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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.

Pendeen Wed 05-Dec-12 19:46:51

There are no PM qualifications as such, merely certificates because PM isn't a profession but a wide ranging discipline.

PRINCE is simply one method of managing projects, the public sector seems to prefer it but there are several others.

You mentioned buildings, if I were you I would steer clear of trying to become a PM in the building industry unles you know a lot about it. Some of the best PMs in my experience have been quantity surveyors.

mrsnec Mon 03-Dec-12 07:19:19

That's great advice. On that project we didn't have much info and the PM wouldn't go back to the stakeholders. Everyone was reluctant to do anything outside their remit as there was a lot of negativity and uncertainty. I was also involved in an IT project and this was an entirely different story as most people knew what they were doing and just got on with it and we could convince the others anyway as ultimately what we were doing was going to make their life easier. This time, as we're mainly dealing with Sole Traders they know if they don't meet deadlines we'll find someone else or they wont be paid. OP I think it could be a very interesting career change for you and wish you all the best. Let us know how you get on.

Soopermum1 Sun 02-Dec-12 16:12:06

Mrsnec and Dolomites brought up good points.

Re Mrsnec's DH's brief (which sounds a nightmare) , part of the job is to keep going back to the project sponsor/s to get enough info to work with and also part of the project is to see if the project is actually going to be able to fly in the first place. Both very very tricky as you make a pain in the ass of yourself to the people who possibly hired you, and you could potentially have to deliver bad news or even do yourself out of a job, but better doing that than flogging a dead horse. That's where whatever natural charm you have comes into play. Being 'likeable' is key, also making yourself appear trustworthy so if you deliver bad news, backed up with clear facts you're more likely to be beleived, but I have seen lots of PMs in the firing line for things that are just not their fault, but that is definitely one of the downsides of the job.

Re jfdi, I have used the phrase (ithout the f) very very occassionally, when I'm exasperated, but probably not wise, though the thought goes round and round in my head dozens of times a day. It's to do with matrix management (useful phrase for job interviews) you have no direct authority over these people, they usually have their own bosses, so you have to dig into your mental toolbag and work out what you can do to make these people do what you want. Different approaches work with diferent people. My personal style is 'pleasantly persistant', it seems to work on most occassions. I did hear someone describe me as a Rottweiller, but as he's pretty co-operative and we seem to get on, I took it as a compliment grin

oh, and one last tip, if you stroll over to someone's desk and they have a picture of their kid on there, compliment them on that. Talks about kids, in my experience, softens the hardest hearts, before you launch into the work stuff. Same applies to any other interests you may know they have.

mrsnec Sun 02-Dec-12 12:49:33

I think the term is very broad. That PM I worked for was in a very difficult position. He knew nothing about the company or industry and he was working with a lot of people who'd been there for years who were overlooked for the position. He'd also just been given the brief can we flog this stuff in Europe? It was never going to end well. I'm not in the UK at the moment. There aren't many jobs here let alone PM ones. I'm just considering some kind of qualification, if we can afford it, that would help the business and give me another avenue if we returned to the UK. This thread inspired me a bit! It's just a test case we're working on at the moment but I'd like us to be professional about it and not come across as those muppets you see on Grand Designs. Yes, this time it's that kind of project management! On another note OP, I was surprised at how well paid my friend's charity PM job was. Almost stopped me wanting to donate anymore!

JingleBellaTheGymnast Sun 02-Dec-12 12:29:24

Thanks. Yes, it would appear swines are everywhere!

Haven't got to PMO in my booklet yet.
<re-reads nervously>

DolomitesDonkey Sun 02-Dec-12 12:10:05

jingle well I only have experience of the IT industry and wanted to reassure you that different businesses would treat you better - but unfortunately mrsnec has confirmed that they're lying mustards everywhere! ;)

PMO = project management office, the programme manager's deputies!

JingleBellaTheGymnast Sun 02-Dec-12 11:52:05

Hello mrsnec, join me on the quest! I love problem solving too, and I think a smaller group like you're working with sounds like a less fraught way to get experience rather than with a massive company.

Yes, have been looking at charities too.

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.

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?

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! ;)

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.

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.

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

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

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 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.

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

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

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


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.

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!

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!

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

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

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

How about this as a job?

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.

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.

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