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Can someone explain Project Managers to me please?

(57 Posts)
BellaTheGymnast Sun 25-Nov-12 15:55:35

Want to boost my salary, which I suspect will involve changing career. I've seen Project Manager roles advertised, but don't really know much about what it entails.

Are you one? Are the jobs normally freelance, or PAYE? Is there a recognised training route?

I've got good organisational, time management and communication skills. Currently working in film and telly.

DewDr0p Mon 26-Nov-12 14:19:53

I was a project manager before I retired to have babies grin

Key elements of my role included:
- stakeholder management
- planning the project; resourcing it/pulling together the team
- risk and issue management
- progress reporting; managing the actual work; correcting any slippage
- controlling scope of the project appropriately - delivering on time and on budget
- defining the business benefits of the project and monitoring them throughout to ensure they were being delivered
- managing the team; setting objectives and appraising staff
- billing clients; monitoring our own internal budgets/profitability

I don't have a qualification in PM but I worked for one of the Big 6 consultancies (I never heard Prince2 mentioned but then we had our own methods etc, all v similar I am sure)

YouOldSlag Mon 26-Nov-12 14:21:37

Definitely try and get PRINCE 2, My Dh did it and it only took him a week. It's really worth doing.

DameEnidsOrange Mon 26-Nov-12 14:25:21

I did Project Management in finance for a few years.

Like a PP has said it is basic common sense - find out what needs to be done; find out how what and how much you will need; establish the benefit to the business; work out how long it will take, who will need to do what and when and tie it all together. Identify risks and issues and manage them. Get the job done and have a big piss up afterwards. Identify what went well / what didn't and particularly in my organisation, find a scapegoat to take the blame for everything that went wrong

OoohTrifle Mon 26-Nov-12 14:25:50

PM-ing involves A LOT of planning, sighing, conflict resolution and banging your head against your keyboard. Well, it does in healthcare. That said, when it works you are the best - till your boss wants you to work with even more 'challenging' people and you start crying all over again.

BellaTheGymnast Mon 26-Nov-12 14:31:07

There's sighing, crying and scapegoating in my current job, so I'm OK with that. grin

I don't feel I could apply for any of the jobs I've seen today, some of the ads i just don't understand and I'm not confident a recruitment agency will look at my CV and be able to see beyond working in the meeja.

TheOnlyPersonInTheRoom Mon 26-Nov-12 14:37:05

I'm 'sort of' a PM... I work for a PM organisation but rather than deliver to external customers like the rest of the company I deliver internal projects (continuous improvement type stuff). I'm trying to get into 'official' project management and I see this as a route in as I get experience without the pressure of losing millions of pounds. My company paid for me to get APM qualified and I do every internal course I can get on (risk management, negotiation, finance stuff, EPM / SAP etc).

My company does take on some contractor PMs especially at the moment as they have shed permanent staff and are trying to remain flexible and responsive. often have PM jobs advertised - some voluntary - which may be a good way of getting experience for a permanent role.

queenbeat Mon 26-Nov-12 19:48:07

I'm an IT Project Manager. I've worked my way up from software development, through the business analysis route. I often say it's the best and worst job in the world because there are such highs and lows.

DewDr0p's post has my role pretty much summed up, however there is also a lot of technical understanding that's required in my role too. I'm not sure how much of the "widget making" work a normal (non-IT) PM would be expected to know about, but in IT you do need an understanding of how the systems that are being built works. I've worked alongside PMs that came at the role from another angle and it's generally been a miserable failure (such as they'd been with the company a few years so knew the department or users well, and suddenly management decided they could lead a project to time, cost, and quality tolerances shock).

You wouldn't get hired in my team (a Programme Managed Office, private sector) without formal training. In my case, that's a degree, 4 years in IT, 2 years in the PMO function (as a business analyst), then a masters, then PRINCE2 (to the higher level, Practitioner). There is one guy who works here that doesn't have a degree, but he does have PRINCE2.

However, DON'T let any of that put you off - it's been a slog to get here, but it's fantastic in terms of benefits like salary, working conditions, and very flexible. I've worked for my current employer (permanent basis) for 6 months, but if I wanted to I could go back to freelance, there are lots of opportunities for good PMs if you tick all the recruitment boxes and can get access to employers in your sector.

I couldn't, for example, move oop north and get a similar role, because I'm too tied to large IT positions - I can only really do my job in about 4 or 5 cities in the UK. So there's that downside, too, I suppose.

