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



    ------------------------------
    Tirza Austin
    Manager, Online Community
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive
    Reston, VA 20191
    ------------------------------


  • 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!

    ------------------------------
    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Jacobs, Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA
    ------------------------------



  • 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.

    ------------------------------
    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
    ------------------------------



  • 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!

    ------------------------------
    Hasan Albo-Salih Ph.D.
    ASU
    Phoenix AZ
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Project Management Workshop

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

    ------------------------------
    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Jacobs, Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA
    ------------------------------



  • 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.

    ------------------------------
    Joe Natale P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Project Manager
    Yardley PA
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: Project Management Workshop

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

    ------------------------------
    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Jacobs, Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-17-2020 09:57 AM
    I recently transitioned into a Project Manager position and I have a few questions!

    Do you have advice for managing people working on one of your projects?

    I tend to worry about hurting people's feelings. Is there a nice way to deal with people who are using up too much budget?

    How can I encourage good communication between engineers and myself when working on a project? Even without COVID, I work remote from my team members, so poking my head into someone's office to check in on their progress is not an option. But, in the past, I have seen situations where an engineer gets lost in the weeds and ends up using up too much budget working on just one task. Are there some good management habits that could help prevent this from happening?

    What is the one thing you wish you had done differently when you first transitioned to a Project Manager position?

    ------------------------------
    Kelly Farabee P.E., P.T.O.E., M.ASCE
    President, ASCE Savannah Branch
    Savannah, GA
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-17-2020 01:12 PM
    Hi Kelly,
    Thanks for the questions and congrats on your new role as a PM! My response to some of these questions might overlap a little with my response to Dr. Nguyen's questions (such as the big rocks analogy). There's a phrase I say to my team so often they are probably tired of hiring it - "people are people".  What I mean by this is they are messy, with problems, life issues, opinions, different perspectives, etc. Compassion, Grace and understanding goes a long way. Try to become good at reading people's personality. What they get excited about, what hurts their feelings, etc? I used to keep a book of notes on people and what makes them tick. I don't do that anymore thinking HR might frown on it- HA! But it's important to read your team well. Some people respond to logic, others to emotion, etc. I have one team mate that has been with me for years. She's the best! I can rely on her for a lot of things without me having to think about it. She hates any less than positive feedback. No matter how I approach it, she will cry when I correct her. She knows it's not personal and by now she also knows that it's ok to let her emotions show. When she cries, I know she cares about the job and that she really, really doesn't want to let us down. My approach to dealing with tough conversations is to first get them to talk about themselves, what they are working on, how they are feeling, things going on in their life, etc. I'm looking for a lot of subtle behavioral clues and then when I think the time is right I give them a brief warning...a few seconds to brace themselves...and then just say what I have to say. For example, I'll call and just talk for a few minutes with them about their recent vacation or something on social media I saw they did...then I'll say "I've got bad news (the warning)..pause for a few seconds(let them brace)...I've decide we need to abandon the project you've been working on (deliver the news)" then I don't say anything as they process the information. They will look at you for the next steps or to how to resolve the issue so be prepared for that.

    I've heard people say that business is business and it's not personal. I think that's nonsense - of course it's personal! The topic or the decision may not be personal but it will feel personal regardless. No one likes to fail.

    Some tools to prevent overspending resources are to set expectations and regularly discuss the progress towards it. For instance, I'd be transparent with the individual..Tell them in terms of percentage how much they are currently expensed towards your budget then ask them for their thoughts. I'd say things like "you're 60% into the budget and it seems to me you're only at 40%. What do you think? Can we get it the rest done within budget? - Notice I said "we" not "you".  I think it's important for the PM to talk in terms of we as much as possible.

    I also use the term "levers" a lot when I'm dealing with my team. I think of a PM lever like a control board full of levers, each levers direct the ship into different actions to correct the course as we navigate a sea of chaos. The PM needs to craft those levers and keep them in mind as the project progresses. For instance, Let's say I have a massive multi-occupancy use project in development and I'm relying on contingent financing to get to the finish line. Well, I better have a series of "levers" in mind as contingency plans in case I can't get everything to line up right. In your case, What lever's can you pull for your projects? Are there contingency money you can set aside, additional resources you can pull in to "crash" the project, etc.

    ------------------------------
    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-17-2020 04:26 PM
    Hi Kelly,
    Some other thoughts to build on Jesse's great response based on my own experience from leading remote teams.

    When you see someone getting lost in the weeds, or going down a rabbit hole, you might ask the following questions:
    1. Why is it important that we address the issue?
    2. What are the regrets of not addressing the issue?
    3. Is there a more simple approach for addressing the issue?
    4. Do we need to address this issue now?
    5. Is there someone else who can more efficiently / effectively address the issue?
    Note you can substitute "level of detail' for 'issue'. The intent is come to mutual understand of the issue's importance so you can make an informed decision on how to proceed.

    Another technique that I used in regular catch up calls with my reports was to discuss and agree on priorities. This also helped my folks stay on task. I would always minute or get them to minute so we had a record to fall back on.

