“You’re looking for a 5 legged sheep who can do the quickstep”
I’ve seen a lot of vacancies recently of organisations that are looking for a Project Manager who can also manage scrum teams as well as reorder product backlogs. The skills and specialities that you need for all of these roles are specific and although some may be transferable, not all of them are.
Whilst it is great for any organisation to have someone that has multiple transferable skills, there is the risk that the person is a “jack of all trades but master of none”. There is a considerable difficulty in working in multiple roles at the same time and this can cause a lot of problems with the project and also within the wider organisation.
I’ve spent a lot of time educating HR professionals on the role of a Project Manager and more importantly; what a Project Manager is and what they are not. I’ve tried to help organisations be realistic in their search for new talent and to fill vacancies and some companies really do appreciate understanding that not all roles are created equal! It’s also an uphill challenge to promote the specific skills of a Project Manager because they are so varied and different but there are some core features that I think it’s important to promote.
A Project Manager spends 90% of their time communicating. It’s vital that as a Project Manager you can communicate the objectives, ideas, and vision of the project as well as being able to write the necessary project artifacts to the required detail
- Problem Solving
- I seem to spend a lot of my time-solving problems and issues that arise. It’s part of the ‘fun’ for me of being a Project Manager. I’m able to be dynamic and see the opportunities where they may be. It’s also important for me to look proactively at any issues that may arise so that I’m able to prevent them if necessary.
If someone asks me what I do, I say that I’m a gate keeper and hostile negotiator rolled into one. Being a Project Manager requires you to be able to negotiate to get the work done and work with different people to negotiate resources/timing/budget etc. This leads me onto my next point:
As a Project Manager you need to make sure that you’re able to build your team and allow them to work together efficiently. Having empathy and compassion will help you in your negotiation with other groups as well as with your team
You will be leading teams and projects therefore you need to be a natural leader. This is not the job for someone who struggles to present information in a crowded room or who cannot talk in public. You are the face of the project and need to lead your team to successful completion of the project
- Team Management
You are ultimately running a team as a Project Manager. You need to be able to manage several different people and make sure that you’re taking all of their needs into consideration (this can include things like development plans, HR objectives)
- Personal organisation
You are a planner. You manage and plan when things need to be done and work to get this done to achieve your project goals. This means that you need to make sure that your personal level of organisation is first class as if you’re not able to organise yourself, how can you possibly manage a team and project
For me, the best description of Composure is from: Rudyard Kipling in his poem: If
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
Having composure as a Project Manager means being calm under pressure and not letting the stress of project life get to you. This is easier said than done sometimes but it’s important that you remain the calm ship during any storm that your project may face
If we take a look at Scrum for example; there are clear guidelines about one person not having two roles in a Scrum team (i.e. a Product Owner and Scrum Master should never be the same person). This is to ensure a balanced skill set within a team. Whilst it is important for scrum teams to learn about the different team members and their role, it is recommended for the roles to be combined. Combining roles can mean that one role will always suffer or there could be a conflict of interest (this tends to be more common). One area of conflict is stakeholder management. As a Product Owner you are meeting the needs of the client and stakeholders whereas the Scrum Master is concerned with the development team, if you have both roles, you risk splitting yourself in two and not being able to achieve either objective entirely.
In my webinar “Dude, where’s my control” I go into an explanation of what is the difference between a Project Manager and a Scrum Master.
This included understanding the subtle differences between the two roles and why they are different. It’s important to realise that whilst they may be over similar subject matter or project goals, they are fundamentally different and require a different mindset as such. When I was in my first Scrum Master training, I kept getting interrupted because I kept calling my team ‘resources’. They’re not resources in Scrum, they’re people.
So, what can you do if you find yourself in this position?
- Learn the language
When you’re discussing your role and position as Project Manager learn and adapt to know what you are, what skills are for a Project Manager and what is for another role entirely.
- Open and honest dialogue
When you are talking to your bosses and teams, be clear about what a Project Manager is and what they are not and manage expectations for what is feasible. Whilst being flexible and adaptable is a great trait to have as a person, make sure that you’re not making a rod for your own back in these circumstances.
It might be your aim to be that five-legged sheep who can do the quickstep. If it is, then learn as much as you can about the roles that you’re looking to diversify into and make sure that when you’re selling yourself that you’re being clear about how much talent you possess. This should be a clear selling point with your managers.
As the project landscape and job market become more competitive, it’s important to make sure that as a Project Manager you’re positioned in the correct way. Having a clear understanding of your role, what your expertise is and how you can best sell yourself, we only lead to more positive outcomes and projects moving forward. As whilst it’s nice to be considered so versatile, it can lead to not being an expert in any of them.