Friday, July 26, 2013

Mid-2013 Update: Changing Jobs and....Maturing

(Okay, the title is a bit of a misnomer as we're almost through the month of July -- which technically makes this update slightly past mid-year to be called "mid-year". I confess to having been lazy and procrastinated big time to write this. Motivation can be a funny thing: it ebbs and flows like the waves...)

It's a Friday night and I riding this one easy for a couple of reasons. The first is being physically exhausted, while the second is planning to retire early as I promised to drive a friend to the airport early tomorrow morning. Yet as I sit here at my desk trying to find something to occupy my thoughts and slowly lose this drawn-out fight against slumber, I decided to reflect on where I am in the year of 2013.

First off, I recently started a new job with the federal government -- working as a project manager on software-related activities. I was (and remain) excited for this new opportunity as it seemed my previous job was going nowhere despite its reasonable pay and generous company perks. What I have effectively done is move from the private sector to the public sector and, in hindsight, completely changed my work responsibilities. No longer am I an analyst working on specific projects or reports, but now I effectively coordinate (I've grown quickly to dislike the term "manager" due to its grandiose/snobbish connotation) a wide spectrum of different teams to develop a customized software suite for our clients. It's a drastic change and one I'm still slowly adjusting to, since I'm not responsible for any specific part of a project but for only its entirety. Oh and by the way, I was assigned to a project already more than halfway through to completion...bummer. As a fellow project manager likes to put it, "You're drinking from the fire hose". He's such an encouragement.

Although I'm still getting used to the new position, I figure I'd try be helpful and share a couple of key lessons I've learned so far. These will be specific to being a project manager of course. The first and arguably most important lesson is, as I like to call it, the "T word": TRUST. My organizational structure is a bit weird as I function as oversight for contractors who do the actual work. The immediate implication of this is that contractors may have a slightly different agenda from your own, even if we're supposed to be on the same team. To further complicate matters, there is an outside client to which I am responsible for and the outcome of the project falls square on my shoulders. (I sometimes wonder if I would've accepted the job had I known all of this beforehand....). So why is trust important? Trust is critical as it allows an alignment of interests so that an overseer allow others the freedom to accomplish a task in their own unique-yet-productive manner. But unlike other forms of leverage, trust can only be earned. In my case, I have to earn the trust of not only my contractors but also the internal management team as well as the client. In a world without trust between any of these three parties, a project would be infinitely more delayed due to the resulting need for validation of the work done and to be done. I've seen another colleague not having earned the trust of her team and, needless to say, the results aren't pretty.

The second lesson learned is quite specific to being a project manager: reading everything. And when I say "everything", I mean every single piece of document and email you can get your hands on, especially related to the project you're on. Whether a project manager is successful depends not only on their time management skills, but also in their ability to grasp the entirety of a project and make sure every single piece is progressing along. The goal of reading absolutely everything is understanding more than the basics of a project, so that in the event of a so-called "showstopper", you'd be able to quickly identify the needs and create an appropriate solution. Admittedly this is pretty darn daunting for my project as we have more than five different products rolling out to the client, but what must be done must be done. The show must goes on -- and nothing loses the trust and confidence of your team than to have a manager barking orders up the wrong tree. In my case again, not grasping the whole picture could lend to contractors trying something fishy. (Oh I must trust them...).

Aside from changing my job, I've also began searching for a condo to purchase in the Arlington/DC area. At this point the biggest criteria is the price -- housing prices around here is absolutely insane, so hence I'm looking for a small condo to live for a few years before moving on. The opportunity cost of paying rent is simply too great. Besides the price criteria of below $175K, my other requirements is proximity to a metro station and/or a highway (e.g. I-66 or I-395), a max condo/HOA fee of $400 per month, and reasonably price-to-space ratio (e.g. 450 sqft for $175K). I understand these narrows (read: destroys) my choices but I'm willing to wait a bit for the right opportunity. As stated so well in the book "Rich Dad Poor Dad", I agree with the statement that a house is a liability until fully paid off.

My other endeavors for now are: planning to take the CFA in December to eventually become a full Certified Financial Analyst, looking into procuring a PMP certificate soon, doing a fair bit of traveling, The last one is probably the most uncertain one of the bunch but, hey, I'm an optimist.