Project Based Work Requires New Skills

January 23, 2013

upside downAs noted, it’s a new world of work, and most of us don’t have ‘jobs’ anymore. We have portfolios of projects. This is not the 20th century anymore. Not close. Go on a job hunt and see how long the conversation centers on duties and responsibilities. Quickly, talk turns to what change you led or helped to create. Next, comes projects. Then, comes teams. Why? Because the real job that you are applying for is leading change… just like the job you have now.

Therefore, begin the new year with a focus on projects, both for your current success and for your marketability inside and outside your organization. Identify the tools you need to hone to improve your performance on projects. First, analyze what you bring to any project and to any project team. Do a clear eyed evaluation of your skills and liabilities. Ask a trusted colleague or two to help. Present your list to your boss or mentor and ask them to offer their opinion. Use that list when someone asks you to undertake a project. Use it to help them to set realistic expectations of your performance and to support your development in support of the project goals. Use the list to guide your prioritization of your own ongoing development, further honing your skills and minimizing the holes in your project game. Use the list to select key team members, namely those who can contribute to the project and its team by doing what you cannot.

When constructing this list, consider learning or refining your use of stakeholder analysis and management or RACI/ responsibility charting (a method of pairing key project steps with stakeholder analysis and then employing its language to categorize decision-making roles). These tools enable you to put a far sharper edge on “who is doing what when” than can standard job descriptions. Consider how well you team (both face to face and virtually), understand and facilitate group decision-making, even how well you can design and conduct a production meeting. Attend workshops on teams, decision-making, and running meetings. Study the nature and application of emotional intelligence. Finally, develop arguably the most important skills in this fluid, ever changing world: negotiation and persuasion. These skills don’t replace the need to use project software and to understand the technical aspects of your work. Rather, they allow you to leverage fully those aspects of successful project work.

Recognize that each project amounts to a run down the river. Temporary teams assemble all the time. Each trip is its own and a predecessor of what comes next. Enjoy the run and learn from it, for next time. (For more on building a portfolio of projects, see Chapter 5 in Your Job Survival Guide.)