Career move to Project Management – Are you ready?

Answering the right questions

When considering making a step that could possibly change your life, all sorts of questions come to mind. How do you make it? Where does it stand on the cost-benefit graph? When is the right time to do it? And so on.

Career move to Project Management - Are you ready?

But I think a convenient question to start with is: why?

Why do you want to go into project management?

Craving praise is not a good reason, for example, as you will find it is often missing. You’ll run into people’s lack of understanding why it is that they need someone to coordinate their work, when they feel they can do it on their own.

In the course of creating their first full length computer-animated movie The Toy Story in 1995, the team felt that the project management was impeding good work, while in fact efficient handling of the pipeline was crucial, since the production of such a film is quite sequential in nature [1], and simultaneously demands careful managaging of dependencies and parallelizing excution steps with preparations for the next one.

Improving your finances may be a decent reason – for a short while. Increasing income is known to have diminishing returns, and money alone won’t keep you motivated. So what will?

According to Maslow’s hierarchy, people strive for the highest level of needs: self-actualization – fullfilling one’s personal potential and becoming everything one is capable of becoming.

Career move to Project Management - Are you ready?

Ideally you’re finding yourself motivated by some of the following incentives:

  • Doing meaningful work
  • Challenging yourself and overcoming obstacles
  • Leading people
  • Driving results
  • Influencing a company or a cause

If so, let’s proceed to discuss the what:

What is it that a project manager does and what qualities does he/she need to have to be good at it?

The sea captain

Career move to Project Management - Are you ready?

A PMP’s role will depend on the organization and size of the company.
In a startup, a project manager is the one responsible for driving work forward, whereas in larger organizations they are given a more reactionary role, always having someone who asks for their attention.

But either way, a project manager is a versatile shapeshifter. Do you possess deep knowledge of the industry you’d be working in, while also understanding business? Can you communicate smoothly with specialists in your team, your boss, the stakeholders?

Think of it like this:

A project manager is like the captain of the ship. Remember Columbus? He was skilled enough to convince the king and queen of Spain that the country would benefit from his voyage, but he also had the competence to navigate and command his ships. As a captain, you ought to weather the storms, boost the crew’s morale, give clear instructions about the destination and route to follow.

You ought to lead.

You are comfortable directing a diverse group of people towards the same goal.

You can set the expectations right. You’re good at planning and organizing work so you give your team as little crunch time as possible while still maintaining productivity.

You can rise above the details. You are a delegator and coordinator.

Though not the most important, a project manager is the most responsible. Perhaps it was someone else’s poor work that caused a project to fail, but it is your responsibility as a PMP to notice this in time.

You prefer planning to executing. If you shudder at the idea of spending a lot of time making sure you understand what you are doing, and would rather jump to the hands-on part, project management is probably not for you.

The diplomat

A project manager is a people person and judges others well. This enables them to match the appropriate staff members with different tasks on a project. They can quickly infer whether they will be able to work with a person and get value from them.

A project manager is not a boss, but a tactful diplomat. They describe the end goal, and discuss the road to achieving it with the team.

A project manager is not too agreeable, and has no issue with pressing people to meet their deadlines.

Are you a good speaker and a good listener? Communication lies in the core of the profession.

Career move to Project Management - Are you ready?

You will be swamped with e-mails, scrum meetings, conference calls, and not being used to a lot of communication with people could make this job very unsatisfying.

No “Groundhog day”

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

Project management is not a routine, and though you can find structure in the daily life of a PMP, the activities on the level of detail will vary greatly. This will require you to be versatile and adaptable.

Yes, a project manager is a master of planning. But this is not to say your plans should be set in stone – quite the contrary, always make space for circumstances changing in an unpredictable manner.

Antonio Uncal compares this aspect od project management to quantum mechanics:

Quantum physics has within its roots the management of uncertainty—and uncertainty is a key factor in the origin of the deviations that can occur during project executions.

He goes on to interpret the superposition principle in terms of project management, such that it refers to absence of a defined state of a process – instead, there are different states superimposed at the same time; then concretion is forced once the process is intervened. Since intervention changes the outcome of an ongoing process, it is crucial to carefully decide when and how to intervene.

Career move to Project Management - Are you ready?

So, you don’t crash when circumstances change. But more than that, sudden changes sometimes elicit disproportionate responses in people, and you know how to confine this reaction in your coworkers.

The eye of the storm

Career move to Project Management - Are you ready?

