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Help a Sales Manager become a Project Manager

AresProphetAresProphet I see a darkness in my fateI'll drive my car without the brakesRegistered User regular
My background: I'm a store manager for the largest authorized retailer of one of the Big 4 cell phone carriers in the U.S. I'm good at what I do. I've hit or exceeded sales targets for blah blah blah just take me at my word, I'm good at what I do (and this surprises me on a daily basis). My job involves incessant problem solving, ridiculous adaptability, a little low-grade technical know-how (most things short of scripting or coding), managing people, and understanding every aspect of my store's business from inventory to P&L statements. It is a diverse skillset, and that is kind of the problem.

For various reasons I'm considering a career change. I have an opportunity to join a company that values all of that, but wants a little more. Luckily I know what they need from me before they know that I don't yet have it. At that organization I'd most likely land in a Project Management role. This is not something I will ever have the opportunity to learn with my current company. Lack of actual experience may not be such a hurdle; complete unfamiliarity with the field would certainly raise eyebrows. I need to specialize.

I need some resources on agile development and scrum. This company has recently transitioned to it so everyone is kind of an amateur, according to an inside source, and that means I have a brief window in which to get on board and learn alongside them without looking like an idiot. Still, I'm going to have to learn more than just the basics of what those terms mean. The goal here is to interview well in 4-6 weeks and be able to demonstrate how my career experience would make me a good candidate.

A short list of questions:

-what resources directly related to Project Management should I review? books, online seminars, etc. are all fair game
-how much coding knowledge should I be prepared to have for a role like this? I know just enough C++ to have passed a Comp Sci course in 2003, and that's about it.
-beyond programming: what other technical knowledge might be a good asset? even if it doesn't happen in this time frame, if Project Management is a role I want at some point I need to know what would prepare me for it

Given that this is largely a community of software-minded folk, I figure this is as good a place to ask as any. Help me make a career move, H/A!

oh, gimme some time
show me the foothold from which I can climb
yeah, when I feel low
you show me a signpost for where I should go

Posts

  • jungleroomxjungleroomx Never pre-order anything. Registered User regular
    Project Management is more Gantt charts, ERD's, flowcharts, IPO's, and other things not directly related to technical expertise.

    Systems analysis is a thing you should know, data modeling is definitely a thing you should know, scheduling and budgeting are absolutely things you should know.

    There are numerous resources online, including Coursera or just random university publications. I can look a few things up.

    "Oh god, you're so tough, with your fucking open nose and throat" - Bill Burr to Joe Rogan, after Joe said masks were for "pussies."
    tynicNijaUsagiInquisitor77AresProphet
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    I know lots about agile and scrum and am happy to trade PMs

    I have seen Project Management mean a lot of different things so it would help to have job responsibilities

    also depending on the group and task sometimes it requires a really intense personality who holds people's feet to the fire and fixes a dull plodding organization and sometimes that would get you fired so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    sig.gif
    jungleroomxNijaInquisitor77Dis'pirateluigiAresProphet
  • schussschuss Registered User regular
    The gold standard is typically the PMP - project management professional - cert from the Project Management Institute
    You can get a scaled down version (PMP requires something like 5000 hours of documented project management) called the CAPM pretty easily for under $1k. That's a good start on the sort of fundamentals you'll need to know about how projects are structured and execute.
    Note, however, that nothing replaces experience with tasking and organizing work, given you won't use all the techniques each project.

    As puppies points out, there's also the new school of agile, which focuses more on someone referred to as the scrum master. There are some competing certs for this, but this one is vastly more experience-based given how wildly different Agile implementations end up.
    The key qualities in a good PM (IMO) are:
    1. An unrelenting need to organize. I'm married to a PM, and any time she's involved, it's organization city (I'm the "eh, it'll be fine, we'll just wing it" type) to the point that we have organized folders of tickets, maps and attraction info for our vacations.
    2. You must be an effective facilitator that knows how to drill into work to determine what the actual work is and how long it takes.
    3. You have to be OK with not doing the work (bigger than you think)
    4. You must be an effective manager of tasks, people and expectations to keep things running smoothly. This will sometimes involve changing people's estimates/expectations/tasking to mitigate their own workflow issues.
    5. You must be able to accommodate change without emotion or becoming flustered. PM's/Scrummasters should be the calm eye of the storm. Think Pentecost in Pacific Rim. You're a fixed point of contact that keeps the team working efficiently, manages new items and works with management to ensure there's realistic expectations of delivery.

