Can’t be a top-CEO, Be a mini-CEO: Becoming PM

The COVID-19 situation has given an opportunity for everyone to explore their hobbies and to learn more about them. When I retrospect about things that helped me get to where I am, all I can think of is about the people I met on my journey and what impact they had on my decisions. Even a 5-mins conversation with someone having an abundance of knowledge has helped me make decisions that I would have never made. Thinking of this and the current work from home situation, I decided to dedicate at least 1-hr/day to mentoring students via LinkedIn, Social Media, etc.

“Who is a PM”, “How to become one?”, “Any relevant experience one needs to have” are some questions which I have been asked and the purpose of this article is to address those questions.

This post is mainly to address the qualities required for a PM and ways to demonstrate it in your resume. Almost 85% of the questions are in the form of ‘I am currently working as XXXX and want to go in a PM role’ hence my post’s title is named in a way that you don’t need to be someone in order to get into a PM role. All you need is the correct attitude and the correct mindset. TRUST ME ON THIS!!

I will try to articulate my thoughts as much as possible by breaking it down to phases/steps. Let’s start….

 

Background Check:


TITLE DOES NOT MATTER. You would then ask that if the title doesn’t matter then why do I need to put any experiences in my resume. That is a very valid point but the main intention to ask about the past work experience is to know what have you been through in your career.

A student once asked a motivational speaker “Why do I not get what I want?”. Speaker replied saying “Have you taken enough shit yet?” meaning have you gone through that phase of the life where you are just trying to figure out what you are good at and what you are not, because if you haven’t then my friend, there is a lot for you to see :D

Coming back to the background check — to which questions are hiring managers wanting answers for, in your resume?:

  • If you have already been exposed to stressful situations that require you to make quick decisions similar to what you will be doing at your prospective job?

  • Do you have enough experience to develop empathy towards your team members?

  • Will you be able to understand the complexity behind running even a single SQL query in a system that is highly interconnected? (sorry for the technical language but mainly looking at your understanding of complexity)

  • Are you a people-friendly and easy-to-work-with person? and many more similar questions.

If you have any kind of experience, be it managing a cashier counter at a car wash(for all ‘Breaking Bad’ fans :P) or working at a coffee shop or being a co-chairperson on a big event — it doesn’t really matter till and until you can answer those questions ;-)

 

Attitude / Mindset:

My friend and mentor, Navneet Sharma, once told me “Ameya, never judge/hire anyone by their job description but understand them based on their attitude/mindset.” This thing has been with me since.


Problem-solving mindset: As a PM, there is really no defined job description. If you have the mindset of ‘becoming a mini-CEO of the project’ then you are good to go. What is the one quality that a CEO possesses? A problem-solving mindset. Till and until you understand the severity of the problem and can come up with solutions benefitting all the stakeholders involved, you can become the best PM.


Being calm: Every day of your work will be different and filled with risks, issues, and delicate matters that you need to handle carefully. The most important of all is staying calm. There might be several instances where the argument gets heated and you have to understand when to stop and how to respectfully respond to the opposite stakeholder. Anything written or said with respect will never be taken in a negative way so changing the mindset from ‘I know I am right and will make sure to let other people know as well’ to ‘I think I am right but let’s see what the other person has to say’ is a very important and difficult transition.


Knowing what NOT to do: It is not only your mindset that you would need to change but you also need to have the desire to change the mindset of the people you are working with. PM’s specifically Project Managers are being perceived as someone responsible for scheduling meetings, booking rooms, looking over the project if that’s on track(without going in too much detail) etc. and that is not how it should be. Yes, I agree that as a PM you need to have a better understanding of the stakeholders needed for the meeting so it’s for you to schedule but before scheduling — do you know what the meeting is about? Do you have a clear agenda in mind? What is the expected outcome of the meeting? What can go wrong in the meeting and how would you handle it? Are there any dependent teams that need to be called in the meeting? Do you need all the developers or will a tech lead be sufficient? These are the questions you need to answer before scheduling a meeting. Similarly, when it comes to project planning, you are not just responsible for creating a project plan in MS Project but also responsible to understand each line item going in the plan (not necessary to know the code that goes behind it but just the crux of the line item)


