So You Think You Can Project Manage?

Jillian Kuhn, Former Viget

Article Category: #News & Culture

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Do you have what it takes to be a Project Manager?

There was a time when I asked myself that very question. Just a few years ago (as I explained to the Viget crew in my internal, company-wide LabShare presentation last week), I decided to change careers from a television marketing producer to ... Something else. I just wasn't quite sure what yet.

When a job listing for a web project management position first crossed my path, it sounded like a great idea. I was, after all, a TV "project manager" of sorts, and I wanted to work with the web.

Yet, I hesitated. "What exactly does a Project Manager do? Am I qualified for this?" I asked.

Well, the truth is that I'm not alone in asking these questions. Nowadays, when I tell people my job title, they often have no idea what it entails. "Project management" is such a vague term that it's easily misinterpreted or simply not understood.

So, what does a PM do? And, now that I'm an experienced project manager, what insight can I give you into the skills required to be a top-notch PM? Here is my very simple, very informal questionnaire to evaluate whether you have what it takes:

  1. Can you juggle? -- If you prefer to work on big tasks one at a time in a very focused manner, this is not the job for you. You can stop reading now.
  2. Are you any good at Tetris? -- Project managing is one big logic puzzle. You have a set time frame, a given allotment of resources, and an objective -- and you must perfectly fit everything together to achieve your goal on time without grossly exceeding your budget. And, that's just for ONE of your many projects.
  3. Are you a jack of all trades? -- A basic understanding of design, development, marketing, and user experience is essential for web project management. It's okay to be "a master of none" -- since if you're a design master, for instance, you should probably be a designer and not a PM -- but general knowledge is key to adequately guiding, coordinating, and communicating with clients and co-workers of varying skill levels and specialties. You don't need to be fluent in Ruby or analytics, but you at least need to understand their roles in a web project.
  4. Can you see both the forest and the trees? -- PMs need to see the big picture and be detail-oriented. On one hand, you need to know every little thing about your project; but, on the other, you need to keep your eye on the finish line and know where you stand in the grand scheme of things.
  5. Are you good at foreign (and not-so-foreign) languages? Most foreign language courses focus on four main skills: writing, speaking, listening, and reading. Much like learning Italian, managing a project also leans heavily on these four disciplines. Effective PMs are powerful writers, smooth and efficient speakers, thoughtful and thorough listeners, and conscientious readers. Strong communication skills are required.
  6. Have you ever been Team Captain? -- To manage a project is to lead a team. You need to be a natural leader, a team player, and a tough decision-maker. Sometimes you're under pressure to make a big decision for the good of the project, and sometimes you have to deal with players who aren't pulling their weight or aren't getting along. Sometimes you just need to get it done and try to make everyone happy. Whatever happens, you're in charge.
  7. Do you love spreadsheets? -- I ask this because that's how Carolyn Hack and I first bonded; she and I both have an unhealthy love of using spreadsheets to organize our everyday lives. Maybe you don't necessarily love spreadsheets, but boy, do you love your Google Calendar, day planner, or other OCD organizational tool.
  8. Do you behave yourself in public? -- I certainly hope so, because PMs are the main representative of your company to its clients. You need to be respectable, be respectful, and play well with others.

It is important to note that different types of PMs in different industries may perform very different day-to-day duties; but, ultimately, these qualities come in handy no matter what the project. So, if you answered yes to these 8 questions, then congratulations! You may have an illustrious project management career ahead of you.


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