Learning the Ropes

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.   - Albert Einstein

How did someone who majored in psychology and got her Masters in human resources (HR) become a project manager?

Well as I mentioned in my last post, I was part of a rotational program coming out of graduate school. My first rotation focused on behavior coaching, which was a nice introduction into the working world given my psychology background. My second rotation was focused on leading six sigma projects to help “lean out” processes to make the faster, easier, and more efficient. And my final rotation was to act as project manager for the integration of the HR departments of a large-scale merger.

All of this work was in support of the HR function, but as you can see, none of it was really HR-based. I was an observer of HR through the lenses of change management, six sigma, and project management – and I realized I really liked it. As a problem solver who asks a lot of questions, it was the perfect place to be. I was in charge of helping people figure things out and helping them succeed as they design and implement changes. Not a bad gig!

The interesting thing is that these skill areas were not even on my radar as I started the program. I was assigned my first rotation, where I learned about six sigma and sought out my second rotation. Then I raised my hand to do anything related to the merger.

 Photo by Richard Davis

Photo by Richard Davis

During my last rotation, I formed a very close relationship with my manager, who co-managed the merger project with me. She was the lead, but she treated me as a peer as we divided and conquered the work. She took the more complex workstreams, but we both followed the same process, held the same check-in meetings, completed the same dashboard, and met with the project leader together as we discussed progress and risks. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to shadow and learn the ropes of project management first-hand, which was probably the best way for me to develop my skills as a project manager.

We were the dream PM team! (Thanks Rachel!)

So I would suggest that if you are interested in project management, as with most things, the best way to learn is by doing. And shadowing someone who is an expert is an even better way to learn, especially with someone who trusts you enough to give you real responsibilities. Then you can supplement all of that experience with formal courses and books.

Here are just a small handful of things that I learned:

So stay tuned to hear more about the above topics and many more. And if you can, try to find an experienced project manager in your organization to shadow so you can learn the ropes that much faster.

(By the way, click here for the etymology of the expression “learning the ropes” -- who knew!)