Becoming the mini-CEO: In life, there are only a few things that we really care about and one of them is our family. Until and unless you start caring for your project, you will not do justice to it. When I say becoming the mini-CEO, what I mean is to consider your project as your own baby. There is no project in the world that is not important to the firm so if you fail to understand the importance of the project you are handling, start asking questions. Check if it aligns with your firm’s core values, understand what would happen if the project was not delivered on time, ask about the revenue impact it might have on the firm — only then will you be motivated to treat the project as your baby and care for it.


Influencing and not managing:


There needs to be a change in the way of thinking when it comes to a PM title. As a PM, you shouldn’t be thinking of managing others but more on influencing them. According to human psychology, we never appreciate taking orders from anyone but we are open to taking suggestions. We like taking decisions on our own and don’t want others to take it on behalf of us. Similarly, as a PM, you need to understand how to influence others (not in a negative way). Few ways you can try influencing is by asking the right questions- people like to speak so let them but make sure you have some hard-hitting strong questions which will get you what you want. Another way you can influence is by organizing an informational session within your team about any concept you think can influence their mindset. Navneet suggested a great book called “Influence: The art of persuasion” which lays out all the tips and tricks used by the sales team in order to influence customers. If you are not into reading but like watching documentaries, go for ‘Great Hack’ on Netflix which shows the power of influence.

 

All hands on deck:

Whatever we talked about till now have all been about qualities a person should possess if they want to become a PM. But what after getting the job? This section talks more about the things an entry-level PM can experience.

Your name is your brand:


Consider you have a soccer team and someone new enters your team wanting to be the striker. The first thing that comes up will be “Why should we put you as a striker?”. Even though the kid has cleared all the previous rounds required to be selected in your team, still you are skeptical about his/her skills. Similarly, the first thing you do when you join any team as a PM is to develop trust and respect amongst others. We will talk about developing trust later but how would you develop a sense of respect towards you amongst others? By creating a brand for yourself. Creating a brand not equals to publicizing every little thing you do. You need to hit the rod when its hot meaning you need to take the opportunity when the time is right. What are the ways to do find the opportunity?

  • Look at your firm's core values and identify where your company is investing the majority of its budget?

  • Think of ways you can address those, not necessarily by inventing something new but it can also be as simple as process improvisation (it can do wonders!)

  • Identify volunteering and mentoring programs you can be part of which is a great way to network and expand your knowledge

  • Keep a lookout on any courses/seminars/webinars geared towards your firm’s strategy, be a part of it and share your knowledge with your team

  • Participate in hackathons conducted by your firms — this will help you try out different technologies that you are not daily exposed to

Work is my second home:


More than half of our day is spent at work and how can one survive without a sense of trust. The most important thing a PM must look into is developing trust. How to do that?

  • Talk to people — learn more about them, understand what they do except work, their interest, what their kids do, care about their interest

  • Increase your emotional quotient — EQ is a very important and difficult skillset to achieve and can only be done when you interact with different types of people. So try to talk to people with different natures and try giving the benefit of doubt to them. You can improvise this skill by practicing it on your friends.

  • Game night = fun night — Play and organize games. Given the work from home situation, there are a lot of virtual games that you can play with your team members like Pictionary on skribbl.io, online codenames, trivia on Kahoot, etc. This not only helps your teammates open up but also helps you develop a sense of friendship and trust.

 

There is much more than this which a PM can do but I don’t want this post to be long and boring :P

If you liked this post and want to know more about the path to PM, responsibilities of a PM or having difficulties in adjusting to the current PM role, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn

I will try to answer all the questions as soon as possible and in case I miss out on any messages, please follow-up as the message might have gone down the pile :D

Drop-in a comment if you find something interesting or if you want me to write about something specific!!

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