Sure You Can Manage, But Can You Network?

When it comes to project management, odds are you have the skills to get the job done at this point. But, do you have the skills to get a new job? To make new contacts? In other words, do you know how to network?

One thing you have to give project management blogs credit for is creative names, which is why How To Manage a Camel caught our eye. It’s published by Arras People, a UK program and project management firm.

Of particular note is its blog post, Project Management Graduates – Networking Advice. Don’t let the title fool you. Anybody, regardless of where they are in their career, can benefit from the tips handed out.

Lindsay Scott, who is a director of Arras People, wrote the post after attending a Careers Fair for University College London’s Construction & Project Management faculty in Central London. She said, “The main observation of the night is that many of the students will have to pay attention to their soft skills development too. If they are looking for work in construction projects – the academic knowledge they’ve acquired is obviously only one part of the story. For a new graduate, being able to demonstrate that you are ready to work in a professional environment, regardless of the role you’ll be performing, is the first thing employers will be looking for.”

Scott then shared some observations about the networking (or poor execution of it) she observed that night. Remember, her observations are not just for project management students (or those studying for their PMI certification here in the United States). They are for everybody who wants to be better at networking.

Her observations (winnowed down not to include just grad students):

Eye contact – maintaining eye contact throughout the conversation, some were shy, some looked bored!
Holding a conversation – a list of questions from some students, but difficulty in maintaining a flowing conversation.
Enthusiasm and passion – this is your career, if you’re not passionate and excited about it, why should I or anyone else be?
Speak clearly and at a good level – in a noisy careers fair you need to be heard. Don’t appear timid or shy (even if you feel like it!)
University College London had a handout with some excellent advice. Clicking on the Camel blog link above will bring you to two photographs that show the handout.

The advice is directed to job seekers but isn’t that what all networking is about? Even if you’re not actively seeking new employment, it never hurts to keep abreast of who is hiring and what opportunities are out there.

Here is some of the especially noteworthy questions suggested to ask:

What are the most important current issues in your area of expertise? Allows you to sound up-to-date when talking with others.
What’s the best way you find to keep up with issues in your area of expertise? Puts you ahead of the curve if you are doing your homework.
What do you enjoy least and most about your job? That’s an especially brilliant question for anybody to use in networking. It’s a good way of discovering new best practices you might incorporate into your current job.
Is there anyone else who you think it would be good for me to speak to?
Can you give me some top tips for working in your area? That’s a great ego booster because successful people like to talk about themselves.
How has your job changed and how do you see it evolving in the future? Consider this market intelligence that could point you in the right direction for ongoing education.

How To Become a Freelance Project Manager

I’ve been a freelance writer and editor for almost 10 years now. There were some skeptics who thought I’d be working full time for an employer within a year. But, I’ve been fortunate and enjoyed the flexibility freelancing affords me in terms of being able to write what I want about, spend time with my young daughters and even travel.

Freelancing works for a journalist because it’s long been a field associated with it. However, would you consider being a freelance project manager? That’s a question raised by Rachel Matthews at the Project Management Tips website. She asks, “Should you go freelance? Can you make a living that way?”

She points out the advantages, “[B]ecause most projects are temporary in nature anyway, being able to bounce from company to company has some definite benefits:

You make a lot of industry contacts that you might not have otherwise made.
You can charge more for your services than you could as a regular employee.
You can choose with whom you work.
You make your own schedule.
Ok, it’s not always possible to make your own schedule. That is something I’ve learned because the needs of the client have to be met. However, choosing with whom you work is a nice thing once you’re established. Of course, at the beginning, you sometimes will take projects because you need the money and the experience, regardless of what you think of the client.

The first thing Matthews suggests doing is putting your name out with temp agencies and placement firms. She says that “is a great way to start building your network and generate word of mouth promotion. Do a great job at a few temporary engineering jobs and project management placements and you can bet that people will be contacting you directly to come in and work for them on their projects.”

Her second step should actually be your first, even if seeking out temporary work. Do a background check on yourself. “These companies will be inviting you in and trusting you with, often, confidential and highly sensitive company details. You can bet that they are going to do their due diligence on you. Therefore, you must make sure that there is nothing eyebrow raising for them to find,” she said.

Matthews makes the excellent point that you especially need to pay attention to your credit history. This is important for a couple reasons. The first is companies may not want to work with fiscally irresponsible types.

The more important reason, though, is you’re going to need a good source of credit when you first start out freelancing. Sometimes when payments are slowing coming in (and they will be slow coming in at first), you’re going to need credit to get by. Don’t kick off a freelance career (if you have a choice) without being financially sound.

Another excellent point raised in the article is diversify. Develop other skills that will serve you well when project management work might be slow. I’ve been fortunate in that I don’t pigeonhole myself into one kind of journalism. The bulk of my work is about business topics like project management, recruiting and technology. However, I fill in the gaps with automotive writing, editing and layout.

As Matthews says, “If you have other skills that you can leverage and market, do that! The freelance writing jobs or coding work you take on can help bridge the gap, income-wise, between project management gigs. This way you won’t be so desperate that you take whatever comes along. You can hold out for the jobs that will work best for you and for the career you’re trying to build for yourself.”

5 Ways to Save Your Sanity

Project managers have their hands full. They have to deal with their team members, with their champions, with stakeholders and managers. On top of that, they have their regular management responsibilities to deal with. It can drive you crazy. Project management can be hectic and chaotic, but there’s no reason to lose your mind. These five tips will help you keep your sanity.
Use Your Champion
Your champion is there to support you and your project. Use them. Keep them in the loop. Provide them with information and let them know when problems start occurring, or you think they’re likely to occur. Champions wear many hats, and can work as go-betweens, can communicate with executives and can provide you with a much-needed buffer so long as you keep them up to speed on what’s going on.
Budget Changes Should Be Made Immediately
You deliver a prototype to your client. The client likes it, but insists on some minor changes. Those changes alter the cost of each item being produced, but only by a small amount. You make the changes and think nothing of it, and are then left wondering why your project failed when it all comes crashing down. This is an extreme example, but one that illustrates the point here. Budget changes need to be approved and made immediately. Even small changes that affect your budget have massive implications for the project as a whole. Because coming in at or under budget is necessary to have a successful project, be proactive here.
Don’t Micromanage Your Team
Part of a project manager’s responsibility is managing his or her team. However, if you tend to micromanage, it’s better to take a step or two back. Micromanaging is time consuming and frustrating for both you and your team members. It’s a waste of time that could be spent doing other things. Trust your team members to handle their daily activities on their own. If they can’t, then chances are you need to make some adjustments to your roster.
Be Organized from Day One
One of the most common reasons for project manager burn out and stress is a lack of organization. Be organized from the very first day, long before the project goes live. Know what information you need in reports from your team members, create templates for them, and then create an organized file system (preferably of the electronic variety) in which to store those reports. You should also have a communication schedule by which you send information to stakeholders and managers.
Cultivate Team Leaders
Managing your team can be tough to do, particularly when you have so many other things demanding your attention. You can take some of the stress off by cultivating team leaders. This will require that you know your team well, and then identify potential leaders from their ranks. Teach and train your chosen leaders and let them assume most of the daily duties that would otherwise eat into your time for other responsibilities.