Why I Like Being a PM

I’d like to begin talking about why I like being a project manager (PM) by quoting William Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.” Really though, why would anyone want to be a PM? The odds of success are usually difficult, and there are so many hurdles to overcome. I love to play poker and blackjack and always had a keen interest in the odds of winning and losing. As a PM, what are the actual odds of having a successful product that is delivered within budget and schedule? Over the years, I have read the results of numerous studies on the histories of projects and most of the results are remarkably similar. About 25% of all projects are completed on time, 50% have late completion dates and/or go over budget, and about 25% are cancelled. This means that approximately 75% of all projects you undertake as a PM will probably come in late or be cancelled! Let’s consider the top ten reasons why projects fail.

1 Incomplete and/or changing requirements24
2 Lack of user involvement12
3 Lack of resources11
4 Unrealistic expectations10
5 Lack of executive support9
6 Lack of planning8
7 Didn’t need any longer7
8 Lack of IT management6
9 Technology illiteracy4
10 Other/miscellaneous9
 Total  100%
Source: The Standish Group

On top of those discouraging stats, information technology projects have an even higher degree of uncertainty. Here are some reasons why:

  • Technology is changing every 6 – 12 months (new programming languages, new interface mechanisms, hardware platforms, tools, and version compatibility issues).
  • Methodologies are changing for developing products.
  • Resource turnover often runs high.
  • There are no standard benchmarks for ability and skill level of resources.
  • Dependency on the customer for good requirements and project plan task completion runs high.
  • IT is one of the fastest changing business environments.

Are you getting the picture? For these reasons and more, it’s difficult being a PM, but these are the same reasons why I like being a PM. In short, I like navigating a learning environment (technology and people) that’s always challenging.  

I like adding value…

I like taking over a troubled project, gaining the confidence of the stakeholders, setting up metrics with a detailed plan, and feeling the satisfaction of turning it around.

I like the excitement of a different challenge every time…

I never get bored because every project and every day is different. Each project has its own unique personality! For example, if companies A and B are developing an identical application, using the same tools, and have similarly structured organizations, you might assume their project would be nearly identical. Wrong! I guarantee you there will be differences in how they are developed, implemented, and used. Also, it’s possible company A completes the project on time and within budget; whereas company B could go past schedule and eventually cancel the project. Good project management can be effective!

I like team communications…

Many failed projects are due to breakdown in team communications. To have a clear vision of what your team is doing, you need to setup and implement a communications plan early on. This plan should cover change requests, issues, identifying/investigating other vendors or options, assigning/notifying people that are assigned to your project, executive status meetings, and status “poster-boards” for other people to see. Good communication practices include having weekly tracking/control meetings to identify potential problems and find solutions. These weekly meetings are most important and where the “rubber meets the road.”

I like learning new things…

There are many different types of learning. This includes formal training, as well as learning new ideas from the projects you are working on, and/or studying lessons learned from current and previous projects. While working in various places and on various assignments throughout my career, I enjoyed learning about the divergent cultures, histories, entertainment, and locality. I also enjoy passing on my knowledge on the job. Read my previous article on mentorship for more on this.

I like applying knowledge of human behavior…

There’s learning about the different aspects of human behavior, which in turn helps me to understand and improve myself. The following are a few basic lessons about human behavior I learned by meeting and collaborating with numerous clients and co-workers as a PM. By the way, I am still learning.

  • You are what you perceive yourself to be. In other words, your vision of yourself becomes your reality.
  • Honesty is the cornerstone of integrity. Tell the truth no matter how painful it might be, and, overall, your life will be simpler.
  • Integrity is the cornerstone of leadership. Be a role model, obey your rules, and behave like everything you say and do is being observed—it most likely is!
  • Expectations are important. All people need to know the acceptable pattern of behavior that is expected of them on each assignment.
  • Be a good listener, and be willing to admit your shortcomings. When you make a mistake, own up to it, and view it as a learning experience.
  • Go for peace! Admitting when you are wrong can change the mood from one of conflict to that of cooperation.
  • You need to be open to criticism to be able to improve yourself. If someone criticizes you, be open-minded. If you are not sure they are right, get a second…or third opinion. If you know they are wrong, go to the next point.
  • Don’t take things personally. If you constantly do, then you are in the wrong business. To be a good PM, you must get over it and move on!
  • When management have clashes or major differences, it’s usually smart to be neutral.
  • Train yourself to be able to see the big and small picture of your project, but at the same time don’t get too “bogged” down on the details.
  • If you are not an extrovert, you need to become one to be successful in this business. One way of becoming an extrovert is to work on your social awareness. Try to become more socially aware, sympathetic, empathetic, and intuitive about people. The belief that introverts can’t become extroverts is not true. We can change our mode of behavior (read on) if we are serious about it.
  • The best form of communication is interactive. I improved my communication skills (and confidence) by joining Toastmasters International. Another advantage of belonging to Toastmasters or a similar group is that it will help you to think quicker at meetings and improve your writing skills. Speaking of…

I like writing…

I used to hate writing and usually got D’s on my high school and college English papers. After graduation, I was fortunate that my first job was at Fischer-Price Toys as a Systems Analyst in the applications development area. The unique thing about this experience was that the whole department overdid documentation on every phase of the project. As time progressed, I realized how important writing things up was to the overall project. In the end, I got pretty good at it, and  strangely enough, I liked doing it. Since then, I have had four books and dozens of articles published on project management and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). You will do a better job as a PM if you work hard on improving your writing skills. Writing skills are often overlooked as a requirement for PM success, yet I believe someday people will realize how important good writing is when communicating with others. Your thoughts in the comment section below are appreciated.

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Written by Ronald Smith
Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication. From 2011 - 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.
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1 Comment
  1. And fools seldom differ …

    Ron, I really loved your article and found myself regularly groaning “me too” under my breath. I am going with the “great minds” part for now…

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