Project Management Case History – A Career Reflection (Part 1)

Choose your path wisely by Serge Melki via FlickrThis series is not intended for the reader to join me in reminiscences of my professional career. The purpose is for me to share, in the first person, my observations, both positive and negative, regarding project management and office organization, through the various stops that I have made along my professional path.

Early in my career, I was a Project Designer for a national architectural/engineering firm. My experience at this firm was exceptional! I worked with dedicated, talented designers who respected my design expertise.  We designed buildings and planned communities throughout the United States and internationally. The firm was very structured, with Directors managing each aspect of the firm – design, production, structural engineering, and MEP engineering. The overall projects were administered by a Project Manager.  Members of the firm clearly understood their roles and interrelationships, with projects moving forward sequentially. As a designer, I designed. I was exposed to unique opportunities where I was able to hone my design skill. While I loved my job, the organization of the firm put me in a vacuum for understanding how a building was detailed and assembled. As a result, I did not pass the architectural exam on my first try. I passed all of the sections except Building Construction – in part because I had never been to a construction site!  The lesson I learned was that even though staff may be talented in a particular aspect of architecture, it is critical to expose them to all aspects of the profession. With regret, I left this firm to work at a medium sized firm where I would be a Project Architect able to manage a project from start to finish.

This firm was less structured, where project management was a melding of responsibilities between the Partner-in-Charge and the Project Architect. Client contact was primarily a part of the Partner-in-Charge’s job description. I was able to design, produce working drawings and do some field observation. With this experience, I passed the architectural exam. While I was able to develop my skills, a new project management wrinkle crept in. One of the Partners-in-Charge had a voracious ego – to the point that when I worked with him, I actually became ill. The lesson learned is that as a Project Manager it is important to treat your team with respect and understanding. I believe that a characteristic of a good manager is that the staff enjoys working with, not for, him or her. By buoying confidence and self-esteem, a reliable, dedicated staff person will evolve. While I enjoyed working with my peers and clients, I did not like having to deal with this partner. As a result, I decided to return to college for my master’s degree.

Upon completion of my Master’s, my next career move was to a small architectural firm. I was intrigued by the opportunity of doing high quality design, while at the same time managing a project from start to finish. At this juncture, I came upon a Partner/Project Manager who was very insecure. He needed to be lauded personally, placing the firm’s reputation second. There was no opportunity for growth within the firm.  It was his firm, and we were all minions helping him to “achieve greatness.”

By this point in my career, I had worked for large, medium and small firms and had experienced a myriad of project management styles. I decided it was time to start my own firm. I would not have made the jump, if along the way I had felt that the opportunity for growth within a firm was possible.

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