Project management can be a lonely job. (Lonely, but usually pretty exciting.)
Think about it. You need to be supportive of your team even when they're not, shall we say, performing at their peak ability. You need to be professional at all times, especially for management. You need to be the one in charge - gathering information, making decisions, reporting status and risk. In short, you're always on.
In addition to the always-on, always public-facing nature of the job, project management is highly situational. We have a constant stream of new stuff coming at us and we need to handle everything quickly and effectively.
All this can quickly add up to lonely.
Which is why it's crucial for project managers to have a peer group, an advisor, and/or a friendly ear. Other than fending off the lonely factor, there are many excellent benefits to having a project management peer group:
- You can vent. When you're upset, angry, you've had enough, or you're just tired of having broad shoulders/thick skin, these people are your tribe. Whatever you tell them, they'll understand and have probably been through it. They know how to keep things close to the vest, you can trust them to keep your tantrums a secret (and you'll keep theirs too).
- You can get advice. Yeah, I know, you have a manager - but the manager gives a different kind of advice. Your peer group can give you straight from the horse's mouth advice - what they did and whether it worked in a similar situation, what they'd do if they were you…options. You don't have to take their advice, but having it is an invaluable safety net. And sometimes hearing what *not* to do is as valuable as a suggestion for action.
- You can discuss new methods, new methodologies, new tools - anything that's making a splash on the project management scene. It's unlikely that anyone not in the field is keeping up with project management innovations (let's be honest, it's unlikely that anyone not in the field is even *interested* in them).
- You can hear what techniques are working for others and see if you'd like to add them to your toolkit. Different approaches, different methodologies - all are useful to hear about and squirrel away for future use.
- You get to have regular discussions about your own discipline - project management as a whole - and regular discussions with people actually doing the job. The conversations are discreet - you don't have to pick and choose your words.
So where do you find a peer group?
If you're already in a PMO, you have one.It could be the whole PMO or just a few compatible members, but set yourself up for regular roundtables, discussions, lunches, whatever works for you.
If you're not in a PMO and there are other project managers in your company, seek them out and start a forum.
If you're all alone as a project manager in your company (which happens more often than you'd think), it gets a little more challenging - and a lot more important, since chances are that no one in your company really understands what it is that you do.First, look for past colleagues that you can catch up with on a regular basis.In person is best, but on the phone/skype works pretty well too.
And if you're really having trouble finding a peer group, consider working with a project management coach. They've been through it all before (believe me, I know - I do a fair amount of coaching as well as day-to-day project management) and can help you figure out how to make it all work.
In general, don't rely on online forums as they tend to be very general and definitely not confidential. Online forums are, however, a great source of information on new tools and techniques.
And finally, give as good as you get. Be that friendly ear, share your experiences, and keep the group going. Don't skip your sessions because you're 'too busy' - these fall into the 'important but not urgent' category and will help you more than you realize.