Ashley Uy smiling with other Self-taught managers at Symph

5 Tips for Self-Taught Project Managers

It’s been more than a year that I’ve held the Project Manager position at Symph and I’ve picked up things along my journey that really helped me continue my learning as a PM. I’m not a pro, far from it. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology with no class on “Management” whatsoever. The only thing, I suppose, that qualified me for the role was my years of doing volunteer work for the community; specifically, organizing events and looking for and communicating with sponsors.

I would like to say “I never thought I’d become a PM” but that’s a lie. I’ve always felt like the role fit me. Looking back, I think what drew me to it was that I knew if I were to be good at it, the skills that I learned would propel me forward towards my goal of supporting the startup ecosystem of my country. For my case, as much as I’d hate to admit it, I need people – and people are difficult. But being able to work with those difficulties and be able to poke and prod in the right places lets you bring the best out of everyone and uplifting them does not only mean a happier community around you, but also a community willing to empower you and each other towards your collective vision.

Know Thy Team

This is always a first for me. I know that I am nothing without my team and investing in getting to know the resources that you have to work with for your project to succeed is paramount in delivering both quality for your stakeholders and a sense of fulfillment for the team.

It’s funny to me how project managers in general are depicted to be detached from the “people” side of the profession where in reality the job is all about people. PMs have to remember that they have the power to influence a team member’s happiness, growth, and sense of fulfillment; and in turn help the company reach it’s goals. So take time to get to know everyone on your team. If you haven’t already, take them out for a coffee, or have a walk together. If a one-on-one session is too awkward, schedule a regular team activity.

For a PM to deliver a project, they must have the trust of not only the stakeholders but also of their team members. Having them see who you really are and that you genuinely care about their performance, happiness, and growth, they’ll start communicating with you – and you’ll want a lot of that especially when they’re experiencing roadblocks that would be fatal to the project if they didn’t!

Know Thy Company (Processes and Politics)

If I haven’t established it enough, the job is all about knowing people. When working in an organization, as horizontal or vertical as the organizational chart is structured, it is important to know who is who and how to deal with who in what manner to achieve project (and team) success.

Be the game master of how your organization works and what rules people need to follow (or not to follow) so they can get things done. In the end, a project manager’s goal it to get the project done on time, within budget, and preferably with happy and fulfilled team members and stakeholders from start to finish. For a PM to be able to achieve this, they have to know the inner workings of their organization to pave the best and most efficient way for their team to be able to do their job and deliver.

Don’t know how the leave system works in your organization? Clarify it. Don’t know when management usually reports in to work? Clarify it. Don’t know how to get to the office admin if they’re not at their table? Clarify it. These things don’t seem to be directly related to your job at first but let me tell you, knowing everything and I mean everything about your company and its rules will give you greater context on how to maneuver people, resources, and opportunities so it can best benefit the project you are pushing forward.

Get A Mentor You Trust

We all know we’re in this as newbies. There are things we can learn over time and experience but a different perspective is always a welcome change of pace. Often times people think that a mentor is there so that they can tell you what to do, in the contrary, a mentor is someone who you can bounce ideas off of and someone who can provide you with their perspective with the knowledge that what you ultimately decide on in the end is the decision that they have to respect.

I’ve grown up appreciating my conversations with the older generation. I might not agree with them most of the time but it’s their difference in perspective that gives me an additional set of eyes to see the world through.

They can be a senior project manager, a project manager from a different department, your company’s external consultant, or even a close family member that has background in working with people before. What’s important is that you have mutual respect for each other and an openness that you can experience with them as they guide and support you through your project management journey.

Join Professional Communities

I really attribute my passion in Project Management as a career to the folks at PM Happy Hour. They’re a podcast and online community that I found through Spotify that really gave me perspective on how fun and fulfilling it is to pursue Project Management.

For many years, I’ve always been given the impression that project management was a “by the book” kind of job where some middle manager would be breathing over a developer’s shoulder, echoing the client’s requirements, and further cornering the creativity of the team. It was through listening to PM Happy Hour’s podcast and joining their online community of PM professionals (with both aspiring and veteran members) that I realized there was more to the role than that.

Community members resonated with and respected my views on project management. Kim, co-founder of the podcast, gave me practical advice on how to handle the more formal curriculum presented by the governing institution of the profession and advised me on how to work with it so that I could not only make the most out of the extensive resource but also apply it based on my needs.

Read or Listen (a lot!)

So Good They Can’t Ignore You, The Nature of Software Development, and Measure What Matters are books that I attribute to the confidence that I have developed while handling projects in my domain. Not all of them are about project management but that’s the point. There’s so much more to being a project manager than knowing how to make a Gantt chart; you not only have to have confidence in yourself but also have domain expertise, the ability to engage with people, and exude an air of reliability where stakeholders can trust you on getting their investment delivered.

Also, be flexible! E-books and audiobooks have been heaven-sent for me. I often use either Kindle or Google Books for reading while on the go, and I use either Spotify or Audible for content that I can listen to.

Blogposts are also a valuable source of bite-sized information. I’ve found the Optimal Living Daily series on Life, Health, and Finance give me a variety of content to learn from. I specifically like their format because they’re like an audiobook for blogposts where I can listen/read to them while commuting to work which is great! Often times, topics on time management and minimalism resonate a lot with what I can apply to my own management style.

If you’ve noticed, a lot of the resources I recommend are varied. Some talk about philosophy, relationships or self-improvement – and that’s okay. I found that as I’m learning how to be the best project manager I can be for my team, soft skills are very important and by being a well-rounded person from the get-go allows you to develop the more important skills that all project managers should have: to learn to be kind, patient, and understanding of what your team and stakeholders feel – especially when you’re delivering the hard truths of what you need for the project to get done. The method of delivery of your messages is just as important as the message itself.

I’m still learning. Currently, I’m aiming to start reading Sense and Respond by the end of this year and start my journey on being PMP Certified by the end of 2019. I’ve got a long way to go so expect a lot more updates in this category of my blog. Got something on project management you think I should look at? Please, comment below!

Update: I didn’t end up pursuing the PMP Certification because I decided to take an MBA scholarship in Japan under the MEXT-YLP program.


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