They might just have to take my word for it...

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They might just have to take my word for it...

Hi.  Took a bit of a breather there for a while but I'm back.

A reader writes:

I'm applying for a much overdue new position and I'm really struggling with how to update my resume. In my current position, I was hired for a different role and when I transitioned to the role of PM, received no support (education, yes, support, not so much). My boss would fight me every step of the way when I tried to implement change, and the team, while they liked me, was not held accountable to protecting the project budget and scope. When trying to think back on my accomplishments at this position, I feel like I have nothing to show that would make me attractive to a new employer, but I KNOW that I'm good at my job, even though I didn't get to exercise it much in my current position. Any tips for me as I step back out into the job world?

It's so hard to be objective about your own job, especially if you've been there for a while and ESPECIALLY if you now have a different job than when you started. 

The first thing I want to call out is something I'm sure you know, but if you're like me, it might not be top of mind:  the resume (and its almost-equal partner, the cover letter) is just to get your foot in the door

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"Isn't that *your* job?"

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"Isn't that *your* job?"

A reader writes:

I'm a PM working on a project as a freelancer, and I'm confused as to where my job starts.  When I used to be an employee, there were processes and roles and things went through a workflow.  Now that I'm freelancing, I don't really have the same framework, so I don't always know what I'm going to be getting.

So on this project, I was asked for a list of what I needed to get started.  I started writing it but then I thought, maybe they think I'm supposed to come up with some of this stuff?  Like user stories and success criteria and stuff?  The problem is, I'm only PMing the actual development, so it's not like I was there when some of the other stuff was created or approved or discussed.  So I kind of feel like I can't say what things should really do.  I'm afraid to send this list over because I don't want them to say "uh, that's something you're supposed to do."

How do you know where the line is when you're freelancing and you're not part of the beginning of a project?

I found the same thing when I started freelancing.  All of a sudden, the comfort of branded documents and standardized templates were gone from about 75% of the clients I had.  Some had other PMs on board so there was at least some understanding of who did what and what is being produced, but the rest?  I felt like they brought me in and thought "she's a PM, so this will get done."  And I too felt sheepish asking for things that, in the past, I would do myself.  

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Should I get certified in...something?

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Should I get certified in...something?

A reader writes:

Are traditional certifications (PMP, ITIL, CSM) necessary or relevant to digital project management?

Well, I think it depends on who you ask.  As I tend to do, let me get too personal with you on this answer:  I didn't graduate from a 4 year college.  Now that I'm in my 40s, I don't feel quite as ashamed about this as I used to.  And being a PM for digital projects, anything I would have learned about my craft back in the mid 90s would have been woefully out of date now, so I feel like I'm not shooting myself in the foot too much by saying this.  The reason I bring it up is because not having that degree has caused me a LOT of agita in the past.  What if they think I can't do this work?  What if there is some sort of Big Lesson they teach in college that no one is allowed to talk about that everyone else knows and I don't and will cause me to completely fail at everything??  It's the same sort of agita I hear some PMs talk about when they are anxious that they don't have a certification in something or other.  What I found, though, is that my on-the-job experiences have shaped my PM abilities and has put me on par with peers that do have a degree. 

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Wherein I answer my own question about nasty imposter syndrome

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Wherein I answer my own question about nasty imposter syndrome

A reader named Patrice Embry, who is me, writes:

Hi.  Love your advice column, I read it all the time.  So, in a role like Project Manager where you really need to exude leadership and confidence, how do you deal with feelings that you aren't really as smart at PM as people think you are?  I am able to participate in discussions about what to do in a PM situation, what tools work for what scenarios, how roles overlap, and whatnot.  Yet I see others' responses and I'm like, who the F do I think I am??

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I've lost the spark

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I've lost the spark

A reader writes:

I feel like I lost my spark at work.  I used to care a lot about the work I was doing and my team, but after a few really terrible projects and a new boss at work, I just can't muster up the same enthusiasm.  I feel like not enough has changed at work to make me feel this way, so maybe I'm just not cut out for this job?  I've been a PM for 4 years and have been at this job for just under 1 year.

I feel like I lost my spark, and then found it again, about 10 times so far in my career.  So first, let's establish that it's totally normal to feel an ebb and flow of love for being a PM.  It's a thankless job in a lot of companies, and often, the PM is in charge of stuff and not people, and people are the biggest wildcards to try to manage when they don't report to you.  And projects can be set up to fail (like by having a shitty estimate, for example) so even if you were in love with PM and had a fantastic team who all worked well under your management, you could still feel pretty ineffective and less enthusiastic.  Or you might not be cut out for PM. 

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What tools should I use?

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What tools should I use?

A reader writes:

With so many tools that could work for time tracking, task management, forecasting, what factors should I consider to determine which tool might work best for my unique team?