Are you low on neuroticism?

A PMP is exceptional at managing stress and projecting calmness. In the face of an unexpected storm, it is your task to detach yourself and calmly guide your team in the effort to remedy the situation.

You have elegant ways of resolving conflict. You stay away from unnecessary arguing.

Yet, you dont push problems under the rug. You have the composure to deal with any issue that arises during a project, and if its solution is outside of your domain, you are not reluctant to ask for help.

How a PMP presents him/herself to stakeholders and team members often determines the reception of their ideas. Well-composed individuals tend to be perceived as more competent.

Uniquely human

A brain region, called the lateral frontal pole has been pinpointed as responsible for planning and decision-making, and it appears to have no equivalent in the monkey brain. It is believed that this uniquely human region is responsible for humans’ upper hand in tasks that require strategic planning, decision-making and multitasking.

As a project manager, you will have no deficit of tough decisions to make, and you have to be at ease with it. These might involve hiring new people, firing those that aren’t delivering, or making drastic changes to the way the team is working.

Career move to Project Management - Are you ready?

To spice things up even more, these decisions are often made in situations of great stress, and great stress is known to affect the decision making process [2,3].

Here’s how:

  • Stress can make rewards gleam more brightly
  • Stress enhances selection of previously rewarding outcomes but impairs selection of previously negative outcomes
  • Stress can impair avoidance of previously rewarding but no longer rewarding stimuli
  • Stress amplifies gender differences in strategies during risky decisions, with males taking more and females less risk
  • Stress promts us to reduce uncertainty by narrowing the available options; we make premature decisions, instead of being open to possibly better options

On the other hand, failing to consult members of your team, or your boss, when making certain decisions might be a bad idea. Not only will your team feel excluded, but you could be missing a different, and more effective, idea than the one you are fixated on.

Suppose you made a wrong decision after all. Will it haunt you too long? Will it meddle with your ability to make further decisions?

The cautious gambler

Career move to Project Management - Are you ready?

Project managers operate on risky ground, drawing moves while trying to minimize the risk. Do you have a gambler in you? Can you sense when something seems too good to be true?

It should be noted that by gambling I don’t mean blindly picking an option, but something along the lines of: assesing the expected value of moves (sum of all possible outcomes multiplied by the probability of thir occuring) and going for the highest one. In the PM world this concept is known as EMV – Expected Monetary Value.

It is possible to develop a mathematical model utilizing historical data or past experiences and get a picture of what to expect in the future. Simulation is often used for ROI, Costs, or duration of a project, among others.

A form of simulation is also stealth innovation. When an NY based phrmaceutical company, Pfizer, faced a crisis in 2005, its HR manager, Jordan Cohen, came to the idea of launching pfizerWorks – a program for relieving the employees of mundane work by outsourcing – not jobs, but tasks. Cohen didn’t present this idea straight to the top management, but instead worked silently on it for over a year.

When he finally pitched it to the top executives, pfizerWorks was not just an idea – it had existing users passionate about the project, a proven business case, and support from a couple of senior managers.

Pfizer soon decided to support the project, which turned out to be a success, and Cohen was placed as the head of pfizerWorks.

A gambler must be aware of the consequences of their actions and understand what’s in store for them at the end of the road. They know the thresholds for how much uncertainty can be tolerated.

A gambler is good at prioritizing and managing resources.

A gambler always has a contingency reserve.

What about you?

The chronicler

Career move to Project Management - Are you ready?

Do you like organizing, not only people, but data too?

Do you like documenting? Being a PMP will be much easier if you do, since many aspects of project management require some documentation, including status reporting, communication plans, scope changes, and project charters.

You have decent writing skills. You can make documentation adequate, well arranged and easy to read.

Hopefully this text brought you a step closer to your decision.

Welcome to the PM world, maybe 🙂 .


  1. Henne, M., Hickel, H., Johnson, E. and Konishi, S., 1996, February. The making of toy story [computer animation]. In Compcon’96.’Technologies for the Information Superhighway’Digest of Papers (pp. 463-468). IEEE.
  2. Kassam, K.S., Koslov, K. and Mendes, W.B., 2009. Decisions under distress: Stress profiles influence anchoring and adjustment. Psychological science, 20(11), pp.1394-1399.
  3. Mather, M. and Lighthall, N.R., 2012. Risk and reward are processed differently in decisions made under stress. Current directions in psychological science, 21(1), pp.36-41.

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