What is not taught in PM classes?

On this LinkedIn discussion there is this interesting question.

And here is the unconventional, Guerilla answer. It does not talk about lack of risk management or planning.

I believe they don't teach you:

1. how to be mentally tough; since being a Project Manager is a stressful job. This is a skill that all PMs, especially Guerilla PMs, must master; or they will soon become unable to enjoy their journey to completing the project.

Moreover, I consider mental toughness a life skill in business world; kinda like speaking English. There is definitely no literature on that topic directed at Project Managers; but there is some literature aimed at business people and managers in general. Most of what I've read is trash, but Developing Mental Toughness is one book that I enjoyed and learnt a lot from. It is still my reference whenever I am feeling stressful or in doubt.

2. about business; I believe it is very important for a Project Manager to be generally knowledgeable about business (e.g. Quick MBA).

First you need to understand how a business is run in order to understand what drives each of your stakeholders; then you need to understand how your project fits in the overall business model of your client.

3. how to be creative, or at least that it is necessary to be creative: in finding resources, in finding solutions to multiple constraints, in motivating your team with no budget.. and many other situations. There was a poster saying "Everything is possible if you have an endless amount of resources at your disposal".. and this is how most of the PM courses are taught. Real life projects are not like that, except perhaps if you work for DoD.


How to become a Project Manager in 6 steps

Guerilla Project Management blog will have a quick jump into project management for everybody. Here are the 6 steps of the journey (that does not mean the journey isn't long, difficult - or fun for that matter):

1. Decide this is who you want to be: Project Management comes with power, satisfaction, but also with responsibility and stress that can be overwhelming. Are you ready to give up comfort for the opportunity of going that path? For instance, I had a long period during which the stress of this job was unbearable and it was only about three years ago that I was able to overcome the stress and was able to fully enjoy the journey.

2. Understand your level of readiness; being technically outstanding is not a criteria for Project Management. You need to assess your self in term of business knowledge, decision making, problem solving and attitude. This will help you understand how much practice you need before actually being able to venture in conducting a real project. When I recruit Project Managers, I look for enough technical knowledge to make them able to speak to the team and appreciate more a "can-do" attitude, a structured speech, results orientation and a sense of urgency. That is, "I am hiring Project Managers with attitude!"

3. Read this book. Now evaluate it. Do you feel it is real? Do you recognize yourself or your organization in the situations described there? Do you see how things can be improved based on the book? If so, I believe you do have the eye for noticing Project Management issues, which are usually "soft" and cannot be easily verbalized. Whenever I read a chapter of this book, although I have read it several times, I immediately compare it with recent situations or projects and get inspired on how to improve things.

4. Choose a project on which to experiment. If you are not in charge with a project at work, choose a personal project such as a home project or a school project. However, choose the best against the following criteria:
  • a complex project (with several parts that need to work together) - will help on building integration skills
  • a project with a client - will help on building client and scope management skills
  • a project that involved spending money on external resources such as other people's labour - will help on planning, financial and people skills
  • a project that does not have an aggressive schedule - will help on giving you the time for applying all the theorethical concepts. However, you need to have some deadline!
Some good examples of off-work projects are school consultancy projects or starting your own trial business.

5. Go through the book again, but this time try to apply the theorethical concepts in the chosen project. Do the planning, the staffing, the charter, whatever notions are presented in the book, in a waterfall mode (that is - first plan, then start executing, then monitor progress, then finalize the activities), in order to accomodate yourself with the concepts and to create your own techniques on PM tasks.

6. Choose a second project with the same criteria as before, but this time with an aggressive schedule. Work on doing as much as possible in parallel, work in iterations, delivering partial results and trading between time and money. A good example is remodeling your home, while you live in it. You need to do it fast, you have several people that need to work in parallel; sometimes there will be rework if you parallelize remodeling tasks. You need to have one bedroom and bathroom ready so that you have a place to sleep, but you can live without using the kitchen for a while - of course eating out will cost you extra. This kind of decisions and tradings are key to good project management in real projects.

If you scored good at point 2 and 3, chances are you can do steps 4-5-6 in just one. However, in my opinion, Project Managers that can only do tasks 4-5 but do not reach task 6 are not really ready to conduct a project.


Guerilla Project Management changes URL and language

I have decided to make Guerilla Project Management more than a concept, but rather a blog. Therefore, I have given this blog a new name and a new URL, http://www.guerillaprojectmanagement.org/.

I have also decided to change the language of the blog to English, for two reasons:

a. It appears I had some visitors from abroad to the few articles that were in English

b. When I fell on Saturday when skiing, during the excruciating leg pain from the first moments after the fall, all I could say was (in English): "I think I broke something.." :).

Here is the original article that generated the Guerilla Project Management concept.


Working with senior executives

During my first years as a Project Manager, I often faced this problem: how to work with senior executives. It became frustrating at times, since I was puting a lot of work but I was unable to capitalize on it without the needed decisions from top managers. Plus, I was having a hard time figuring out what I did wrong.

Here are some wrongs I can identify in perspective, being quite a busy manager myself these days. Some are mentioned in Kerzner's Project Management book and they are all somehow unconventional:

- being humble in front of a senior manager is wrong; it shows you don't trust yourself enough, so how could she?

- trying to put things in their context and give a complete view of the picture is wrong; consider how little time these people have to spend with you and start with your request. Have 3 clear arguments, just in case they ask, as to why is it beneficial for them to do as you require. Again, more then 3 arguments is too much for a busy, multitasking manager;

- waiting for the senior manager to come with a solution or an action plan for your dilemma is very unlikely to give any results. It is best to come with a clear opinion on what's best and have her agree with you; or the decision will be slow/won't be the best for your project. Only one person has the information required to make the best decision in a project, and that person is the Project Manager.

- showing with problems that you didn't discussed first with their directs is wrong; it shows you have little respect for their time;

- being temperamental/arguing/emotional in front of her shows little control on your own person or the situation. I am not suggesting it is wrong to disagree with her, just put it in the most assertive way.

Best Project Management book, Project Management by Harold Kerzner

Many Project Managers I have spoken to, myself included, had difficulties finding the ultimate Project Management book (no, in the Guerilla Project Management blog you will not find a recommendation for PMBok). I was asked a thousand times by friends and "wanna-be" PM's what book do I recommend for beginners. So here goes the best PM book in my opinion.

It's the tenth edition of Project Management by Harold Kerzner. It has around 1100 pages and content for both the beginners and the advanced, the conventional and the Guerilla PMs. Although it contains references for PMBok to every chapter, it is the most real, down-to-earth project management book I have ever encountered.

Actually, although I strongly believe it to be the best PM book, I do not recommend this book for preparing the PMP certification. It is just too real and the PMP exam is one special species.

I liked the book right when I saw the table of contents. On the very first page, in the first chapter, there it was: one subject that is very dear to me, and very neglected in the PM literature: "Working with senior executives".

Other Guerilla Project Management ideas that recommend this book:

- In companies that do excelent Project Management, Project Managers don't need to negociate in order to get resources from Line Managers. They ask, and the Line Managers make sure they balance their resources right to grant this, since this is their primary role;

- There is an entire chapter dedicated to methodology for creating new projects as a project in itself (aka NPD - New Project Development). It is somehow misleadingly called "Marketing in the project driven organization";

- There is a topic on Concurrent engineering, meaning paralelizing different functions and tasks within a project in order to achieve time to market and flexibility to change. This topic accepts rework as necessary cost to achieve these benefits;

- Topic about how the wrong people get selected to be a Project Manager.

And many others, which is why I strongly recommend that you read this book.