    ------------------------------
    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
    ------------------------------



  • 11.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-19-2020 03:47 PM
    Congratulations on your promotion. I think I know what you are asking. I have had issues in the workplace where sometimes people are difficult to work with and I think this is where some technical experience comes into play. There will be times when you are dependent on another person on the team and they are the person that is responsible for allocating hours. One of the issues that I have faced with was working with a person on a higher hierarchy who would overestimate hours so when it comes to details relating to the budget it became an issue when projects needed accurate estimates. In the long term, it is detrimental to the project and sometimes if the project gets passed along, it's a problem that gets inherited.

    On a different side of the coin, sometimes subordinates get vague instructions too.
    ------------------------------
    Oanh Le (She/Her)
    Rochdale, MA
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-17-2020 02:16 PM
    Thanks, @Tirza Austin for organizing! My question for the panelists - I know this thread is about project management, but I am curious - how much technical work are you still doing? Alternatively, can you talk more about your transition from the technical work to the project management work?

    ------------------------------
    Danielle Schroeder EIT, A.M.ASCE (She/her)
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni Associates
    Philadelphia PA
    ------------------------------



  • 13.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-17-2020 05:54 PM
    Hi Danielle,
    The technical work is still there it's just different now. I pop in and out of it throughout the day. I'm not analyzing ​​details or calculations too often and when I do it's usually just to review something, look for problems, and move on. I'd say it's about 25% of my daily work. I travel a ton for work and do a lot of site visits. I'm probably only in my office one day a week for most weeks.

    The transition was interesting. I actually started in EE. I switched my degree program to a non-licensed path architecture degree after working on some theme park projects, later I got employment at an architectural firm, was moved into project management there coordinating the arch team with the  S.M.E.P. engineers and doing C.A. work. The main principle of the firm noticed my affinity for the job site and suggested that since I was unlikely to get a licensed pathway degree in "architecture" and was good at managing the team. I should continue on with my schooling in engineering and go the construction management route. Specifically, I remember him telling me, I'd make more money in CM/PM because,no one would care how old I was, they only care if I can get the job done. He mentioned that design profession clients bias towards older principles designers as the may tend to see age as synonymous with experience.  So I switched! I still love design and have learned how PM can be this kind of "designers enabler" where someone with the design experience and knowledge can help keep the dream grounded and bring it into reality, while still keeping the dream alive and in a good place.

    ------------------------------
    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
    ------------------------------



  • 14.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-18-2020 01:55 PM
    Thanks for the question Danielle. I don't do any technical work myself as a project manager, but coming from a technical background allows me to put the project I manage into better context. It helps with the understanding of technical issues that arise during the design process, especially. You can be a great project manager without technical experience, but it's one of those areas where a breadth of knowledge becomes very handy.

    The transition from technical to PM work is a little hard to get used to if it's all at once, but most PM roles allow for a little of both, as @Jesse Kamm said. ​Being task lead on a design project is a form a project management itself, even if you're only one of two engineers working on the task. You still could be responsible for the scope/schedule/budget elements of the task, for multiple staff. If full-time project management is the path you plan to take with your career, you should be able to acquire those PM skills naturally throughout your time as a designer.

    ------------------------------
    Joe Natale P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Project Manager
    Yardley PA
    ------------------------------



  • 15.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-17-2020 05:17 PM
    Tirza thank you for this workshop.

    I have a quick question, but first some background. I have 13 years of experience in my field, Utility Coordination and Engineering. I have manage small projects before, but I am getting involve in projects which are 10 times broaden than the projects I have managed before. I am planning to start my studies to take the P.E. next April and an opportunity has opened up to take the PMI exam.

    Do you believe a PE is sufficient to start managing people?
    Aside of experience, do you recommend taking exams like the PMI if you have the opportunity?

    Thank you,

    ------------------------------
    Julian S. Valencia A.M.ASCE
    Utility Engineer
    Houston, TX
    ------------------------------



  • 16.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-18-2020 08:54 AM
    Hi @Julian Valencia Thanks for the question and congrats on the increased responsibility. Starting with smaller projects and increasing risk and complexity as you get better at PM is exactly how one gets the right experience.
    In my opinion, the PE and the PMI exams are very different credentials, not at all related to one another like apples and oranges. I consider the PE credential a technical credential with knowledge in the application of scientific principles and not at all about management of projects (Philosophically,  PE's need to understand PM basics but I when I'm hiring an engineer the PE doesn't tell me anything about their management knowledge. It signals they know the technical basics for the job and they are willing to climb a difficult uphill task to completion). On the other hand, the PMI credentials are entirely about the process of project management with very little technical knowledge required. And because of the tiers of the PMI credential system, it also signals to me a certain level of verified project management experience one has.
    I wouldn't recommend taking both exams at the same time. Neither exam is easy. Start with the PE exam. You will never regret getting the PE. I never pursued my PE (got a FL contractor's license and other credentials instead) and I will probably never at this point. There have been multiple situations where the PE would have been helpful. In some cases your PE  would be more influential than my PhD and PMP combined.  I've had the PMP credential for a long time and no one has ever asked me to sign and seal a project management plan - HA!

