People

In my years as a graduate student and having entered (somewhat) the world of young professionals, I’ve come to accept certain things about myself that have been brought up  and emphasized by Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager.

  1. I know that facilitating discussion/asking good questions is important to successfully complete a project.
  2. My informal authority needs some work.
  3. I should use the conversation planner.

Facilitating Discussion/Asking Questions 

I often want to find a solution and answer questions quickly, but in a team or project setting, this can detract from the valuable contributions of others and the quality of the solution. As a project lead, it’s important to give others the space and time to offer their ideas.  When I work as a tutor, leading small groups, two central tenets of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program is that we “facilitate” discussion and coach students into finding answers by way of asking each other or themselves questions. Different scenarios, project lead vs. group discussion lead, but similar practice. One of the tasks of a project manager that I consider to be the most difficult is not dictating a solution (or giving the answer), but letting the team or group work collaboratively, for as long as they need/time allows.

Informal Authority

The Four Foundational Behaviors can certainly help me improve my informal authority, but I have to remember and practice them. I already have a level or respect for the people with whom I work, but it’s difficult not to interrupt when you have a relevant contribution and the other person is still speaking. I’ve learned to take notes, on what the person I am speaking with is saying and what I would like to let them know. When I meet with the intern that I technically co-supervise, as we’re both working on completing an extensive annual report for the office, I find it hard to be direct about upcoming tasks or correcting correspondence. When she asks me a question, for example, about the year for which we’re reporting and the baseline year we’re comparing to, sometimes it’s hard to clarify on the spot precisely what she is asking. I then walk away feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing myself, even though it’s as simple as saying, “Let me make sure I have the right numbers (or whatever) and I’ll get back to you.”

Conversation Planner

I think using the Conversation Planner will help during weekly meetings. At the end of a long week (meetings are on Friday morning), I’m already tired, and focusing on meeting points is difficult. I’ve found myself rambling or getting off-topic during what is supposed to be an updates meeting with the intern with whom I work, so writing out the intent of the conversation, facts, impact, and actions will help with my professionalism.

In sum, sometimes it’s hard to work with people, even if, for a large part of the time, you really enjoy it. Sometimes it’s hard to talk to people about projects or what you need them to do. In the end, there’s no avoiding it. Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager helps lessen the challenges that come with these things.

Relatable Moments

Sometimes you search for yourself in the pages when you’re reading a new book, and sometimes the authors seem to know you (and that somehow, they wrote you into the book).

I am Shelly, Eve, and Olivia. Except at a different level and I’m not actually written into the book so I’ll elaborate.

Kogon, Blakemore, and Wood in Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager give the reader an organized approach to project management, creating a list of necessities for the unofficial project manager which includes a critical mindset, essential skillset, and toolset. Then, they set you up with a couple of key concepts that include “Manage projects, lead people,” and the Four Foundational Behaviors.

  1. Demonstrate respect
  2. Listen first
  3. Clarify expectations
  4. Practice accountability

I like that the authors weave in scenarios of 1. Women as project managers 2. Women with real emotions who handle them efficiently 3. Women, without sexist stereotypes (mostly, a lot can be said about the perception of women in the workplace, and I wonder/would guess whether these scenarios have more depth to them, see: 9 Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women). Secondly, they reinforce the importance of the four foundational behaviors in these scenarios quite well, and relatably.

The first scenario in which I found myself nodding along was when the authors’ colleague Shelly recounts a time when she once would have “walked back to [her] desk and promptly pulled [her] hair out.” She stays calm when told she has a tight budget and zero help and listens and re-framed the expectations from her CEO. In doing so, she was able to reason with him for more of a budget and more resources to enable a successful outcome.

Then we get to shy, independent, and compassionate Eve, who wants to work to make the hospital a safer and better place (who wouldn’t want that)? She’s faced with an egotistical doctor during a group interview with stakeholders, but remembers to respect his ego (or ignore it, bottle up her anger, and move on). The foundational behaviors keep her from potentially losing her job.

Though I know that Kogon, Blakemore, and Wood didn’t mean to write a novel where you really identify with the characters, I found myself really putting and seeing myself in Olivia’s shoes. Particularly when she wants to scream at a board member who always wants to push deadlines forward.

I, too, internally scream, Olivia.

Moreso, I relate to being overwhelmed when things that are out of your control follow Murphy’s Law. I know the feeling when your supervisor calls you in regarding something you’d wanted to chat about in the first place, and you’re faced with complications you couldn’t have imagined. But you keep calm and listen, hold yourself and your people (and your supervisor) accountable, and work it out.

Kogon, Blakemore, and Wood masterfully craft the concepts they’re trying to impart to unofficial project managers by bringing to life how to use them with Shelly, Eve, and Olivia.