I’m a self-taught project manager. All the project management skills I have, I learned either on the job or through online resources. And I was good at my job, too. I was promoted twice and recognized as the top employee in the department two years running. But there are certain skills I wish I had when I first started out. And after observing and talking with other similarly self-taught colleagues, I realized that many of us had the same gap in our knowledge.
Project Management-Level Planning
“Planning” is one of those grossly underestimated project management skills. After all, everybody plans to some degree, right? But planning a marketing campaign or software development project is a lot more complex and far-reaching than planning a weekend at the beach, even though they share the same basic principles.
I thought I could get away with winging it through my first two projects—which I did, but only barely. I had to learn how to make detailed planning documents and charts to stay organized, and not just keep things in my head. Other self-taught project managers had different levels of organization and planning, depending on their experiences, but more often than not they’d never planned complex projects from the ground up.
It’s kind of a given that project managers who come from outside an industry like software or engineering often don’t have the same technical skills as their team members. But even if they do, they can also lack technical knowledge on hard project management skills and concepts. I’m talking about the various project management methodologies, techniques, and tools that formally-educated project managers would have been taught. Unless the self-taught project manager does his own research, he wouldn’t know the difference between PM methods and how best to use them.
One of the worst assumptions I made was assuming that getting along with my team was the same as managing them. A lot of rookies I’ve talked to still carry that assumption, too. We didn’t know anything about motivating people or managing conflict, even though we’ve seen it from the other side as employees. Good social skills will allow you to survive this part of the job, but you need management training if you’re going to really excel.
These missing skills are only a temporary setback. Skills can be learned in a variety of ways: on the job, through a mentor, or even through formal project management training later on. The important thing is to be open-minded and flexible under pressure.
Image credit, Flickr, Will Heidelbach