How a Good Project Planner Can Become Invisible
Do you remember the first day you started in your new project manager position at your current company? The place was OUT OF CONTROL! Deadlines were being missed on a daily basis. If (and when) a deadline was met, the deliverable was wrong. People were tripping all over each other, doing duplicate work, dropping the ball and tempers were on the verge of flaring up every day.
You loved it!
You knew that this place really needed the services you provide as a project manager. It was pandemonium and chaos…all the things you loved sinking your teeth into and getting under control. You were in meeting after meeting in to get things in order. You could barely keep your head above the water. You filled multiple roles: project planner, counselor, business analyst, psychiatrist, therapist, moderator, and peace maker.
You loved it!
People would come and go around the table in the conference room that you set up as your temporary working space. There were arguments, raised voices, and passion around what was going on in the company. The CEO would pound his fist on the table from time to time and proclaim “that’s just the way we do business around here!” and would continue on his tirade of chaos.
You loved it!
You were visible. You made good decisions as a project planner. You made some bad decisions. Sometimes you were the target, sometimes you were the one shooting at others. Regardless, you looked forward to the challenge that would unfold in front of you every day.
Days, weeks, and months pass and something began to change. You fixed just one thing. You knew that you needed to start somewhere and you picked out just one thing that you could make better. Maybe it was communication between departments. You fixed that so that people weren’t caught off guard or surprised by what was coming their way.
Maybe it was to lower the amount of rework that was done on deliverables. You fixed that so that work didn’t need to go back and forth between departments all the time and waste everyone’s time.
Then you fixed another thing, and improved another, and then something else. The volume of the meetings goes down to a dull roar. The veins on people’s heads are no longer popping out and about to burst. The fist-pounding has decreased. The early mornings and late nights are few and far between.
Then, nearly everything is fixed. In your expanded role as a project manager and project planner you have fixed nearly everything. Processes are in place that ensure a project does not move forward to the next phase without the right approvals. When things go wrong, there are procedures in place to account for escalations and delays. Contingency plans are in place to handles risks that turn into issues and everyone is literally on the same page.
And then you start to disappear!
It’s not intentional of course, but things are running so smooth you are no longer being called into every meeting. People aren’t coming to you to help them make the right decisions. Rather, they are making them on their own. Work is getting done, it’s getting done right, and it’s getting done on time. You can walk up and down the hall without even a glimmer of crisis stalking your every move.
You start to wonder if people are starting to wonder “Why do we even need a project manager anymore…aren’t they just more overhead?” You may even start wondering this yourself.
Pat Yourself on the Back
When you find yourself in the state above and begin to wonder if the company even needs you as a project manager, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. It means you have done a great job! Reflect on how things were when you started and where they are now. Reflect on all the pain and suffering you went through as a project planner to get things in order.
The greatest value you can bring to an organization is to set things up where they run by themselves. It is quite a legacy if you have put systems, processes, and procedures in place that will allow you to walk away and things still get done. It’s almost as if you can disappear as a project manager and nobody will even miss you. Great job!
But hey; now what? While this is a good place to be, it is also a risky place to be unless you take some steps that will keep you visible within the organization.
What’s Next as a Project Planner?
- Move into New (and troubled) Areas – Is there another department or division in your company that’s in as bad of shape as the one you just fixed? You can pick up on those areas pretty quick by listening to what’s going on in the company. Is there a department that’s always behind or late? Is there a new line of business that’s being worked on or a huge client just came in the door that’s going to need a good project planner attached to them? Find these opportunities, and if you have the flexibility and opportunity, start moving over to these areas.
- Introduce More Value to Your Existing Department – Now that things are up and running, you can begin to fine-tune the machine as a project planner. Start by introducing a handful of easy-to-report, easy-to-measure, and easy-to-track Key Performance Indicators. You don’t need to bring everyone to a grinding halt with having to report out on tons of metrics, but maybe there are 3-4 areas that can be improved. Find out what those are and then drill down into those areas to improve these metrics which should tie into efficiency and profitability.
- Always Feel Uncomfortable – This is a general statement, but the moment you start feeling comfortable in your job is when you run the highest risk of losing your job. The days of job security are long gone, and unfortunately, if you find that you are just “phoning it in” and not pushing the envelope every chance you get, your employer may begin to lose sight of the value you bring. Sure, you got everything up and running smoothly, but don’t rest on your laurels. What’s next? Can you introduce a new (and better) project management methodology? Is there a technology that could be implemented that will make things better? Attend seminars, educational opportunities, network, brainstorm with others. Always bring that edge with you to work and you can maintain your visibility.
- Set up a PMO – Since you’re so good at what you did in one department, why not broach the subject of doing it for ALL departments. Float the idea of setting up a PMO to the right executive at the company and see where things go. Could be something along the lines of “Hey, I hear that you like what I was able to accomplish in this department over here, how would you feel about getting the same benefits for the entire company?” That’s enough to pique the curiosity of any executive and the rest would be up to you.
As you reflect back on your career you should feel proud about what you have been able to accomplish. As an excellent project planner you bring order to chaos, calm the storm, and help your team members get things done. It’s up to you to take it to the next level and make sure you don’t disappear.
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