Getting started in project management

kamKam Sahota, Project Manager at Viking Direct, talks to us about how she got started in project management.

Why did you decide to work in the industry and how did it start?

“When I grow up I want to be a project manager” was never a sentence that came to mind as I was growing up.

I started working a part time job in a call centre when I started college. I worked there for 8 years in various different roles and, whilst none had the title ‘project manager’, they all required the same skill set of a PM – organisation, efficiency, pro-activity, planning and prioritisation.

During my third placement year at university I worked as part of a project team on the implementation of a new system in the call centre. I gained quality experience as a support member of the project team. I also became interested in delivering work that brought improvement and efficiency and to my surprise I became familiar with the ‘language’ of the workplace – something academic qualifications don’t teach you.

So when I finally graduated, I knew what my soft skills were and how I could marry them up with my qualifications and experience to land myself a role that would lead to project management.

What was the most important thing you learned in education/university?

I took two important learnings away with me:

  1. If you don’t know it or don’t understand it, Google it!
  2. A good assignment is delivered within scope, to high quality and on time – oh wait, so is a project!

What was the turning point in your career?

 I studied Business Information Technology at university and after graduation I secured a graduate job with a large corporate technology company, working on a Government account as a Project Management Office (PMO) officer. Within a year of being on the graduate scheme I was promoted to a junior project manager working with a team of senior project and programme managers on multi-million pound projects. This was a huge achievement for me and a great opportunity. I grabbed this opportunity with both hands and applied myself fully to the role making sure I was asking the right questions and investing my time in the learning the details of the role.

I quickly learnt that no two projects are the same and the journey is always a learning curve. Each project has its own challenges and therefore flexibility is vital.

What does a typical day at Viking look like for you?

I’m a morning person and like to be in the office before 8:00 am. My day starts with logging on to my laptop, checking emails and getting/providing progress updates on projects I’m working on.

Throughout the day, I usually split my time between working on core activities relating to project delivery and supporting the project teams. Much of the rest of the day is usually varied depending on current priorities.

I enjoy the diversity of working collaboratively with people across the globe. It is both challenging and rewarding when a plan comes together!

How can applicants make sure they stand out from the crowd?

Build your personal brand. Everyone has a unique skill or talent based on strengths, interests and knowledge; you just have to discover yours and develop it. Showcase your presence and build your reputation through networking, blogging and participating in LinkedIn discussions.

What key skills do you need to get into the industry?

Managing projects means managing people. Being people-oriented and building relationships is a key factor to ensuring projects keep moving and are able to overcome obstacles. Success comes from having good working relationships so it is importable to be approachable.

Certifications aside, planning and organisation skills are essential. The project management world is a very fluid, changing environment so having a slight obsession with some sort of a planner is normal.

Project managers also need strong communication skills, flexibility in approaches, an ability to multitask and to be tenacious enough to get things done.

What is the most challenging thing about being a Project Manager?

There are many challenges that could arise during a project, but here are my top three:

  1. Geographically dispersed teams – having the team located in different offices means there is little opportunity to work face to face which makes it difficult to communicate and build trust. Conferencing tools help to combat these issues but it is still not the same. Getting to know cultural difference and communication styles and is very important.
  2. Limited resource availability – more often than not, projects face challenges with limited human and financial resources. Resources are usually assigned to more than one project which means it is essential to have visibility of other projects and a need for dependencies (on other projects) to be managed.
  3. Scope creep – any form of uncontrolled change to the original objectives, can be disruptive to the project and have an impact on timescales, resource and the project budget. In this situation it is vital to take time to access the change and impact, engage stakeholders and refocus the project.

Other challenges include risk management, ineffective communication and lack of knowledge transfer.

Do you have any motivational words for students aspiring to make it in this very competitive industry?

If you are interested in business, technology and people then this is a great field to be in.

Invest your time in getting to know the industry and get hands on experience in the field. Qualifications will give you the foundation of any role but experience is what will make you stand out from the crowd. Learn from experience and constantly ask yourself what went well and what could you have done better.

Andy Morgan

Web Marketing Officer

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