The 5 Lessons I Learned In 2018 As A Project Manager

I believe that each year brings you new experience and new lessons learned, whatever position you hold and however much practice you have got  in your professional field. This rule works in project management better than most. So, every year any project manager meets unique people and faces new challenges. The year 2018  was very eventful for me from a professional point of view, therefore, I have learned a lot of new lessons and want to share the most important ones with you.

  1. The shortage of qualified specialists is more severe than I`ve ever imagined. I`ve been  working for companies that provide software development services for the last 5 years and from the beginning of my career in this field I got to know that it was difficult to hire a seasoned employee. But this year I have realized that this challenge becomes more like mission impossible. The demand for qualified software developers is raising, the competition between the service companies on the market is increasing, the rates are going higher, but the number of qualified experienced specialists stays almost the same as before. The number of people who come to the labor market after graduation or career change is so small comparing to the demand that it can’t overcome the lack of expertise. This deficit leads to a high staff turnover. It’s hard to hire a good engineer, but it’s much harder to retain him for a meaningful period of time. In such circumstances hiring and retention of people turns into real “battle for resources” and, what really stresses me, it happens not only between the companies, but also within the companies. “You should fight for human resources here” – was the first advice that I got from my senior peer when I joined one of my previous companies. And very soon I understood that it was true.
  2. You have no project if your project budget isn’t approved. This statement seems obvious, but through my career I came across a number of projects started without approved budget or even without signed contracts. This year I have had an opportunity to experience the consequences of this negligence. I was assigned to a brand new project for optimizing internal business processes in the portfolio of a big account. The customer was very excited about the project and by the time I joined it a significant amount of  work had been already done. In particular, a series of user interviews were conducted and a fancy UI prototype was designed and thousands of dollars were spent for these activities. The scope of work was preliminary defined and my first tasks as a project manager were to form the team, to plan the schedule and the budget and to start development activities. So I did. But, when after the series of estimation meetings we presented the project budget to the client, he was slightly shocked. He liked our UX prototype and all the fancy features we offered, but he didn’t expect that it would cost so much money. So, he just said: “Sorry, guys, this project is very nice, it can optimize our internal procedures, but even though, the budget is too high. We will better invest this budget into the areas that make us more money, not costs”. I think both parties were not  happy in this situation at the end of the day. Was it possible to avoid this confusion? Well, I`m still not sure. I believe we could have managed the client`s expectations more carefully providing flexible high-level cost estimate on each step of requirement gathering phase.
  3. The speed of decision making matters.  Decision making is one of the main elements of project manager`s job. Therefore, it`s taken for granted that a project manager should make quick and right decisions. I have always preferred to take some time in order to assess all the factors before making a decision. But this year I have realized that in such highly competitive and highly dynamic industry as a service IT business, there is simply no time for assessing all the factors. You have to take decisions very quickly, almost immediately, if you don’t want to get into troubles. You should extrapolate from incomplete data instead of trying to collect more information, and you should act instantly instead of waiting for a more favourable situation. Otherwise, the situation may get worse very quickly and it will cost you way too much effort, money and nerves to solve the issue.
  4. Open space office is a disaster. Over the past few years I`ve been working for large companies within big office buildings. But I`ve never worked in an open space till this year. It`s very surprising when taking into account the growing popularity of open spaces among software companies. In the year 2018 I got an opportunity to experience how it is like to work in an open space. My conclusion is that it is a disaster, at least, comparing to habitual to me and cozy office rooms. The first problem is the noise. When you work in an open space you constantly hear some buzz. In most cases it is caused by your colleagues talking with each other close to you or having a remote call. The most annoying situation is when a colleague who sits next to you is having a remote meeting at the same time you are having a meeting. You interfere each other and can`t get what your interlocutors on the other end of the line are telling you, thus, you`re forced to ask them again and again. The situation is becoming even worse if you speak different languages with your interlocutors. This is really terrible!
    The second problem is your privacy and security, or, better to say, the absence of them. When you sit in a large open space, everything you do and everything you talk about is exposed to other people. They may easily take a glance at your monitor and reveal some sensitive information, either private or related to your particular project. They may also hear what you are discussing with your project mates. Of course, you work in the same company and all of you most likely have signed a disclosure agreement, but, unfortunately, there is often a competition between project teams within the same company.
    There may be some workarounds to get rid of this problem. Some companies use cubicles or walls between working places, but these are only half-measures. I prefer the approach embraced by Jotform founder Aytekin Tank, when each project team has its private room.
  5. It is hard to change a job twice a year. I happened to change my job twice this year. And, you know, I was surprised to note that these two times are pretty enough for me to be tired of changing jobs. Every new place implies new people, new stakeholders and new processes. And it takes a certain amount of time to get familiar with everything mentioned above and to get accustomed to this. I believe that you need much more time to adapt on a  manager`s position than on any other position. Especially it`s concerned with the new people. You as a project manager have a new team (or a couple of teams), new project sponsors and stakeholders, internal company`s management to whom you report, other people inside the company to whom you communicate. I calculated that the number of people to whom I communicated on each of my projects on a regular basis was usually in the range of 50-100 people. It takes several months only to get acquainted with all of them, not mentioning building closer relationships. The same is true for company policy and internal tools. The first months on a new job are very stressful and tense for a new project manager.
    Now let’s imagine that you have worked for 4-6 months on your new job.  And when you just started to feel more comfortable and confident, you need to change the job and to get through the stressful period again. It is very tough, believe me. I have tried this on myself this year.

So, these were the 5 project management lessons that I learned in 2018. What are yours? Please, share them in comments.

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