Much of the working life is organized as projects. But there is a catch. A project is always a temporary job and you have to figure out how to get into new projects while working hard on the current one. That means scouting opportunities within the organization and sometimes looking for new challenges outside the box. This essay describes things to take into account to get you moving smoothly into the next project.
FIrst time project managers
When you got into your first project it might have been a small assignment at school. Perhaps with a team of your classmates. You were happy to get it started, but also as glad to get rid of it and go home or play with friends. If that is how it went you had the right attitude from the start: using available resources, doing what is needed as fast as you can and finish. That is the resources, scope and timing of project management in a nutshell. All the rest is just fine tuning, administrative overhead and boring bureaucracy.
When you got into the next project you must have realized that, it is not the same, and you have to do things differently. Perhaps the topic changed, people changed or just time had passed and you learned to see more details. There you have the second truth about projects: it is an unique thing. You get to do it just once and then it’s done. If you do it again it is not the same thing anymore, because you have learned a lesson from the first try. If you do it again and again – it is a process. That is the temporary unique philosophy behind all project work.
Learning by doing
When you get familiar with working on projects you have so much more to take care of: getting new ideas to work on, planning, scheduling, hiring, funding, re-planning, communicating, celebrating etc. The list goes on and on. Learning more is understanding how little you actually know about things that need to get done.
When starting a new initiative you must have the leadership. Being a project manager is having the sole responsibility of getting the project completed. When you say “Jump!”, others ask, “How high?”
There are project sponsors and owners, but as they steer the ship they will hold you responsible of the movement. There are stakeholders, but they literally hold a stake in your pile of sticks. They might pull their support off when the situation gets tough, but you have to manage with or without them. Want more structured control by shared responsibility, accountability, consulting and informing others? Well the RACI matrix is for division of responsibilities, but when holding the position of a project manager you own the whole table. Shared responsibility means that there is always someone to delegate, but that’s why you should look in the mirror every morning.
ready for the spin-off
When getting closer to finishing your project you must think smart. How to make sure that the ball is not dropped at the crucial moment? In this phase you also need to play between projects. If you are working on several projects you can juggle your way, but when putting all your bets on a single initiative you need to prepare for the next move also. Remember that all good things come to an end if you do your job right. In some cases that means looking for a new job and shifting to another organization. Or perhaps starting up a new one, applying funds and getting another unique team going. Some say that it is not commitment to the project, but they are wrong. It is the essence of project work. It is not about hanging around and prolonging the ride, but planning, managing, and closing it when the work is done.
When working on projects you need to constantly keep looking at new opportunities. Meet people, talk to them, figure out where the market, industry or research area is going and to make sure you are on top of it all. This will ensure two things: you know that in your project you are doing the right things. And when you are done, you have the visibility to move on. This is the same if you are working as entrepreneur or as an employee. The initiative, energy and drive is all about you and your team, and not on anyone else.
While keeping in mind the next steps, outstanding results are the key deliverables when you do a project well. It is really not about the ride, but about the destination. The best way to start a new project is to close the previous one with a celebration. When you do it right, you will be pulled to the next challenges.