Dream Job: Project Manager

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Improving Businesses

All of us practice project management in our lives, whether we know it or not. We are all involved in planning and organizing our everyday tasks, career, and work responsibilities. In the business world, project management is a high level skill, and a demanding career choice. Project managers are key employees in every industry and all types of companies, all over the world. Project Management itself is rapidly becoming one of the most important processes within a company. The number of PMs has risen considerably as companies have begun to realize the valuable benefits they bring to the business.

What is the purpose of project management? Mainly it's organization, to provide a plan and the means on which to base management decisions throughout the life of a project. One reason for the recent growth of project management is the increased amount of complex and collateral projects that need a great deal of organization and planning to run efficiently.

Project management pays off for companies and it's becoming increasingly more evident, "[S]tatistics show there is a higher risk of failure without a project manager, and oftentimes there can be more cost overrun and repeated projects," states Rachel Pace, a senior MIS project manager at Office Depot. This is why PMs are important when resources are scarce and time is limited, and they cut down on waste and conflict because they "provide good planning up front and improved communication between different groups."

A Knack for Organizing

Rachel Pace manages projects for the Business Services Group at Office Depot. Her focus is on cross-functional e-commerce projects and she has recently become involved in the development of project methodologies as standard project processes need to be solidified for the company.

Rachel is very passionate about her work. Project Management is her dream job and she loves the retail environment because of its "frenetic pace, constant change, and every day challenges." A former aspiring librarian, Rachel's compulsion with and knack for organization, and aptitude for information technology in her college studies, has led her into the field of project management. The career move proved a perfect fit for her skills and passions.

Rachel began her career establishing start-up companies, where she often found herself both managing and carrying out most projects. Along with the careful planning involved, she found herself performing a variety of tasks, from physically installing servers to writing code. This experience allowed her to learn about many aspects of the business and gain a wealth of knowledge and skills that she has carried with her throughout her career.

Three Words…Communication, Communication, Communication

All kinds of projects can benefit from a project manager, from constructing a car to releasing a new software program; managers ensure that projects are completed on time and on budget. Their demanding work requires multitasking and organizational abilities, a wide-range of knowledge, and above all, excellent communication skills. Rachel has found that facilitating cross-functional communication across teams can be one of the biggest challenges in managing a project, but also the most interesting aspect of the job. It is the responsibility of the PM to keep all lines of communication open between teams and keep conflict to a minimum by aligning their goals. Good communication throughout the project will also ensure the manager gains and maintains the needed respect of the team. It is also important to be open to suggestions and provide feedback when necessary.

In Rachel's experience, being a good project manager isn't about being the smartest person in the room, or the person with all the know-how. Being a good PM is about having a wide range of knowledge and skills, and to "have a sense that you know more than you do…and absorb everything that you can." It is essential in this field to have confidence and practice continual learning. PM is not a specialized position, and it is therefore extremely important to take in everything you can from projects you work on, and the people involved.

Rachel feels that "communication is most important, then organization, and the ability to follow as well as lead…everything else you really pick up as you go." PMs must be able to judge when leadership is needed from them and when it is more appropriate to be a team player. They must learn to adapt their style to meet the needs of their team at each stage in the lifecycle of a project, and to fit different individual needs within the team as well. Some of the leadership tasks they will be required to perform include choosing team members, assigning duties, motivating employees, setting standards, performing reviews and team member reassignments.

Ready for a Career Move?

It is important to realize that very few people start out as straight project managers. If you are interested in starting down the project management path, you can start out by vying for key or assistant positions on a project team and through these types of roles you will gain the experience and knowledge necessary. Start off by getting as much experience in as many areas as you possibly can. Over time you will find yourself taking on more leadership roles and eventually start leading projects of your own. Working in smaller companies, as Rachel did, will allow you to take on more roles and get more hands-on experience in different areas than you would in a larger company. This will also allow you to determine if project management is the right career for you.

To jump-start your career in project management, the Project Management Institute offers professional certification in project management. Their certification is the profession's most recognized and respected. Many corporations are now starting to require the PMP certification for employment or advancement as a PM. The most successful, upper-level PMs will also have formal business training, usually in the form of an MBA. It is important that PMs also have some financial background or knowledge so that they are able to understand and plan for project budgeting.

Rachel's advice for aspiring project managers is to "find your own method of getting in, then jump in, get organized and stay organized, and be fearless."

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