    ​If you're set on getting a project management credential you could start with the PMI CAPM credential. I've had a lot of students pursue and receive that credential as a stepping stone to the PMP. There is an annual expense to maintaining both of these credentials so keep that in mind, both in continuing education costs, memberships, and renewal fees.

    ------------------------------
    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
    ------------------------------



  • 17.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-18-2020 01:51 PM
    Thank you Jesse! Great information.

    ------------------------------
    Julian S. Valencia A.M.ASCE
    Utility Engineer
    Houston, TX
    ------------------------------



  • 18.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-18-2020 08:55 AM

    Thanks Tirza and all the experts for opening this important thread! I have a question:

    In the Feild of Project Management, what is more important being Certified or being Qualified ?

    Thank you so much!

    ------------------------------
    Muhammad Atiah El Adawy, BSc
    TCC Construction, Planning Engineer
    Cairo, Egypt



    ------------------------------
    Muhammad Atiah El Adawy S.M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Mansoura City
    ------------------------------



  • 19.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-19-2020 02:28 PM
    Tell me more about your question please? What do you mean by "certified or qualified"?

    I interpret the question to mean does a PM certification matter ? is that what you are asking?

    ------------------------------
    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
    ------------------------------



  • 20.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-18-2020 08:56 AM
    Can you please suggest me the names of Urban Planning books?

    ------------------------------
    Muhammad Azam Khan R.Eng, M.ASCE
    University Of Peshawar
    Peshawar
    ------------------------------



  • 21.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-19-2020 02:28 PM
    Unfortunately, urban planning isn't my expertise so I'm not able to add any recommendations. Is there are a certain aspect of urban planning that captures your interest? There are so many lessons to be learned through case studies of major cities (like London and Paris for example) and the intersection of culture and how urban planning helps shape society. Michigan State University and the University of Florida have great urban planning programs as well as other universities that would have a lot of free resources.

    ------------------------------
    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
    ------------------------------



  • 22.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-18-2020 10:20 PM
    Has anyone on the "Ask Me Anything" team worked in a more technical field and then switched over to project management? I am stuck under the impression that I have to have at least 2 or 3 years of experience before advancing to a project managing role. The technical role that I worked for were during my internship periods and I have really enjoyed them, but I don't want to move onto the project managing role without getting a full technical experience. The reason why I prefer this route is because I want to understand the role that my subordinates would be in and what experiences they would experience to bridge the gap between the different roles and responsibilities in the workplace.

    ------------------------------
    Oanh Le (She/Her)
    Rochdale MA
    ------------------------------



  • 23.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-19-2020 02:28 PM
    Hi Oahn,
    Having a solid technical base is a must for a PM in my opinion. Some of the best PM's have a wide array of technical diversity, meaning they dabbled in a lot of things but never really became the expert.  Remember the main goal of a PM is to "guide the plane to a safe landing".  We do that primarily though planning, control, and evaluation of scope, schedule, and budget. Sometimes the technical how to is irrelevant and other times it's critical. For instance, my projects often use a lot of high end audio, theatrical lighting and video projections (AVL). I know very little about those things and yet I have 55 projects currently that all have large AVL budgets. My expertise is in horizontal and vertical built environments not AVL.

    I remember vividly sitting in my truck, at a job site, in total frustration, and calling my uncle because I was frustrated that I hardly got to do the things I like doing in this industry anymore because I was dealing with management issues all the time.  He was a SVP in a global zoological/entertainment company and could empathize. We talked about how frustrating the transition from technical to management can be. In his case he got into the industry to work with animals, as he rose in the ranks he hardly saw the animals anymore.  Instead his days were filled with HR, budgets, and  strategy/management meetings. This happens in Project management as well. To some this is soul crushing to others it's exhilarating. My days are filled with phone calls, budgets spreadsheets, time schedules, and contracts. Ultimately they pay me for my judgement and decision making . The tasks of a PM can be learned but a good PM reads the situation, weighs the risks, and provides the direction to safely land the plane. That's very different than following ASTM technical guidance to a T.

    ------------------------------
    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
    ------------------------------



  • 24.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-21-2020 05:14 PM
    Hi Oanh, 

    My standing advice to engineers is to develop your technical competence before broadening or moving to a less technical role. It is hard to go backwards, i.e. into a technical role after you've stepped out and the longer, the more difficult as you will be competing with junior staff.  Your skills and experience within your area of technical expertise will establish you as a solid engineer and give you 'street credibility' regardless of the path you chose to go down. If you chose to go into project engineering or project management your technical experience will help you ask good questions and the right questions.



    ------------------------------
    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
    ------------------------------



  • 25.  RE: Project Management Workshop

    Posted 08-21-2020 05:47 PM
    Thank you to everyone who participated in this thread! Thank you to @Joe Natale and @Jesse Kamm for leading the discussion! This thread is now closed​​ for questions. I invite Jesse and Joe to provide any additional feedback before Monday, August 23. Thank you all for your participation in this workshop! Have a great weekend!

    ------------------------------
    Tirza Austin
    Manager, Online Community
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive
    Reston, VA 20191
    ------------------------------