Occasionally I have a slow week (or a slow month) when I’m between projects. Rather than relish this down time, I grow incredibly restless. Rather than take a deep breath and enjoying the break, I grow bored and anxious.
Given the type A traits of folks in our profession, I can’t imagine I’m alone in this.
I recently switched projects in January. I went from working on a multi-year, large scale, design and technology project to working on piecemeal campaign work focused primarily on weekly or seasonal marketing initiatives. In the process of figuring out what my new role is, I’ve lost a lot of the momentum and responsibility that I had on my previous project. I’m no longer needed to facilitate meetings - only to find a room for them. I’m no longer needed to drive conversations - only to take and distribute notes. I don’t even have to distill feedback anymore - only schedule the meetings.
In the past few months, I’ve gone from being a Digital Project Manager, negotiator extraordinaire, to being little more than a scheduling monkey. (Although, sometimes I need to time box agenda items, so I guess on my best days, I’m at least a monkey with a stopwatch.)
Although I complain about my current responsibilities, I’m actually quite skillful at sequencing meetings, recognizing key stakeholders that need to attend those meetings, taking and disseminating meaningful notes, identifying and assigning action items to the team, and following up on those action items to meet the next milestone. When it comes to the most basic responsibilities of a project manager, I’m killing it.
My boredom with the basic PM role begs the question: What’s next? What am I missing in this role that fulfilled me so much before? What is the difference between a fulfilled PM and a monkey with a stop watch?
In my previous position, I managed a long-term, large-scale program that required someone to provide a holistic view of the scope and pacing of the project. There was a specific thing that was mine: the website redesign, the brand refresh, the launch of the rewards program. Without a “big thing” to own, I feel more like I’m monkeying around and less like I’m driving progress.
I excel at bringing people together. When I work on a cross-disciplinary team or on a project where we’re partnering with an outside vendor, I take great pride in my art for fostering cooperation between teams. When I’m working on a project with a single department or team, there’s less bridge building to do, and therefore, less of an art to my role.
As a Senior PM on a long-term project, I was often the buffer between the production teams and the senior leadership team who were driving product decisions. My role in any decision point was unique. I was often the most senior person when I attended production meetings, and at leadership meetings I was the voice of the people. When everyone on a project is at roughly the same level as I am, there’s nothing special about the perspective I bring to the table.
My monkey-with-a-stop-watch symptoms seem to stem from that gap area many of us find ourselves in when we’ve spent a bit of time in the profession of Project Management (or any profession for that matter). I’ve been focused singularly on PM’ing for the past seven years. Beyond becoming a manager or director, there aren’t a ton of options for where I go from here in the PM world.
What if my boredom isn’t just with my project or team, and more indicative of a larger professional change I need to make? What if it is time for me to become a Director of PM? Or a Product Owner? Or a Product Manager?
...Or maybe I’ll just sit here with this stop watch...