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Why Did I Become a Deputy Project Manager? – Michael Mwera

Michael Mwera is a member of the ProjectManagers.Org community. He shares his story on why he became a Deputy Project Manager in the following interview:

Why did you become a Deputy Project Manager?

I love working in projects and I am always looking for a challenge. Each day in project management presents its own unique challenges. The ability to tackle these challenges and successfully bring the project to its completion a project is what appealed the most to me.

What work were you doing previously?

As a technical consultant, I have worked in manufacturing of products for the construction, automotive, shipping, machining and oil industries, mostly in an advisory capacity.

What are you doing now?

At the moment, I am working as a Deputy Project Manager for an Industrial Automation firm that is tasked with creating automotive assembly lines for Volvo Cars.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

In my profession as a technical consultant to the various industries, I have found that the common denominator to getting the tasks successfully completed has been project management.  The moment  I got to this realization, I found that I  couldn’t rightly claim that I had the project management skillset to work effectively as a consultant , this was the turning point for me.  It got me interested in project management as a career and led to my decision to pursue project management certification.

Are you happy with the change?

It is challenging,  but I couldn’t be happier!

What do you miss and what don’t you miss?

As a consultant working in the field of project management, I may not have enough time to really get to know everyone I get to work with due to the transitory nature of projects, this is what I miss the most from ongoing operational activities. But on the positive side, the few I do get to know, while working on projects, become good friends on a personal level and invaluable business contacts for future projects.

How did you go about making this career move?

I researched and collected all the information I could find on Project Management, dug deep into my professional background to see if I had what it takes, consulted project managers I knew on their experiences and asked for their opinion on how I should proceed. And most important, I discussed the career move with my family. It basically became a project in its own right!

What didn’t go well? What ‘wrong turns’ did you take?

Once I had made up my mind to pursue project management as a career, I decided to start thinking and acting like one. Wrong turn? Well, the technical consultant in me lead me to immediately try correcting what I felt were wrong project management practices I saw, which inevitably, lead to conflict with some team members and stakeholders. The first practical lesson I learned in project management…”People are not machines……they are more complicated”!  I had concentrated on the technical aspects of project management and completely bypassed the subject of “communication skills, soft skills and emotional intelligence”. Retrospectively, i could definitely have handled it better. It took sometime for me to really understand why Human resource and Communication management are key pillars in project management philosophy.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

Handling of finances is the tricky bit, because we (my family and I) made my career move a project, we planned everything in phases to make the transition as smooth as possible. This meant saving up to build a financial buffer for the unforeseeable and working as much as I could while taking up education in project management during the free time at my disposal. Much like the triple constraints, we worked out how long it should take to make the transition, had a clear understanding of what we needed to do get there and set a budget for it.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

In my case, it would be grasping the human aspect in project management. As Kevin Ciccotti says in his conference paper (PMI) dated October 2014  , “The challenge of taking a diverse group of individuals, with varying backgrounds and experience, from different functional areas, sometimes with conflicting agendas, and placing them on a project team with a project manager who is not their direct supervisor can challenge the success of any project.”  As a technical consultant, I was part of a team and just sought to get the job done, many a time, I have wanted to go back to managing, designing or programming machines simply to avoid dealing with what may sometimes seem like complex human factors. With my engineering background, the human resource aspect of project management has always been and probably will continue being “the bone of contention” and a work in progress for me.

What help did you get?

In the beginning I got a lot of help from the consultant managers from my firm who had lots of experience in human resource management. They have always been available when I needed to vent but most importantly when I needed another perspective as I have the tendency of solely focusing on the task at hand and making sure it gets done. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses and having loyal friends who point these out for me have been of great help!

I have also drawn much help from articles and webinars on the www.projectmanagement.com which focus on human resource  and communication management issues!

What have you learnt in the process?

In making the career change to project management, make use to the many resources available online, join project management forums and get involved in discussions therein to help in your decision making process. Seek the help of peers in the profession and be prepared to learn from others. I have learnt that as a project manager, personal development is a continuous process and having the humility to recognize our weaknesses and doing something about them always pays of….it may be in the project we are currently performing or in future projects, but it’s nonetheless, time well spent. For my part I have come to see the importance of working hard to understand the communication patterns in every new project I get involved in and doing my utmost to get it right from the start. This can make or break the project!  Creating my personal lessons learnt that I can take with me has been critical !

What do you wish you’d done differently?

Yes, from the beginning of my professional life , I should  have invested more time in understanding the dynamics of communication and human resource management. I wish I started early one putting these to practice, I would have been more prepared for the career change.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

To manage projects effectively we have to manage people…..seek peers who are exemplary in skills you may be lacking and learn from them.

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