Soooo....many.......tooooolllssssss.... Seriously, so many tools.  Look, I'm old.  I used to joke about it because I have had white hair since my 20s but I'm literally actually old now, and as an old person, I do things in old ways.  I still carry a notebook and pen around.  And I still use spreadsheets.  I'm a freelancer, and I usually need to use whatever my client is using currently (if anything) and I've also worked for quite a few places where tools just aren't used.  To allow me to keep myself sane, I fall back on the basics - a lot.

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What on earth have I gotten myself into?

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What on earth have I gotten myself into?

A reader writes:

I've recently accepted a new job and I'm into the second month. I've quickly realized I've got a challenge on my hands that I haven't experienced before.

I'm the first DPM at my company and the roles and responsibilities I'm used to owning don't seem to be the same. I've been taking my time to observe and learn/respect what's currently working in terms of our process - but we're missing deadlines left and right. My boss is super busy and it's hard to pin him down to extract what's in his head that will guide teams forward.

Help!? What do I do?

Ah, the first DPM at a company.  "The role is really wide open, you can make it your own!" and "We're really looking for someone to help shape what a DPM does here!"  You get in there, and you realize that they don't really know what they want.  It really can be a great challenge, and you might get some solid experience.

....Or it can totally blow. 

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My developer and my client cut me out!

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My developer and my client cut me out!

A reader writes:

I started my own freelancing business and I just lost one of my clients.  I hired a freelancer to do the code work and then he and my client started meeting secretly, and now they've dropped me completely and are working with each other.  Is there anything I can do about that?  How do I make sure that doesn't happen again?

So your developer and your client ran off together?? That sucks!  Really, that's a tough thing to wrap your mind around.  Freelancers know - cultivating a lead and converting them to a client is a very long and arduous road. Having someone you brought in to help you then steal that relationship you spent time on like that is killer.

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Quick answers to quick questions

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Quick answers to quick questions

Here's a few quick questions and answers:

1 - Is there really a way to run a project "agile" when you're in an agency?  Doesn't it kind of go against what agile is, because you have these constraints of time and budget?

Yes, you can, but it's not going to be perfect agile.  Like most things in life, you have to come to a compromise, because every project is different.  But yes, you can still run a project "agile", and it's actually pretty common these days to do so.  Picture Trello's or Jira's kanban layout - that's how developers tend to like to see and work on things.  That's agile...ish.  There's no hard and fast rules for how to make a project work, so don't worry too much about labels.

2 - What is the best tool for tracking time?

You could fill in the blank on this one - what is the best tool for _____? There are SO MANY TOOLS and they all work for a variety of different reasons and different scenarios.  I find the best way to figure out what tool to use is to not use a tool at all, and get a feel for what your specific team needs. Once you know "we need to be able to log in and do ______" you'll know which tools have that feature, and you'll be in a better position to choose one.  Try going old school for a short time to get your requirements together.

3 - Why are other people getting director jobs and speaking gigs and stuff, and all I'm doing is my same old job that I've had for like 10 years?

That's a good question.  A better question is - is that what you want?  And then - do you know how to get there?  If you don't know how to get where you want to go, the best thing to do is ask someone who would know.  I bet they would be happy to help you out!  

4 - Do you think that in-house PM jobs are easier than agency PM jobs?

Well, truthfully, for me - yes.  But I'm only me - and you're you.  There are definitely differences between the 2 kinds of PM jobs, some good and some bad.  As an in-house PM, I often didn't feel challenged, or I was surrounded by people who said "we tried that before" when faced with something new.  Then again, I didn't work 60h weeks, either.  As an agency PM, I felt like I never had enough time to properly devote to my client load.  Then again, I learned a ton of new things all the time.  So it's all trade-offs and what works for me may not work for you.  Think about what you enjoy most about your job, and see if that fits the in-house profile more than the agency profile.

Good luck!!

 

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I got fired and I don't know what to do now

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I got fired and I don't know what to do now

A reader writes:

I got fired last week.  I'm still in shock - I was on a PIP [Ed: Performance Improvement Plan] but it didn't even end yet and I thought I was doing well.  In fact, I don't really think I should have even been on the PIP to begin with.  I had 2 projects that launched far later than they were supposed to, but I felt like I let everyone know ahead of time, and we couldn't just not work on them.  They didn't give me much more info on the PIP other than I had to plan better and keep things on time.  I don't control everyone's schedule though, I can't force them to be on time!  I was one of 5 PMs and they did lose a big account recently (not my client) so I wonder if they just wanted to let someone go.  All of which I don't care about - I just can't believe I got fired!  I don't know how to put this on my resume!  I know you were fired so I'm hoping you have some insight and thoughts for me.

