How to Become a Project Manager – Selecting Your First Project
By Margaret Cato-Smith
Having completed your project management studies you may feel well equipped to take on anything, no matter how challenging. However, as I am sure you have observed, some projects are more difficult than others. It would not be a good idea to take on something that will have you quickly stressed and wondering if you’re ever going to be successful.
Project complexity is always important to understand and it is something to pay special attention to when you are starting out. When I look at complexity, I look at two major aspects of a project i.e. technical complexity and stakeholder complexity.
Technical complexity refers to the difficulty associated with delivering what you are intended to deliver. Clearly building a garden shed is a lot less complex than designing and developing a rocket. What is important for you, is to ensure that you take on something that you are confident you can progress from the technical standpoint. In this regard it would be good for you to project manage something that you personally know how to deliver. If you have been a developer of sales and distribution systems, then taking on delivery of this type of software should be well within your capability. If the selected software uses the tools with which you are familiar, then so much the better. If not, then you will likely still be able to navigate the project as you will be working from the position of knowledge previously gained.
Stakeholder complexity refers to the complexity around the players involved in the project. This includes sponsors, board members, senior managers and those who will be directly affected by the outcomes of the project. This aspect of a project used often to be overlooked. While this is less likely to happen these days, the stakeholder complexity is still sometimes underestimated and those affected can feel they were not adequately consulted or prepared for the change. The more stakeholders there are, the higher the level of complexity. More importantly, the necessary interaction between stakeholders and their potentially conflicting requirements can lead to significant complexity. In this case, you have to find your way through the necessary consultation, assessment of pros and cons and presentation of your analysis such that informed decisions can be made.
Challenges can become significant when technical and stakeholder complexity interact. You may be managing a project that technically you are able to deliver in a number of different ways. However, without agreement on which solution is to be implemented, you cannot bring in your project.
Hence, I recommend you tread carefully when selecting your first project management opportunity. I have a rule of thumb that requires me to assess whether or not a project is doable before I take it on. If I am not confident, then I tend to walk away, although in the past I may have taken on something that I was not entirely sure about. My risk profile is now low. Yours may change over time for various reasons. In any event, it is important to assess each opportunity and any associated risk so that you can have a better idea of what you may be taking on.
Margaret Cato-Smith has spent almost all of her working life since the 1970’s working in Information Technology, primarily implementing application systems. This has given her a wealth of information on how things can be done efficiently and how without paying proper attention, some projects can go on for much longer than expected and sometimes never deliver what was originally envisaged.