Discussion Thread

Project Management Workshop

  • 1.  Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-16-2020 09:52 PM

    Are you considering transitioning into a project management career path? Are you currently developing your project management skills?

    @Joe Natale and @Jesse Kamm will be sharing their expertise on project management during an "Ask Me Anything" workshop in this thread. The discussion will be open from Monday, August 17 through Friday, August 21. Experts will share their feedback on this thread until Monday, August 24. Please contact me if you have any questions about participating in the workshop.

    Please ask your questions about Project Management in this thread. ​​

    ****Just a reminder, all posts must comply with the ASCE Collaborate Code of Conduct



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    Tirza Austin
    Manager, Online Community
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive
    Reston, VA 20191
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  • 2.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-17-2020 08:29 AM
    Thanks Tirza for opening this thread! I have 2 questions for the expert panel:
    1. What are the top 3 skills needed to become a successful PM?
    2. When do you think junior engineers should start thinking about taking this role?
    Thank you very much in advance!

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    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Jacobs, Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA
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  • 3.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-17-2020 12:27 PM
    Thanks for starting us off with some great questions Dr. Nguyen!
    1. What are the top 3 skills needed to become a successful PM?
    When I first thought about this question I thought "wow, I'm not sure I can limit it to 3!" but let's give it a try... - Perhaps the most important skill would be for a PM to have a high level of emotional maturity. There will be days where you feel like nothing is going right, everyone keeps bringing you their problems, and that all you did today was put out other peoples fires and you got nothing done that you needed to do. The PM's job is to keep all the balls in the air. Keep a cool head and focus on the big rocks first (see Stephen Covey's Big Rock, Little Rocks, Sand analogy from the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People- there's a lot of youtube videos on this as well). When I'm dealing with problems I try to treat them like a tennis match..it hits my desk...I want to address it and hit it back into someone else's court as soon as I can. There are a lot of project managers (especially in construction) that get so burned out by dealing with other peoples problems that they become bitter, mean, and short tempered. Those traits may solve the problem at first but it will hurt you later in your career.

    Here's a real life example of recognizing the big rocks - I'm dealing with a project right now that is about $4MM over budget in the design phase. The design team is moving forward on permitting and the plans reviewer is asking for additional scope to the tune of about $200K. The designers are spending way too much time on a $200K problem when they are missing the mark by $4MM. If they can't get the preliminary numbers closer to the mark then the project will never happen anyways. My message to the team has been "for right now the $200K problem doesn't matter, what are we going to do to get closer to our preliminary budget?"

    Second, the art of negotiation is a specific skill that a PM needs to quickly acquire. Most people don't like negotiations because they feel uncomfortable and personal. The PM will be dealing with limited resources (materials, people, and money) and will need to negotiate for those resources almost on a daily basis, especially if the company has a matrix organizational structure. Early in my PM career I recognized I was really good at solving the technical problems and getting "my way" but I didn't recognize that "getting my way" was only short term. To fix this, I got trained as a certified Supreme Court county mediator and started volunteering at the court house a few times a week to mediate cases.  There I learned to look for what the real problem was because it isn't always what people think it is. I've seen serious disputes be resolved with a kind word and a recognition of a misunderstanding. There are a lot of negotiating techniques that work well for different circumstances. I'd recommend starting with "Never Split the Difference" by Chris Voss a former FBI hostage negotiator (lots of youtube videos on this as well). Another good book (with seemingly opposite advice from Mr. Voss) is  the book "Getting to Yes". Recognize that negotiations are situational and there are no set rules that work 100% of the time. You will make missteps and it will sting a little.

    Finally, get good at short and long range planning and recognize the difference between the two . The PM is the primary planner for the project. Update your long term schedule everyday (it will only take a few minutes that way) But tell your team the little goals and often. People like to see the little wins and the short term goals provide the pathway to the long term goals.

    2. When do you think junior engineers should start thinking about taking this role?
    There will be a lot of differences of opinions on this one but, I do believe a junior engineer can be looking towards PM pretty early on. This is because the PM will never be an expert in every technical aspect of the project even if we came from a certain area in which we were. PM's become generalists with a lot of knowledge but we rely on experts in their crafts to execute. A mistake I've made, as I'm sure many experienced PM's have, is believing that you can't show a gap in knowledge because it will look weak. Sometimes that's true but the PM's job isn't to be all knowing - the PM's Job is knowing who to go to for a solution. There are a lot of veterans of industry that will happily share their expertise. Lean on your team, show them off, be proud when your team shines, it will reflect well on you as the team lead.

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    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
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  • 4.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-18-2020 08:54 AM
    Wow, I have been through that a lot during my tasks as a PM. you've listed it accurately!

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    Hasan Albo-Salih Ph.D.
    ASU
    Phoenix AZ
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  • 5.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-19-2020 09:24 AM
    Thank you very much for your detailed answer. Really really helpful!

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    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Jacobs, Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA
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  • 6.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-18-2020 01:55 PM
    Hi Tung,

    Here are my thoughts on your two questions. 
    1. Top 3 skills: Organization, communication, and flexibility.
    • Organization is critical for managing large project teams or multiple projects, and is one of those things that if not managed properly, has the potential to hit critical mass and cause very large (and expensive) issues. Keeping on top your project team, as well as your own work, makes all the other aspects of project management possible. Finding your own system that doesn't 'just work', but is actually convenient and efficient, is key.
    • Team communication is what allows everyone to stay on the same page, lay out ground rules and expectations, and have accountability. Similar to making assumptions, bad communication leads to dropped responsibilities, delays, and project emergencies. Many issues that arise on projects could have been cut off early if only the team had been more communicative. 
    • No project will be perfect. Part of being an engineer is learning how to problem solve. But part of learning how to problem solve is learning how to find creative and flexible solutions. This applies to project management as well, where you have to deal with many different types of people, technical and non-technical, who do things different ways. Managing people is more of a social art, and requires a great deal of flexibility, in order to save you from frustration and conflict.
    2. I think most junior engineers aren't going to be exposed to a ton of project management work, at least not directly. You can certainly learn the skills, from observing your managers and task leads, as they are the ones utilizing real PM skills and tools. Many engineers will eventually see additional responsibility (and trust) put on them for certain tasks, and this is where you'll start to see the crossover of engineering and project management. You can always volunteer to take on these responsibilities early, but I wouldn't expect managers to want to rush a younger engineer directly into project management roles. You might be better off exhibiting the PM skills I discussed above in your regular work, showing that you've got the potential to make a great PM.

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    Joe Natale P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Project Manager
    Yardley PA
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  • 7.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-19-2020 09:24 AM
    Thanks a lot Joe for sharing! Much appreciated!

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    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Jacobs, Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA
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  • 8.  RE: Project Management Workshop