    Inquisitor77pirateluigiRainfallAresProphet
  • witch_iewitch_ie Registered User regular
    I've been doing project and program management on the business side for more than 10 years and have typically partnered with a technical project or program manager on most of my projects. I agree with schuss's assessment of some of the basic skills a project manager has to have. I would also add that the best project managers are typically thinking a lot further out than the teams they are working with, including planning and implications for the changes that are being made.

    Your experience as a sales manager speaks to your potential to be a good project manager, however at the same time, I think it's important to recognize you don't have any real PM experience yet - and that's okay since it's likely you'll start at the entry level of this career path. I would suggest learning the basics of project management including a high level of the different methodologies that are out there, not just Agile.

    You may want to look for templates and tools commonly used by project managers to help organize and communicate with their teams. These include status reports, RACI, risk, issues, assumptions, decisions, and action item logs, and MS Project. Project management is not rocket science, it's really the logical planning of work (like planning a party) and then helping manage execution (making sure things happen on time, solving problems, and making sure people are happy). If you enjoy planning, managing details, and helping others get what they need to get their work (the real work) done, then project management will come pretty naturally.

    As for coding and technical details, I think you need to know enough to understand what questions to ask your team about the work, which in part you will develop over time depending on the technology your team is implementing. Technical project managers may need to know more, but it's less important than understanding what the technical team needs, how to communicate that, and how to organize the work.

    AresProphetschussInquisitor77
  • Inquisitor77Inquisitor77 2 x Penny Arcade Fight Club Champion A fixed point in space and timeRegistered User regular
    edited February 2016
    Having experienced both good and bad PM's, I will say the biggest differentiators seem to be diligence and communication skills. You should always know why someone is (or is not) doing something, and you should be able to explain that to anyone who asks, whether it's leadership, someone in a different department, or just a colleague who was out on vacation and is coming back into things. If you don't know, then you need to find out. And if they can't explain it or they explain it in terms that don't seem to align with everyone else's priorities, then that should raise red flags, and you should be on point to get them back into alignment (note that this doesn't mean YOU are directing them, just that you are able to recognize the problem and cascade it to the appropriate people, get the pipes flowing if you will).

    All jobs entail managing expectations to some degree, but a PM is a master at doing so across all levels - upwards, downwards, side-to-side, whatever the case may be. To that end, it can be very organization/group-specific. You will likely feel like you are speaking completely different languages to people and using completely different communication styles, because you are literally a bridge (or translator) across functions and roles.

    If you are specifically interested in the Scrum Master role, then I would recommend https://www.agilealliance.org/ as a good starting point. But really, it can be hard to get a grasp on this kind of thing in a vacuum. Experience with a lot of different people, processes, and projects goes a really long way in a role like this, where you are often expected to have all the answers but none of the corresponding authority or expertise to actually get things done.

    Inquisitor77 on
    SimpsoniaAresProphet
  • pirateluigipirateluigi Arr, it be me. Registered User regular
    Hey! You're making a great choice! I've been a PM for a long time and have led PMOs at multiple organizations. It's not always the easiest job (and I've gotten a lot of gray hairs despite only being 31) but it's incredibly fulfilling and I've never regretted the career choice.

    I actually made a similar transition, from sales manager to PM. Honestly, there are quite a few skills that transfer over. Organization, communication, and even salesmanship are all essential tools for a project manager. Learn about the different softwares out there (MS Project, Jira, TFS, SharePoint) so you can speak intelligently about them. It also helps to understand some of the ITIL processes, Agile / Scrum processes, and Six Sigma / Process Optimization tools. You don't need to be a master, just be aware of them and know what they mean.

    I've hired plenty of project managers that haven't had direct PM experience. What I personally look for is someone that is able to break a large project into discrete parts, communicate well with a variety of different roles and personality types, and organize to a degree that most people simply can't manage. They should understand how to manage a budget and schedule and know how to negotiate. Seriously, sales skills and other soft skills are incredibly important tools that often get overlooked in hiring a PM.