Yeah, I have been basically where you are.  Twice, as I like to continue torturing myself and point out to everyone.  Once, I was really blindsided, and the other time, it was very mutual but I let them go first.  Each time, it was devastating.  The first time, people were really kind to me, saying "everyone's been fired once before".  Which, not exactly, but definitely lots of people have been fired before.  Including, now, you.

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I think my team hates me

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I think my team hates me

A reader writes:

I think my team hates me.  I feel like I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing as a PM but they make it seem like I'm bothering them anytime I try to do my job.  I try to be personable and I think I'm likable but it doesn't seem to be doing me any good.  I'm freaked out because if I don't start doing well, I feel like I could get fired - this place has fired people in my role before.  How do I get my team to like me so I can do my job??

First off, can I just say that I find this one of the hardest parts of project management?  For me, personally.  I feel like I have to be liked in order to be effective.  So this kind of "MY TEAM HATES ME" issue is one of my biggest obstacles to doing well.  Okay, now that you know that I not only commiserate with you, but that I *am* you, let's get to the "answer".

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Why don't some companies have Project Management as a role?

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Why don't some companies have Project Management as a role?

A reader writes:

I have been a PM for a while now and I have talked to quite a few people who say they don't have project managers in their companies - companies where I would expect to see a PM.  They didn't think it was odd, but I did.  Why do some companies forego the PM role?

GOOD QUESTION.  I feel like I'm constantly saying to non-PMs that have questions about how to run projects "do you have a project manager on staff?" It's hard for me to fathom why anyone wouldn't have a PM, but there are some fairly solid reasons why some companies don't.  Fairly.  Like, mostly.  Or at least a little bit.  Sort of.

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Should I make myself a website?

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Should I make myself a website?

Have you found it valuable to create a personal website? I want to put something together that showcases my work, but I'm:

1. Not sure how valuable this would be in an application review. I have (some) media links referenced on LinkedIn, but not a link to everything I've worked on;

2. I want to make sure I'm utilizing my time wisely in my job search. I feel it's important for me to showcase my creative ability (in writing and in the different initiatives I can manage) but I'm honestly not sure where to start. I've never freelanced before and it seems a great next step in terms of continually developing skills/proving my skills and income.

Thoughts? Any  suggestions?

Great question.

  1. It's totally valuable.  

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Can a solo freelancer hire a PM, and why would they want to?

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Can a solo freelancer hire a PM, and why would they want to?

A reader writes:

Is it financially feasible for a solo freelancer (Ex: Developer, Designer, Marketing Consultant, etc.) to hire or partner with a PM on their projects? How can a one person shop afford to hire someone like you without taking a loss on the project?

As a follow-up, what are some of the benefits of working with a PM when you specialize in another discipline? How can I leverage the fact that I have a PM on my "team" to better sell my services and provide a better client experience?

Why yes, yes it is feasible for a solo freelancer to hire or partner with a PM on their projects.  But before I go into that, let's start with your follow up:  what are some of the benefits of working with a PM and how can you leverage them? 

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Do I even know what I'm doing??

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Do I even know what I'm doing??

A reader writes:

I recently (about 4 months ago) took on a role as the only PM in my company.  I came from a small agency where my role was pretty well defined, and in this new job, I was able to "make my own job description".  That sounded really good at the time but now I have no structure and no process, but I'm still expected to be managing projects for people who don't even know what a PM *does*, let alone what I need to be able to do my job.  It's gotten to the point where I don't even know if I'm a good PM anymore, or maybe I never was.  

What do I do?  I feel like I made a huge mistake.  I'm 4 months in, so I can't really quit and leave it off my resume.

Oh man.  Come sit down.  

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What's my rate?

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What's my rate?

A reader writes:

I'm about to start my first freelancing job, and I'm not sure how to set my rate. Is there an industry standard, and if so does it vary based on location? I'm also not sure of the etiquette for how to go about telling a client what your rate is. Are there any best practices in how to go about communicating that information?

Such a great question and one I've seen asked a lot, which goes to show you how tough it can be to price yourself as a freelancer.  Luckily, smart people have already thought about this and there's ways to figure this stuff out.

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My project is so boring

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My project is so boring

A reader writes:

I have been working on a project for about 2 months, and I have found myself just so bored.  It is becoming a problem because I think my attitude is rubbing off on my team.  I also find myself not giving my updates my best efforts, and just generally putting off work on this project to the point where I'm afraid I'm going to sabotage it semi-unintentionally.

Is there anything I can try to get myself back and interested in this project again?  Or is it a lost cause and I should just ask to be taken off?

Ugh, I hate boring projects.  I totally hear you - once I lose interest in a project, it's certainly hard to keep my team motivated.  But, you know, it's kinda part of the job.  And I know part of you already knows this, otherwise you wouldn't be asking.  So - how do you get yourself back in the saddle?

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