I landed. And now I feel like it’s my mission, as a part of this community, to share that story and some basic principles with people coming into their own as young professionals.
The Winding Path to DPM
When I graduated college with an English and Fine Arts Degree, my school’s career services office didn’t know what to do with me. They handed me a giant book of jobs for English majors. Nothing interested me, but I wasn’t going to let some lady in a university office dash my dreams. I went to Monster.com and found what seemed to be my dream gig at a startup. I applied, selling myself as a creative type eager to learn anything and everything.
I got that job many years ago, and I’m happy to report that that description of me still hasn’t changed. I’ve had a few different roles (editor, director of communications, account director, etc.) and I have always wanted to learn on the job. And I still do. Somehow, I’ve made a career in an industry perfect for learning while working and have been able to help others at the same time.
I have many colleagues in digital project management who share similar backgrounds. In fact, a few of them shared their winding career paths during a panel at the Digital PM Summit 2017. And it hasn’t been until recently that we’re seeing a new crop of students come out of some digital design or technology programs with an education on project management. While that’s inspiring, we have a long way to go when it comes to PM and education. You see, PM skills are fundamental life skills that all of us should learn at some point.
Teaching DPM is Fundamental
When you really think about project management, it becomes clear that there are aspects of it that apply to all of us--not only at work, but also at home. We all manage projects on some level, whether it be a move to a new house, a dinner party for friends, or a large-scale website redesign. There are core aspects of PM that come in handy when you’re just trying to live your life. So, here’s my plea: let’s find a way to teach these skills to all students, in any program:
No matter what you do with your career, good time management practices will make you successful. When you form good time management practices, you become efficient and productive--and we all know efficient and productive employees are great. At the same time, great time management allows you to take control of your life rather than follow the flow of others. You accomplish more, you make better decisions, and your work tends to be better; this leads to success. So why wouldn’t we teach this?
Let’s face it: people are scared of estimates. They’re a guess by definition, which makes it seem that there is no real way to come up with one--and that makes us nervous. But if you learn good estimation practices, you’ll be less scared to provide them, because they’ll be founded in what you know to be true. And, when you incorporate good estimation practices or values into your work, you end up not only being better at meeting deadlines, but at making larger decisions that can help businesses to thrive.
We all work differently, which means that we all plan our work in different ways. And some of us don’t plan at all, and that can work in some instances. But taking the time to develop a plan has its advantages: Plans set expectations for how things will be done, they create alignment and accountability, they expose blind spots in business or partnerships, and most of all they bring order and clarity to any project or business. Aside from that, having a plan tends to make you feel confident in your work, and that can often lead to success.
This is the most important one, because working with someone who has poor communication skills is painful. We are not teaching students how to be great communicators, and it’s hurting them as they jump right into the workforce. Communication practices are often inherited (but also sometimes ignored), so wouldn’t it be great to start conversations with students about empathy and adaptability? Courses that provide theory and practice in this realm would certainly help produce a generation of thoughtful and powerful leaders.
Community Can Help
It’s easy to stand up and say I taught these things to this small group of young people. That helps, but how can we make a move for these principles and practices to be adopted by individuals, or even incorporated into programs around the globe?
As a community, we can help young professionals to develop the skills they need to not only be good employees, but great leaders. If you have the time and inclination, please consider helping someone who could benefit from your expertise. A few things you could do include:
Provide mentorship to a local student or intern by offering regular phone calls or meetings to discuss and encourage skill building
Host events for students in your office and present your work, process, and answer the many questions they’ll have
Volunteer with a local organization who could use your expertise
Work with (or start) a local meetup and invite students to your events
Talk to local colleges and universities about their curriculum and make the case for project management to be included...or, better yet, offer to teach a class
Partner with a junior in your own company to offer mentorship
There are plenty of opportunities to help up-and-coming professionals to gain the skills that will make them even better. And in the end, it will make this community stronger.