Everyone who starts a task and then finishes it is a project manager. Because that’s what a project manager is — a person who gets things done. Yesterday I project-managed my Christmas baking and threw in a homemade mac-and-cheese for supper. Easy peasy. I visualized the steps, completed them in the contemplated order, and was done in time to go out for a movie last night.
Of course, that list disguises the fact that I’d actually started the process on Friday, completely ruined one batch of cookies and spent the rest of the day in a black mood, but you win some, you lose some, right?
My point is that while project management is the latest buzzword in getting things done in the workplace, and there are actually courses taught in it (I’ve taken one!) and certification available, when it comes right down to it, project management is about getting things done, and a project manager is a person who knows how to do it well enough to ensure it happens regularly.
Think of a chef — before the chef even approaches the stove there’s the mise-en-place — the preparation. All the spices are measured out, all the vegetables and meat are properly cut and set out in bowls in the order of use. The object might be to cook a dish but there are 20 different steps to take to get to the stove. Are your utensils ready? Pans greased? Do you have the right bowls? Is the right-sized pot in the dishwasher or is it ready to go? Project management in this sense means working out all of the necessary steps to do a piece of work, and consider all of the things involved in those steps.
There is a science to it — and there are certainly no end of buzzwords, if you like that kind of thing — but you don’t have to be a certified project manager to project manage. You do need a certain amount of common sense and a degree of self-knowledge, though, so keep that in mind.
The first thing you do when you’re managing a project is define the goal. What do you want to achieve? Get a new job is the easy answer if you’re just going from A to B — layoff to re-employment in the same field. But what if you have a career change in mind? How do you get there? When planning the trip from A to B you also need to consider your resources and your obstacles, all the things that will help or hinder your progress. Think about your inputs — that includes the CV you had when you started your last job, but also the things you learned on your last job. What abilities do you have that you need to add to the CV? What abilities do you need for the job you want?
And then map it out. Start: Unemployed (or looking for work). End: A new job. What do you need to do to travel that distance?
- Update your CV. What do you need to do to update your CV? Write down the steps. Research what CVs look like these days in your industry. What do employers want to see? Where will you do the research? Online? The library? When will you do the research? Plan it out.
- Look for work. Where will you look? Where do job ads get published these days? Does your industry publish job ads or is it more word-of-mouth? How many cold-calls will you make per week?
- Apply for jobs. How are you going to apply? Online? Through a company website? Will you write and send letters? Who will proofread your CV and cover letter? How many jobs will you apply to per week?
- Financing your job search is important. How much cash do you have and how long will it last? How can you supplement it? Can you take a part-time job?
Draw up a calendar for what you’re going to do and when, and then hold yourself to it. If you’re veering off your established career path, project-manage what you need to do to facilitate the transition.
Once you’ve worked out what you think the steps are, start following them. You may find that Steps 2 and 4 are essentially the same thing, so cross out Step 4 and continue. Or maybe you need to do Step 6 after Step 2. Revise your plan and continue. You may have too many steps, you may have not enough. Revise and continue. The goal doesn’t change.
And when someone asks if you have experience with project management, nod. We might not all be project managers, but we all can get things done.