I used to be a Project Manager (PM) at Veganuary (left in Dec 2021) so decided to write about it now while it’s fresh in my mind! 

 

About the role

PM is a very common role and responsibilities range widely. You can be a 1-person gig and have to do all the planning and the work or you can be managing huge projects with 10s or even 100s of people involved, even have direct reports and only have to do strategic work. The gist of it is that you help design projects and move them forward while ensuring the quality is high and the people who are working with you are happy. In my job, I mainly did localisation projects, but I also managed marketing and tech projects. It’s worth noting that PM is a very people-oriented role - your success will largely depend on your ability to get on well with people and exercise a lot of informal leadership skills.

 

Career capital

When I started this job I didn’t realise just how good it was for career capital. Everyone needs PM skills, so they will come useful in any job. Experienced PMs seem to be often hunted for higher level roles, such as leadership (like in my case!) as you can build on the existing skills relatively easily to manage an organisation.


Past job experiences

If you think back to your previous experiences, it’s very likely you’ve managed at least one small project. Organising a student presentation or redecorating a room are both projects. The only difference is that you have to do it full time and on a professional level. I had a couple of jobs in marketing where I also managed projects but never had the title, which is quite common. Then I got a job at Veganuary as a Partnerships Manager, which is also one big project! So pretty much anything goes, as long as you’re willing to learn from experience, as all projects are different.

 

What you’ll do day to day

  • Designing a project, its goals, timeline and specifications
  • Collecting feedback from the team on a regular basis
  • Creating a system to track progress
  • Lots of training people: on using systems, on doing particular tasks etc.
  • Organising and running meetings
  • Being available to people via chat and calls if they come up with any issues
  • Adjusting the timeline or specifications according to how things are going
  • In small projects, doing the work on the project yourself
  • Future thinking: thinking of problems you might encounter later and coming up with solutions to prevent them
  • Lots of reminders and checks to make sure everything is ok
  • Reporting on the projects’ progress
  • Problem solving, sometimes urgently
  • Collaborating with external stakeholders
  • Last but not least, motivate and encourage your team daily :)

 

What I loved about this role

  • I really enjoy organising things and people so doing it every day was great
  • I loved the daily interaction with people and helping them, which was about 40%
  • Problem-solving: always some challenges to get stuck into!
  • Learning: every project taught me something

 

Role challenges

  • In most PM roles, technically, you’re no one’s manager. So you have no authority to exercise and team members can sometimes prioritise their manager’s projects over yours
  • If you’re in a small team and don’t have a direct report to delegate stuff to, you are likely to sometimes do a lot of work yourself, including lots of admin
  • As you’re finally responsible for the project, you may have to do a lot of overtime during pre-launch should any problems arise (they almost always do)
  • If you’re not on the senior management team, you may find that you have to “hunt” for information from above that may affect your project

 

What skills and traits will be helpful

  • Being organised and familiar with basic productivity rules
  • Proactivity
  • Being a people person will help a lot, but there are introvert PMs with high emotional intelligence
  • Leadership skills
  • Writing skills
  • Being able to organise chaotic information into a neat project plan that makes sense
  • Flexibility and positive outlook
  • Good memory helps but you can mostly substitute it with good systems
  • Patience. I don’t think a project of any complexity ever went 100% to plan, and people almost never do exactly what and when they said they would - that’s part of the job!

 

Training

I don’t think you necessarily need training to be a good PM as you definitely learn most by experience, but some education can be a game-changer. Note that, in the end, there is no one size fits all approach to PM, so you will have to do a lot of tailoring to your actual project and organisation, as you know it best. I learnt a lot by trial and error, and then the courses and resources helped me learn about the best practice and apply it to improve my methods.

 

What's next for me? 

I'm building a new charity and I wrote about how I got that job in a separate post.

I’d love to hear from other PMs about your experience - anything else you think you’re doing that I didn’t mention here? Let us know what you like about your job and what you find challenging, as well as any tips on training etc. 


 

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2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:27 AM
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Hey Sofia, 

Thank you so much for sharing your experience here! :)

I wanted to add some things for people interested in project management/considering  a career in project management:

(1) Problem-solving was almost at the end of your list and problem-solving is probably the thing I do THE MOST as a project manager (at least in the kinds of projects that I work in). Actually, I think an accurate name for my role could be "Problem-solving Officer" :D. Most problems coming from: processes not being clear/standard (things not being done/not being done the way they should be done), software solutions not working as expected, capacity bottlenecks (if a colleague gets sick how do we organize to meet a deadline), etc. 

-> Skills that are helpful for this: resourcefulness, ability the (re)prioritize, ability to communicate clearly under stress

(2)  To the meetings part I would add: Meeting design. Aside from "just" organising meetings I've needed to: rethink which meetings we need, how many, what structure, designing templates, etc.

-> Skills helpful for this: Openness to experimentation and willingness to give up something that is not working. Usually the best evidence to know whether any type of meeting is working or not is inside of the organization and not within a research paper (I tend to use the latter to inform my experiments). I'm lucky to work for a team that is open to both the experiments and dropping stuff that's not working. No hard feelings on either side :)

(3) Re-training people: Usually when you train people in your team (let's say to do a specific task) it's more or less clear how to do the thing by themselves. The issues arise when the person acts as part of a process where others are involved as well. Poor team coordination can happen a lot: lack of communication, poor understanding of a project process, etc. For this we usually do "ad hoc meetings" in which we look at a specific process and develop ideas on how to either standardize it, communicate better with one another or automatize something.

-> Skills helpful for this: Knowing how to or have the eagerness to figure out how to automatize and optimize processes, ability to explain/teach stuff to people

(5) Change management: As projects evolve there's always some type of change: leadership changes, software changes, process changes, etc. Knowing how to drive the change to something new is something I think every project manager should bring!

(6)  Last but not least: I've found that my role as a project manager varies a lot depending on the project I'm working in (currently for my full-time job it it's three projects)

I found these PMO archetypes helpful to understand what I'm needed for as a project manager in different projects:

  • In one project I'm pretty much your facilitator: I'm there to consult/coach my colleagues, help them structure their ideas, guide their decision-making and own planning
  • In another project I'm very much needed as the perfectionist: I'm constantly asking myself how can I drive optimization, automation, etc.? (as a lot of processes had evolved organically)

I'm realizing now that this has turned into a mini "Writing about my job" posts :D But maybe I'll do a proper one later :)

A great post, and one I definitely would have benefitted from reading before taking on my current, and first, PM role!

One point you made that I would like to expand on, only because there is an aspect of it in my job that surprised me, is that as a PM you'll end up doing many things yourself.  In my role, I've found that this is often true as an intermediary step on the way to a long(er)-term solution; in many ways, this is my favorite part of what I do. If something needs to be done and there is no one to do it, then it's on me to handle it as a containment until a solution can be created. That can mean hiring someone, delegating it to a person or team, or creating a system that simplifies the task to the point of triviality or negates the need for it altogether. Regardless of the outcome, you get to become the expert in that thing before passing it along or reducing/eliminating the need for it. This is both extremely interesting from a work perspective (variety is the spice of life, and all that), and also a great way to learn the whole of the project as if you were a quilt maker -- looking at the large and small.