    Other tips: Typical interview questions will be along the lines of "Bob is part of your project team but has consistently missed deadlines. How would you handle this?" or "You've just been handed XYZ project. What's the first thing you do?"

    Understand the triple constraints of Schedule, Quality, and Cost. Understand Risk Management and how to qualitatively evaluate and plan for risk events. Also, read up on what you'd need to do to get a PMP. For first time PMs I never require a PMP, but I do want to know that they are going to work to achieve it.

    Good luck!

    http://www.danreviewstheworld.com
    Nintendo Network ID - PirateLuigi 3DS: 3136-6586-7691
    G&T Grass Type Pokemon Gym Leader, In-Game Name: Dan
    NijaAresProphet
  • AresProphetAresProphet I see a darkness in my fate I'll drive my car without the brakesRegistered User regular
    This is all great advice and I'm grateful for it! It sounds like I'm not completely barking up the wrong tree in terms of a career move. I am prepared for it to be a challenge and require developing some new skills, this is a plus as far as I'm concerned.

    I got a little more info from my inside source and here's what he had to say about an open Product Owner/PM position:
    This is very similar to what I do. Honestly, there are plenty of people who do this without much tech background to start. The main focus is really in project management… getting multiple teams to work together and deliver a certain amount of work on time and within budget. If you’re able to pick up the basics of Agile development before an interview then you could go for it. The company is currently training just about everyone on Agile development so you wouldn’t be far behind the curve.

    This makes me optimistic. My goal now seems to be a crash course in PM/Agile stuff, and updating my resume to emphasize different projects I've worked on; I hadn't thought of it before, a lot of work I do either day-to-day or as part of company initiatives aligns with project management principles in terms of budgeting (in man-hours rather than costs), scheduling, organization, and coordinating between different parts of the company.

    I found a really basic EdX course that at least gives me some familiarity with the terminology, but it's not especially in-depth. @Powerpuppies recommended Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time as a good start on Agile. Recommendations for other books that might cover project management principles would be appreciated. @Deebaser also recommended MS Project; beyond just buying it (it looks like there's a free trial) are there any good resources for familiarizing myself with it?

    oh, gimme some time
    show me the foothold from which I can climb
    yeah, when I feel low
    you show me a signpost for where I should go
  • schussschuss Registered User regular
    You don't need project to start, it's just a tool, and honestly not even one everyone uses. See if you can get your hands on the PMBOK (PM Body of Knowledge).

    Inquisitor77pirateluigiAresProphet
  • ToxTox I kill threads he/himRegistered User regular
    Also, as someone with experience in store management, you should think critically about your experience in that field. As you gain knowledge and understanding of what is to be a PM, you will (hopefully) find you have a lot of "wax-on-wax-off" type experience as a PM. You may not have consciously understood what you were doing, but I can guarantee, if you were ever successful for any length of time, you did project management.

    AresProphet
  • AresProphetAresProphet I see a darkness in my fate I'll drive my car without the brakesRegistered User regular
    Tox wrote: »
    Also, as someone with experience in store management, you should think critically about your experience in that field. As you gain knowledge and understanding of what is to be a PM, you will (hopefully) find you have a lot of "wax-on-wax-off" type experience as a PM. You may not have consciously understood what you were doing, but I can guarantee, if you were ever successful for any length of time, you did project management.

    This is something I've started to realize as I brush up on the basics of project management. It's starting to sound like the field that is the parts of my job I really enjoy minus the parts I really don't (or am growing disillusioned with).