Soopermum1 Mon 26-Nov-12 22:29:02

I'm a PM. Have done freelance and permanent.

For the jargon, I'd recommend Prince 2 or APMP. I've learned it on the job but know it can be intimidating. I try not to use it too much as it just baffles non PMs.

Many employers will look for relevant experience. Prince 2 does pop up on job specs so I suspect it's one of the 'most haves' to get their attention, but I've heard lots of comments from recruitment companies that companies want PMs with the relevant experience rather than the 'hire a PM' model, where you get someone who is all technique and training but no knowledge of the work, industry or environment they're expected to operate in.

Lots of people think they know what a PM role is (watch the Apprentice too much) so the role can be a bit undefined especially if hired by a non PM. Part of the job is defining your's and others roles and exerting your authority (nicely) from the beginning.

Get your hands on some good working templates, they will guide you through what you need to do, to a certain extent.

Is there a PM at your company you can talk to?

If you do a course, make sure you have a 'Project' lined up to do straight afterwards, it could be planning a holiday or something. Like all courses, you need to put the learning into action straight away. Ditto, MS project.

From what I can see, IT PM is rather 'dry', but social media, gaming, advertising etc could be a good match.

BellaTheGymnast Tue 27-Nov-12 10:29:53

Thanks again everyone, MN is ace!

Yes, queenbeat, you've confirmed my suspicions that I'd be out of my depth in an IT environment. I've found a bargain last minute Prince 2 course near me, but money is really tight at the moment so I'm dithering over committing.

Soopermum, interesting what you say about the 'ready made' PM with no knowledge of the industry they're about to work in. I'm afraid I only know about TV and film (and bits about houses from watching too much Grand Designs doing stuff on our place). The adverts for PM jobs near me seem to be things like water treatment plants, IT and finance.

There's no PM at my company, I'm a freelancer myself.

For those of you who are freelance, do you get enough work to keep the wolf from the door, and when you were beginning did you get a contract post, or start as a freelancer? I don't mind being freelance if the money is enough to tide me over in the gaps, the problem with my current business is that there isn't enough work where I live for the money that I can charge.

QueenofWhatever Tue 27-Nov-12 11:57:58

How about this as a job?

BellaTheGymnast Tue 27-Nov-12 12:28:02

Ooh! That looks terrifying, but also something I should definitely apply for! Thanks so much.

BellaTheGymnast Fri 30-Nov-12 14:45:41

Quick question, how much use is the PRINCE2 Foundation on its own, rather than with Practitioner? Funds are tight!

DolomitesDonkey Sat 01-Dec-12 16:41:01

I'm a PMP accredited by the PMI which is the "gold" industry standard (imo higher than prince2 which seems to be aimed at public sector).

I'm a technical PM which means I'm a software expert at heart and need a really solid understanding when I'm dealing with eg, tech architects - in fact just this week we've had to get a non-techy PM shown the door.

It's as someone else said; lists, prioritisation, organisation, process and common sense.

I love talking to techies in their language and being able to talk to non-techie stakeholders in their's.

The low point for me is the continuous Chase, Chase, Chase for each and every aspect of work. sad I just don't get the mindset of not jfdi!

JingleBellaTheGymnast Sat 01-Dec-12 19:43:43

Thanks Dolomites. I'm doing the foundation level PRINCE2, it's really hard to know which course to do when you don't quite know which is best for your industry. I'm definitely NOT aiming for IT!

Do all the PM courses use the same jargon, or are is it specific? Wondering whether I'm now committed to finishing via PRINCE2.

JingleBellaTheGymnast Sat 01-Dec-12 19:44:20


BelaLug0si Sun 02-Dec-12 00:48:05

Just f--king do it I'm guessing grin

DolomitesDonkey Sun 02-Dec-12 09:40:32

Correct bela.

A PM has more acronyms than a doctor!

I was thinking a bit more about this, with regards to what you need to know - a certificate isn't even half the story.

Imo the most important tool you need to master is ms project, this is not an exam topic but it's something you need!

Secondly you really need to understand your finances, senior mgt always want your variances.

JingleBellaTheGymnast Sun 02-Dec-12 10:06:54

Yes Dolomites, this is what I was assuming, that I can't do a course for a few days and then just walk into a job in an industry I know nothing about. My hope is that if I'm applying for work in a similar field (gaming, arts projects etc as up thread) then at least an industry recognised qualification might help my CV in a rather niche field look a bit more applicable. Hope that makes sense.

