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How to save one’s Project Management career

A project manager may be easily compared to an actor playing several roles in a same performance. He or she is a planner, a decision maker, a coordinator, and an auditor within the same project. So when all that roles are played right, a project meets deadlines and a team is effective. But when a project fails, is it a PM’s fault or a long list of problems and misfortunes? It’s better to have an unbiased answer.

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Project Management career


The first step of saving one’s Project Management career is to diagnose that it needs to be saved

Here is a possible list of evidences that prove that a problem is hidden in a project manager:

1. His/her projects consistently don’t meet deadlines. Every project manager may write a long list of factors that influence a project delay including unexpected problems with people, money and a changed project scope. These things happen but a professional PM learns from them and manages to get things done despite of them. Bad PM continues adding items to his/her list of factors of a project delay.

2.Project problems appear over and over. If this happens you may be sure that there is so-called “system error or problem”. I don’t speak about orphaned project problems or poor-financed ones. Such terrible projects may be in a career of every PM. But I mean it’s unlikely that every project is terrible. When problems appear over and over it means that a PM has not enough qualification for good planning including risk management, for process management and tracking, for team building and facilitation, and so on.

3. Frequent communication problems. If there is one huge conflict in a project team or a misunderstanding with one of stakeholders it doesn’t necessary say that a project manager has communication problems. But when 80% of project issues are about people who state that they are confused, disappointed, angry or are losing motivation, it’s time to blame a PM – his management style, his voice or behavior, his manners or ability to take control over emotions, and so on.

Quit or try to save the career following the advices below

After diagnosing a bad or not-enough-skilled project manager there are 3 possible variants. The worst one is to “ignore the undesirable information “. The most widely used one is to give up and to fire a bad project manager. And the most professional approach is to save one’s career. Here are some advices for those choosing the third path.

1. Make one big step back to see the “whole picture”. Every project has a tremendous number of details a PM has to care about. But being busy doesn’t mean being effective. And even more. Doing many right small steps may never result in achieving something big (like major project goals) as these small things may go against each other. To cure a lot of PM’s problems you just need to shift the focus from work logs and timelines to the business purposes of the project. You need to ask such questions as “WHY?” and “FOR WHAT REASON?” about every item in the plan, so as “HOW THIS CAN IMPACT THE GENERAL RESULT?” and “WHAT IF I SKIP THIS?”. Even asking these questions may increase efficiency and help a PM to change his/her attitude to a project and a project management. It helps to understand the value of each person in a project team, identify the number of necessary reports, move meetings online or eliminate tasks that don’t help a project. It helps to choose a better project model (not the one PM likes to use) and a software solution that fits with project needs.

Few more words about the choice of the project management software tool. Only understanding the general picture of a project and its business goals will result in a good decision. Different projects have different tools they will benefit the most. The tool that was good for the previous project may not work good for the current one. And choosing the wrong one may create a long list of additional problems for a project manager.

2. Find time to study the stakeholders opinions on a regular basis (including the project team). People share their thoughts when a project manager listens to them. Listening helps to avoid communication problems, so as to gather valuable information about project issues and ways to solve them. Start asking questions instead of saying people what they need to do, and you’ll be impressed how smart they are and what brilliant ideas they have.

3. Try new approaches. As for me, I’ve learned a lot from Agile principles. After we started daily stand-up meetings and burn-down charts, the number of on-time projects increased from 35% to 80%. We introduced the system when every month we try a new instrument or approach. As a result we found very interesting project management ideas that helped some of our not-so-successful PMs to increase their efficiency.

I may continue this list and maybe will do it in the next post. But as a conclusion here I want to say that it’s very easy to ruin one’s PM career but it’s much more preferable and honorable to save it.


Olga Zavyalova, has 10+year experience of working as a project manager and project coordinator for a multinational software development corporation. Participated in 35+ software development and IT-integration projects for customers from more than 10 different countries all over the world. Experienced in managing remote and distributed teams. She is a Certified Software Project Manager by Quality Assurance Institute, the author of two books and a university course in project management and business process management and business analysis

Posted on:  in Leadership, Project World