    Annual inventory counts? budgeting (man-hours rather than money, overtime is a big no-no the last few months), scheduling staff, delegating sub-work, communicating between different departments

    New task oversight initiative? creating a weekly schedule, escalating feedback from peers within the district, holding people accountable, monitoring results, presenting summary of results to upper management

    Moving my store in December? incredibly demanding project coordinating contractors, the city, every department in the company, and my team so we never lost a day of sales (which could cost thousands of dollars; one lost day in the holiday season = 20-30% of our monthly rent)

    The problem I'm running into is balancing the PM-applicable accomplishments with "inside baseball" stuff that is too company-specific or retail-oriented. I am, however, enthused by the prospect that what I've been doing all along prepares me for something I initially thought was entirely unrelated.

    oh, gimme some time
    show me the foothold from which I can climb
    yeah, when I feel low
    you show me a signpost for where I should go
    Tox
  • pirateluigipirateluigi Arr, it be me. Registered User regular
    Tox wrote: »
    Also, as someone with experience in store management, you should think critically about your experience in that field. As you gain knowledge and understanding of what is to be a PM, you will (hopefully) find you have a lot of "wax-on-wax-off" type experience as a PM. You may not have consciously understood what you were doing, but I can guarantee, if you were ever successful for any length of time, you did project management.

    This is something I've started to realize as I brush up on the basics of project management. It's starting to sound like the field that is the parts of my job I really enjoy minus the parts I really don't (or am growing disillusioned with).

    Annual inventory counts? budgeting (man-hours rather than money, overtime is a big no-no the last few months), scheduling staff, delegating sub-work, communicating between different departments

    New task oversight initiative? creating a weekly schedule, escalating feedback from peers within the district, holding people accountable, monitoring results, presenting summary of results to upper management

    Moving my store in December? incredibly demanding project coordinating contractors, the city, every department in the company, and my team so we never lost a day of sales (which could cost thousands of dollars; one lost day in the holiday season = 20-30% of our monthly rent)

    The problem I'm running into is balancing the PM-applicable accomplishments with "inside baseball" stuff that is too company-specific or retail-oriented. I am, however, enthused by the prospect that what I've been doing all along prepares me for something I initially thought was entirely unrelated.

    Moving a store is a great kind of project to show that you have the foundation for a career in PMing. Especially if you can explain how you were able to stick to a schedule and the impact of hitting that milestone (not losing a day in sales). Every hiring manager will know the threat of schedule overruns so you don't need to go into too much specifics. Your other examples are also really good! You've definitely good base experience to leverage!

    http://www.danreviewstheworld.com
    Nintendo Network ID - PirateLuigi 3DS: 3136-6586-7691
    G&T Grass Type Pokemon Gym Leader, In-Game Name: Dan
    seasleepyschussInquisitor77Nija
  • schussschuss Registered User regular
    Tox wrote: »
    Also, as someone with experience in store management, you should think critically about your experience in that field. As you gain knowledge and understanding of what is to be a PM, you will (hopefully) find you have a lot of "wax-on-wax-off" type experience as a PM. You may not have consciously understood what you were doing, but I can guarantee, if you were ever successful for any length of time, you did project management.

    This is something I've started to realize as I brush up on the basics of project management. It's starting to sound like the field that is the parts of my job I really enjoy minus the parts I really don't (or am growing disillusioned with).

    Annual inventory counts? budgeting (man-hours rather than money, overtime is a big no-no the last few months), scheduling staff, delegating sub-work, communicating between different departments

    New task oversight initiative? creating a weekly schedule, escalating feedback from peers within the district, holding people accountable, monitoring results, presenting summary of results to upper management

    Moving my store in December? incredibly demanding project coordinating contractors, the city, every department in the company, and my team so we never lost a day of sales (which could cost thousands of dollars; one lost day in the holiday season = 20-30% of our monthly rent)

    The problem I'm running into is balancing the PM-applicable accomplishments with "inside baseball" stuff that is too company-specific or retail-oriented. I am, however, enthused by the prospect that what I've been doing all along prepares me for something I initially thought was entirely unrelated.

    The examples you have already are great. As much as much of the PM training has specific language etc., most PM's and those who oversee PM's know it's more about structure/attitude/planning than specific verbiage etc. Part of the reason the certs exist is to draw commonalities across industries, as from a PM perspective: moving a store, transitioning a software platform and replacing major equipment in a powerhouse or manufacturing plant are analogous.
    Even if the subject is vastly different from what they're hiring for, they SHOULD (note that not all companies are great at this) be looking for your process of project management as opposed to specific knowledge, as many times each project will be completely new territory and the process of how to drive out the detail and plan is the most important facet.

    pirateluigiInquisitor77
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