An Amateur’s Take on Learning Project Management on the Fly
This is the story of my real-life adventure learning the basics of project management while managing a software migration.
Recently, we migrated our applicant tracking system. For most of our team, this was a nerve-racking change. It required a complete overhaul of our processes, and the learning curve temporarily interrupted our normal pace. But, for me, it was especially challenging because I was asked to project manage the migration. Not to mention that I am a bit of a control freak (although I prefer to call myself detail-oriented).
In my career, I have led numerous marketing and communications projects. But, I have never led a project that affects so many… or more accurately, all… of a company’s processes. Luckily, my role at Mosaic Personnel has allowed me a window into most of the company’s processes, and I was somewhat familiar with the most loved features of our previous system, as well as its shortcomings.
Still, for a person with no formal project management training, this undertaking proved to be more taxing than I expected. Here’s what I learned trying to manage a project and conquer project management on the fly:
Business analysis is exceptionally important.
If you don’t know the needs of your team, you will not be able to meet them. Period. As much as I thought I knew about how people used our previous system, I did not know enough. Kudos to the Business Analysts who observe and interview team members, and are able to accurately extract the needs of each individual and department. To me, it seemed that unless I actually performed each job function, I could never run into every possible scenario.
You can never ask too many questions when vetting potential systems.
We vetted upwards of 20 systems, and more deeply analyzed six. Of the six, there were two that met the requirements on which we absolutely could not compromise. Of those, one ticked more boxes on the wish list. One of 20. One! We received three full demos of the product, and navigated through the demo environment on our own. We worked with the sales team for months asking questions, trying to ensure that we understood the system well enough that we were comfortable signing the contract. But, without our data and our processes in the system, knowing what to ask seemed near impossible. And, some of the features that seemed common sense to us, we did not even think to ask about. (That came back to bite us.)
You must decide what is more important – established and stable, or new and nimble.
Of the two systems that met our requirements, the one we chose was a team that promised frequent feature updates and a greater likelihood of adaptability. However, this advantage came with drawbacks. The system is not as established. It does not have some of those common sense features we expected. But, we decided that our team would prefer the ability to request features in the future product, rather than work within a rigid system. That means we have to be okay with the system being in a regular state of flux, and go along for the ride while it develops into the (even more) amazing system it will one day be.
Things will go wrong. Keep it in perspective.
No matter how many questions you ask, there will be bumps in the road – features that did not work the way you expected, process adaptations that feel more cumbersome, and push back from late adopters of change. When we encountered hitches, we had to remind ourselves why we needed to make the change in the first place, and what the alternative systems offered or lacked. By keeping things in perspective, we were able to redirect our focus and steer things in a more positive direction.
There is only so much you can do – and that does not make you the bad guy.
This was a tough lesson for me to learn. My role in the process was to understand the system, help implement the process changes needed to utilize the new system, and help train the team. When things went wrong (see above), I felt the stress of the whole team resting squarely on my shoulders. I wanted things to be right, to be perfect, for the team. I wanted them to get in the new system and love it, to rave about how much better it was than our old system. That did not happen. And, when it did not happen, I had to realize that it was not my fault. This was hard.
Remember, I am a control freak. At a certain point, the feeling of helplessness elicited a few giggles… okay, maybe more than a few. I was starting to crack. All I could do is look for ways to help alleviate the team’s stress, and communicate their needs to our vendor – the nimble vendor that regularly releases product updates – in hopes that they would address the issues quickly.
Project management is a creative role.
Counter-intuitive though it may seem, project managers are highly creative people. They are technical, yes. They understand processes and workflows, yes. But, they must have the ability to see a problem from the user’s perspective, and then try to look at it from other angles to identify possible solutions. This is a skill that can be learned and honed. Over the course of this migration, I have noticed a shift in my attitude toward problems, which now seem more like opportunities to find solutions. It’s actually quite liberating when you no longer feel encumbered by a problem.
Project management is not for me!
Managing marketing projects is right up my alley. Software migrations? No thanks! I have much respect for those of you skilled in this area. It takes a special kind of person to juggle so much without letting the pressure get to them, so kudos to you!
Do you have any tips or resources for people wanting to get into project management? Share them in the comments below!
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