I have a friend who just passed the PMP exam. Congratulations to her and all the recently certified project management professionals. Right now, you are walking encyclopedias of project management terms, tools, and techniques. You know the PMBOK by heart and have studied Agile, Scrum, Kanban, and even a little Six Sigma. You are primed with knowledge, confidence, and motivation – and ready to use your skills to lead projects.
But, before you get started, I have to tell you that there are a few things they didn’t teach you in project management school. A few items that every Project Manager learns over time through experience that changes the way they approach their job. Below are a few of the “dirty little secrets” of project management. Read them at you own peril:
- You will spend a significant amount of time and energy playing politics. Whether you like it or not, corporate politics and projects are closely related. Most projects come at the expense of other initiatives, and there is always someone that is not in agreement with the selection process. Also, most projects have large numbers of stakeholders, line managers, internal & external customers, and other parties that have a stake in the outcome. There’s a good chance that at least one of them has interests that are not aligned with yours. You need to keep your eyes and ears open, and your fingers on the pulse of the organization to insure success.
- Not all of your team members want to be part of your project. Many have other jobs, responsibilities, and pressures. Often, they are awarded to you by a line manager or stakeholder who is required to provide a resource, but not necessarily the best one. I have even had team members who secretly were against the project to which they were assigned. Don’t assume that all team members are excited and motivated by the opportunity to work on your project.
- The Business Case your project was built on is crap. You get assigned to lead an important project, with lots of accolades and a splashy launch with the CEO. The next day, you and the team dig into the details of the business case and you find it’s based on fantasy. The revenue projections are grossly overstated, the costs are not realistic, and the market potential is far smaller than the figures used. Wow! It’s a little hard to go back now and tell the CEO you decline the position. Turns out those Ivy League business analysts who wrote the business case were influenced more by passion than facts.
- There are Stakeholders who don’t support your project. Many stakeholders had no say in which project goes forward, and if they did, yours would not be their first choice. Some disagree with the strategy, many worry about the changes that might result, and others have legitimate concerns about things like resource allocation and balancing fiscal year goals with longer-term priorities. In any case, they may be your stakeholders, but they are not always in your corner.
- Your project Sponsor cannot always be trusted. What? The person you turn to in times of trouble is not always reliable? Yes, sponsors often have many responsibilities and your project might not be the most important. Plus, sometimes they become a sponsor because of position and rank – not due to interest or competence. There are times when a project goes bad and your sponsor will simply vanish. Sometimes you have to walk down the road alone.
- Your Project Management Office (PMO) is not always your friend. PMO’s are a great help to most Project Managers. They can provide infrastructure, support, and guidance that will help you be successful. However, they are not all created equal. Some PMO’s thrive on power, bureaucracy and control. Others are understaffed and focus solely on just a few high-visibility projects. Finally, there are some with a level of maturity and development well beneath your needs.
- People will sometimes hate you. It is just a fact that people who run projects and bring change often face resentment, resistance, and even loathing. Often you are messing with people’s worlds, challenging their norms, and forcing them to change something with which they are very comfortable. Many times you are an outsider that does not “come from” or “know the business”. Yet, you will lead projects that sometime change everything. Some people will hate you for this; it is often hard to avoid.
The good news is that if you are armed with the right tools and skills and aware of the pitfalls that many project managers face, you have most of what is needed to succeed.
The keys to being successful are the following: be open and transparent, listen, be humble and respectful, use all the tools in your tool-kit, never let obstacles derail you, trust your gut, and be willing to ask for help when needed.
Good luck to you. I know you are ready for this challenge and many more!