I have a good head for figures, there is budgeting in my current job, so I'm not intimidated by learning more complex maths.

Will have a look at MS Project, hmm, wonder if there's a free download for Mac anywhere...

DolomitesDonkey Sun 02-Dec-12 10:16:42

The basis of a good schedule is in a Gantt Chart - oh the days when we had to create those by hand - and when I say days, I mean horrors! I don't know if there will be an MS specific Mac version, but there should be something which mimics what Project does.

If you're familiar with budgeting then that's a good start!

A lot of it is PR, you have all the tools in the world and all the processes but if you can't get people to do what you want then it's really hard. You need to be able to get people to do stuff for you - and a huge number of them won't give a shit and won't do it. So you need to pick up the phone (repeatedly), stand over their desks whilst they actually type. This is not a job for the thin-skinned and it was a really hard lesson for me. I've really had to toughen up and learn that it's only business.

In all business there's a lot of "passing the buck", imo it's the PM's job to actually get to the root of the issue, propose a solution, assign the appropriate resources and get it fixed. It's a massive juggling act trying to keep all stakeholders happy.

You need a good PMO team. smile

BelaLug0si Sun 02-Dec-12 10:33:41

Dolomites I've fallen into some project management this year (in addition to my usual role) and did my first Gantt chart. On an excel sheet as the NHS doesn't stretch to MS project for non official project managers.
It's been a challenge and really enjoyable so this thread has been helpful advice in what I'd need to do to take it further.
jfdi has been my motto all year! grin

mrsnec Sun 02-Dec-12 10:36:25

Do PMs still use Project? I'm a bit out of touch but some time ago I was considering this. As a (very) basic introduction I did a New Horizons day course and it was very interesting. In that particular company I worked in Marketing Admin but when they took on a PM there was a lot of overlap between the two deps. The project was the company entering into the european market and working out if it was better to export or manufacure under liscence. It was very interesting. The company made semi-bespoke fitted furniture so the PM was working out export costs and production costs vs product range. I was just thinking that this might be another industry worth considering.

DolomitesDonkey Sun 02-Dec-12 10:46:11

mrsnec the fundamental basis of a project is a schedule (a time plan) so you need to be able to track this and link to the dependencies between this.

Being able to do it electronically is imo, unless you have a plethora of lovely on-site assistants, is the only way. E.g., something I'm working on right now I have ~4000 tasks in my schedule. Some of these tasks are dependent upon others, then there are lead times - something can only be done 5 days after x. Now say your first task is delayed, fine, you get that - but it's a big manual task to remember that there were 5 subsequent tasks dependent upon that and their own subsequent dependencies - Phew! An easier example is Xmas, a task that takes 10 working days which is due to be started on 21st December will not be finished first week of Jan if the building is shut.

DolomitesDonkey Sun 02-Dec-12 10:49:22

mrsnec as to whether you should do it, if you want to - go for it but be aware it's a largely unthanked job! All the stakeholders will assume your raison d'etre is to ruin them and your resources will think you're a paper-pushing Dick.

That aside, I love it because I'm a natural organisers who jfdi and I love telling other people what to do! ;)

JingleBellaTheGymnast Sun 02-Dec-12 10:57:46

PMO team? Dolomites, be gentle with me, I'm only a third of the way through my PRINCE2 prep booklet! Already I feel like what the cast of ER must feel like trying to learn their scripts, it's page after page of words in my own language that make very little sense!

Do you think your experience of everyone hating you difficult staff is true across all industries?

mrsnec Sun 02-Dec-12 11:47:05

Well that first experience I had, the project didn't get off the ground. They didn't take on any extra staff just me as admin support to PM and I spent my life chasing up people who invariably lied to me about where they were with their tasks. I changed jobs and the company got taken over. I used project to plan my wedding but not used it again! I've since been helping DH with his business and we've recently taken on a project for a client. I'm enjoying it immensely. I didn't enjoy the thankless task side of it and the constantly chasing people but now I'ts just us, the client and a few contractors it's great. I think a lot of it is about resources too. I'm a creative person but I think it's the problem solving aspect that is the reward for me. I also know a PM who works for a well known charity so that might be another route for OP. Am watching this thread with interest.

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