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.
So, let me start by saying I have been the only PM in a company more than once. And I'm not SVP of Project Management anywhere so you can see how that went. There are probably people out there - there have to be - that were the only PM and then built a PM empire and went on to be in the PM Hall of Fame (which I think is in, like, Seattle?) and retired and became a part time mentor to kindergarten PMs. That wasn't me. And that might not be you.
Not everyone can work without a framework, or a defined role, or any semblance of process. And not everyone can be the PM champion. It's exhausting trying to keep telling your colleagues why they should allow you to do your job without giving you a hard time, to have to keep selling yourself even though you have the goddamn job already. It's so over and above all the tough stuff we already do as project managers that it's like a second job, just trying to figure shit out all the time and keep ramming into brick walls of people who are like "don't you just take the notes?"
So don't beat yourself up for not being ecstatic about the position you're in.
Now then, what to do. Well - I'm going to give you advice I 100% did not take: 1. Protect your resume, and don't jump ship if you've already done some hopping around. You might have to stick it out for a little bit longer; at least a year, and if you can make it work, two. 2. BE CAREFUL when you're looking for new opportunities. Don't be in such a hurry to get out of a bad situation that you get yourself into another bad situation. Take your time when interviewing, remember you are interviewing them as much as they're interviewing you. Ask about their process and their roles and whether the entire organization understands the PM role. You don't want to be right back where you started, and having to spend another year or two in a crappy position. 3. Make sure you're doing a fantastic job. Keep trying to get people to follow process and respect your position. Don't give up - not only is it just a huge bummer, but it will make it look like you really don't know what you're doing. And you know what you're doing.
Another thing to consider is talking to your manager and tell her how your time has been so far, and what you are finding difficult. If you have a good manager, she might be able to help you make a plan to make things better, or at least tolerable. Plus, if she's already on board with what's going on with you, when it comes time for performance evaluations, she'll already know your struggle and what you've been doing to try to be successful.
If you're not already part of a PM meetup in your area and/or a Slack channel devoted to PM, get yourself to one immediately. You'll find all kinds of people in your situation and people who are in the situation you wish you were in. You can vent and commiserate and more than that, you can feel like a real PM when people talk about tools and process and all the things you don't have going on in your office. This will help! For me, it was a lifesaver.
You know what you're doing, it just feels like you don't. Good luck!