From where I was sitting by the pool in Palm Springs, California last week I could see the warning sign posted above the hot tub. As I read the words of caution I substituted the words “project management” for “spa.” Surprisingly, some of them actually made a lot of sense. Take the following two examples:
“For health and safety reasons, no children under the age of fourteen (14) years shall be permitted in project management without a parent or guardian present at all times.”
“Prolonged exposure to project management may result in nausea, dizziness, or fainting.”
Project management isn’t for the faint of heart and should be approached with caution. For safety reasons I think it is important to post big yellow caution signs. If you are thinking about dipping your toes into the PM swimming pool, take the following warnings into consideration:
- No diving. Before jumping head long into the role of project manager you should check the water. First, hidden rocks can break your neck. Project management is a no man’s land, stuck between those that do the work and upper management. The hard objects hide on both sides. Second, don’t get in over your head. A wise manager once steered me away from a project for political reasons. The time line for the project was too short for the given scope but upper management had promised it would be completed in time for a very visible annual meeting.
- Stay with your buddy. At summer camp we used the buddy system at the beach. No one swam alone. When the lifeguards blew their whistles you had to the count of five to get to your buddy or you had to sit on the beach. Get yourself a mentor for a buddy. Have them critique your status reports before you send them out and ask the hard questions before your management does.
- Harmful or fatal if swallowed. Projects, like pools, have strong chemicals at work. One way to keep from being poisoned is to not believe everything you hear. Everyone has their own unique agenda and it will take time to figure out what each one is. Bill always pads his assessment to make himself look and Elaine under estimates to tell you what you want to hear. Your management will set dates and budgets to tie in with her bonuses. Sam bad mouths everyone. Learn to question estimates and assumptions, ignore gossip and push back when tasked with the impossible.
- Do not swim during a thunder storm. A consultant friend of mine recently left a job because a manager took out his frustration on him with a yelling tirade. The company had purchased a software package and assumed it would do everything the sales team said it would. When the consultant explained the reality of the situation the discussion turned ugly. I am a firm believer that when I fail or my team messes up I need to take the heat, but to get blasted by someone for their own mistake is another thing. Frankly, anyone who resorts to yelling has issues.
Project management isn’t a day at the pool but it doesn’t have to be shark infested waters, either. Swim with caution and don’t forget the sun block.