Going for Gantt
February 2, 2013 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Would becoming a project manager be an opportunity for growth, or an exercise in frustration?

I'm a senior editor/digital producer/UX type with degrees in arts and media production. I'm generally creative and non-linear but with strong analytical and process-design skills and have been working in and around large-scale IT development projects for most of my career. I've just been approached to consider a job as an IT project manager.

Currently I manage a team of other editors/producers in an organisation that supports lawyers. I'm good at my job, the pay/benefits are great and my team are smart and competent but the projects we're involved with and the content subject matter are not that interesting to me. This mis-alignment often gets me down and outside hobbies haven't quashed the yearning for a more vocationally-focused day job.

The new gig would be working for an organisation that is much more in line with my general knowledge and interests (and also the subject of my first degree). On the one hand it sounds like a good opportunity - pay is a little lower but I'd get to work on cutting edge projects and new technologies with opportunities to explore broader career paths within that industry. I'd be in an internationally renowned centre of excellence around very creative people who are both ambitious and successful. Through working on project teams I'll get insight into the real-world application of some of the skills I've been nurturing as an amateur. I'll also be learning new professional skills and would get certification in a highly transferable discipline that will be useful in any any industry.

The downside is that pure PM work would make huge demands of my weaker skills, ie, being very organised (I am good at this but can find it stressful), managing competing priorities, managing very technically-complex activities, doing a lot of admin and document control and spending much more time writing specs and requirements and less time having ideas, developing concepts and mentoring a team.

New place thinks my existing knowledge and soft skills make me a good candidate, and that the kind of projects they have will give opportunities for creative input. I'm not so sure. Has anyone here made the transition from team to project manager? What should I be considering?
posted by freya_lamb to Work & Money (5 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you think this might a long-term career change, see if the company might fund a PMP certification, though it looks like you'd have to build towards the full cert after a few years experience. I've been involved in some large projects that are run by PMPs, and they really do seem to know all about riding herd over Big Things - keeping things on schedule, identifying all of the stakeholders, managing changes as they occur, and so on.

I think I sort of dismissed the whole PMP thing until I worked alongside a couple of good ones, and then I realized that this was A Real Thing and that without that skill set, projects would have almost certainly been rudderless wrecks. As a bonus, for whatever it's worth, really good project managers are in near constant demand.

I moved from a hands-on role in IT to management/project management. It certainly demanded more out of my people and organizational skills, but it was because of my IT background that I was able to cut through a lot (but not all) of the constant fact-finding and requirements gathering stuff. I already had relationships throughout the IT and dev organizations, which made it much easier to move things along. It worked out pretty well, I think. The projects I was managing wrapped up and I was able to move on. In a new org - and especially if it's a large one - you're going to want to build those relationships quickly, or people can hide in the bureaucratic woodwork forever. Good luck - transitions like this can be intimidating, but also a hell of a lot of fun.
posted by jquinby at 7:33 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are asking a lot of good questions, and seem to know your strengths and weaknesses pretty well.

In my experience in project management, a good portion of it involves aspects of your 'weaker skills' including managing competing priorities and document control. But it also depends on the make-up of your project team. Creative and non-linear thinking can be a great asset for a PM, and can compliment a team made up of more analytical thinkers. Project managers have the opportunity for creative input all the time.

How long are typical projects? Will you be working with the same project team every time? And the number one question I would be asking is: How many projects will I be juggling at one time? If there's going to be a learning curve, or transition period for you, you'll want to keep the quantity of projects down to a minimum. Hopefully not more than 2 depending on complexity.

Whatever your expectations are going into the job will completely shift a few months. But, what it sounds like you do know, is that you'll be working on 'cutting edge projects and new technologies in an internationally renowned centre of excellence.' That alone sounds pretty exciting!
posted by gillianr at 10:32 AM on February 2, 2013

Are you patient? Managing teams requires (to me) superhuman levels of patience. Are you a good listener/motivator? PMs I have worked with seemed to spend a lot of time refereeing temperamental, lazy, unmotivated and only occasionally productive employees. A lot of that depends on the corporate culture, though.

Part of their job is to "remove obstacles" so you have to be able to do that, however it needs to be done. If there are multiple projects/teams... increase it all accordingly.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:21 PM on February 2, 2013

How's your delegation and holding people accountable? Or are you the kind of person who will just (attempt to) do everything yourself if someone lets you down, or is about to, or if you just think they might?

My experience is, this is the one crucial thing that makes the difference. If you're going to overwork yourself doing things other people should be doing, or overwork yourself working the project around everyone else's excuses all the time, you won't like it.
posted by ctmf at 5:56 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks all, in the end I decided not to go for it. The answers were helpful so many thanks, but ctmf's point really hit home - I'm not the best delegator and PM work could mean a mountain of stress. It would also be much more about supporting sales, marketingand promo systems - not areas I'm particularly interested in. My current job is a good mix and whilst the industry isn't as exciting the focus is probably a better fit for the time being. Sometimes you have to trust your instincts.

posted by freya_lamb at 3:58 PM on February 20, 2013

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