April 9, 2010 - 20 comments

I’m Not a Robot. Beeeeep.

How did I get here?

It’s a question that many project managers ask themselves. Most of us started in the field as practitioners and ended up in a position where we are not delivering the work, but making sure it’s delivered.

Think about it: What kid says, “I want to be a project manager when I grow up, Mommy!”? That’s right, none. I know I certainly never said that.  But that’s okay! A lot of project managers end up in the field because they had to gain some real experience in a professional setting to realize the fact that they were meant to be project managers.  I think that’s how I got here.

Where I came from

I’m not a typical project manager, I guess. But really, what is a typical project manager? I know a lot of folks in the business who think we all fit in to one mold, but I’d have to argue that point. (Buy me some drinks, get me started…it’s a challenge.) But, seriously, I think that I have a specific skill set involving organization and am an asset from a creative standpoint as well. See, I’m creative at heart: I spent the first years of my career in the interactive world at a “start-up dot com,” working as an editor/producer. I wrote content, edited photos and directed photo and video shoots (they even taught me Flash. EEK!). I was working in the field learning so much and loving life (life was my job back then).

Then, thanks to the dot-com crash, my company was sold into the abyss. To this day, I have no idea what happened to any of the content I created.

By the time I got back on my feet I found myself in the short-staffed higher education communications world. I was writing content for print and the web, but also managing my own portfolio of projects—making sure they came in on time and under budget. (DING! DING! DING! I said the magic PM words!)

I came to a point in my higher ed career where I got a taste of what it would be like to work for an agency. And that taste was scrumptious. I was managing a large project on the client of a small local agency when they approached me about joining their team. They saw my extreme attention to detail and my ability to unabashedly follow-up with people on deadlines and ask difficult questions. They liked my style, and I theirs. So I took the leap to the dark side and became an account director, but was really just a project manager without the tools. Imagine…they expected me to create project plans in Word. Eesh. But I wore many hats in that role: client liaison, internal traffic and production manager, sales dude, marketing writer, etc. It was a blast…until they cut me to part-time.

That’s when I was approached by a large interactive agency to be a project manager on a variety of projects with large teams in multiple disciplines. The traditional agency setting was a huge transition for me. I went from a team of 12 to an office of over 100. There were people working in disciplines that I had never had exposure to. It was exciting, and daunting. It took some time to adjust, but I learned so much. I like to think that I mastered the art of Excel for the sake of providing information that I never knew existed. I also taught myself how to balance friendships with coworkers and professional interactions with those coworkers. It’s never an easy position, but I like it.

The rest is history. I’ve since moved on to Happy Cog and am happy to work with a team of smart folks who just want to do what’s right on the interwebs…on time and on budget. They’ve inspired me to begin this blog. Lucky them.

Where I’m going.

I once had someone ask me what my plans were as a PM. My initial response was… ”to deliver good work.” What a BS answer. Anyone could say that. Really, I want to work collaboratively with my team. I want to feel some ownership over the client relationship and the mind share of work. After all, I devote a lot of time (and tons of stress) to the work, so I should feel like I am a part of it.  I’m in that position at Happy Cog.

The funny thing is, I can finish a project and tell family and friends about a site that I worked on just launching, and they will never understand what I actually did on the project. It goes something like this:

“Did you write it?”
“No…I don’ do that anymore.”
“Oh, did you design it?”
“No, I never did that. I am a project manager. I managed the process to design and build it.”
“Couldn’t anyone do that?”

Seriously. It happens. It’s not particularly easy to quantify my work. And that’s okay. But people at least need to know what I do.

Project managers are often lumped in the “behind the scenes” aspect of project. It makes sense, but we need to be a part of the bigger strategic conversations. When I realized that I was being forced in to that group and felt like I was being chained to my desk, staring at excel, I rebelled! You know why? Because your PM should know what is happening on your projects all the time. If he or she doesn’t, then you’re going to have problems.

PMs are not robots. We’re not on your team to just take notes and make sure you’re recording your time properly.  Yes, we do work in spreadsheets and follow-up on deadlines at a sometimes-annoying rate. We also have a community of really smart, organized men and women with a voice within the industry. And it seems as though no one is listening…yet.

And that is my goal: to make sure it’s known that the PM role is important on your team for several reasons.

This Blog

I’ve said a lot already and I realize that none of it is focused. My goal for this blog is to break down the PM role and bring a more personal slant to a discipline that is typically perceived as mundane.  I hope other project managers share stories and experiences, so that we can learn from one another and build a network within the industry.  It’s about time that we get up from behind our laptops and talk to one another about what we do and why we do it.  BRING IT!

Published by: brettharned in About
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A. Rivera
April 9, 2010 at 4:02 pm

very interesting, will keep an eye on your blog!

April 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm

I look forward to reading more. As one that is currently in the “short-staffed higher education” world, PM positions are hard to justify as needed because it is the behind the scenes work. But we do very important and necessary work that leads to project success! Can’t wait for your next post.

John Williams
April 9, 2010 at 8:55 pm

“It’s not particularly easy to quantify my work.”

Upon reading that sentence I stopped and signed up for the email subscription. Whitney Hess recommended I check out your new blog and as usual, she doesn’t appear to have steered me wrong. I swear, I have actually told people I work for the post office to avoid trying to explain what I actually do! Is that wrong?

Looking forward to hearing about your experiences and sharing some of mine when relevant.

April 9, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Great blog post! I’m a UX consultant as well as the project manager at the company and your blog post seems something I have always thought of doing. I’m really glad that you have started this and will be looking forward to hearing more!

April 10, 2010 at 12:17 am

Excellent idea Brett, I’m really looking forward to your posts. I got my start as a project manager and I could argue that’s what I still do about 75% of the time.

I never knew how to explain my job to my Mom when she asked what I did for a living. In fact, I don’t think she really believed I had a “real” job until I had a company hat.

Patrik - @hl2run
April 10, 2010 at 4:21 am

Hi !

I’m currently at City University of Seattle in Slovakia, knowledge MG department.

I really liked your post and hoping that there is more to come.

April 10, 2010 at 6:45 am

Sweet. Strikes me as a harder subject to talk about than dev or design since most work is about client interactions; and they might be reading along.

    April 11, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I think the one place where project managers get to show our personalities is with relationships–with our clients and our project teams. I definitely have some ideas on client management that wouldn’t impact a relationship either way. Thanks for the comment…I’ll try not to be paranoid.

April 10, 2010 at 7:29 am

Thoroughly looking forwad to this – I am a PM by title – but struggling to understand how to make it work (in a tiny IT/INF team, while also doing BA and Vendor Management).

April 10, 2010 at 5:37 pm

awesome post, you can check out my wp blog as well: http://reallifesdsu.wordpress.com/

April 11, 2010 at 7:20 am

Hi Brett,

I am also a project manager at am interactive agency (http://www.atlargeinc.com/)and your blog was passed on to me by our creative director as a good resources. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to your next posts.

It’s nice to have PM resources to turn to since there are so many for design and technical. Sometimes I feel left out.

Thank you

April 11, 2010 at 6:31 pm

wow brett, looks like you have a ton of readers already… congrats! i’ll be following along too and adding as i see fit as i continue to feel a number of ways about my job on any given day!

Kevin M. Hoffman
April 13, 2010 at 9:24 am

Hi scrumptious. Looking forward to your blogging, boo.

April 15, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Aaargh. Really sucks when you’re marginalized as expendable but truth is no one can do what we do without the experience, knowledge and background for managing, completing those time-consuming projects. Some ppl like to see you as a commodity. I wouldn’t give a fuck about them. Do what you get paid to do.

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