How to become a project manager? | Tooploox

Alicja Wojcik and Maciej Rogus

Mar 25, 2021 - 

7 min read - 

How to become a project manager?

How to become a project manager?

At Tooploox we believe in change and in an agile approach, not only when we work on our projects, but also in terms of our organization and employees. If an employee wants to develop in a different field, technology, or just needs a change, it is perfectly acceptable for us if they  decide to move to another project or fulfill another role. 

With the unpredictability of the modern world, people are more and more willing to change their careers, sometimes entirely. According to the Indeed-made study, 49% of employees say that they have made a significant career change. There are various motivations for this, from a simple pay rise to making their career more reliable or even to avoid a burnout. 

There are also people simply willing to pursue their dreams of trying something new in their career. 

How we approach a career change in Tooploox

In Tooploox we believe that personal development is not a matter of the employee alone. It is also a benefit for the whole company, with people gaining new, diverse skills. 

Below you can read an interview with Maciej Roguś, a lawyer by profession, who decided to transition into a career in project management. The process itself is an example on how we approach personal development in Tooploox and how the organization helps one to find their way  – or at least to gain new skills and test new environments

Maciej told us about why he changed his career path, how the transition looked, what the project manager roles and responsibilities are and what is needed to become a project manager.

Q: Why did you decide to change your career path and start a career in project management?

Maciej: I was a lawyer at Tooploox and I really liked my job – law was always in the scope of my interests and, in my opinion, apart from any false modesty, I was good at it. At Tooploox I was able to fulfill my lawyer duties in ways that  actually helped people, which was always crucial for me.

But being a lawyer is not only about helping people, and project management mostly is, and that’s why I decided to change my career path.

My decision was made when the occasion appeared – Tooploox needed another Project Manager onboard. I was thinking about becoming a project manager before this, and especially the chance to work in an Agile approach – which is common use in IT companies – interested me. And at that moment I suddenly had the possibility to develop myself in that direction. So I decided to put my time, my energy, and my engagement into becoming a Project Manager.

Q: How did the process of changing your career path look like?

Maciej: When I got the information that Tooploox needed more project managers I reached out to leaders from both teams – the new and the old – to talk about the possibilities of changing my career path and the next steps for this decision. Then I informed my old team and I told them how the process would look – it was crucial for me to leave my tasks properly and not create an impression that I abandoned my team. 

The process of transition lasted five months, during which we hired another lawyer – I gave her all the information she needed and supported her in the first months of her work. I needed to be sure everything in my old role was taken care of before I started to work fully as a Project Manager.

Q: What did you need to do to become a project manager?

Maciej: First, I want to tell you what is needed to change a career path – a lot of determination.

Here, at Tooploox, we have great possibilities to change career paths – there are mentors, who support you and help you, and there is a general openness to changes like that. But even in a company that is so well prepared for changes in projects or roles, determination is crucial to making a big move like that.

So in fact, the greatest obstacle is one’s attitude – the open culture and flexibility of Tooploox shows whether one truly wishes to learn totally new skills. 

And how to become a project manager? You need to be open to a lot of knowledge. And you have to learn, and learn, and did I mention learn? Articles, books, project management courses but, in the first place, real people from whom you can learn and who can share their experiences.

Q: Is there something like a “project manager personality type”?

Maciej: There are some character traits that can be helpful in a project manager’s work – openness to people and ease of communication are some of them. But project managers have different temperaments;

there is no one personality type.

Still, for sure, the ability to communicate and empathy are traits that connect all project managers. 

Q: What skill-set do you need to become a project manager? What are the necessary soft and technical skills for a project manager?

Maciej: Both soft and technical skills are crucial in a project managers’ work. 

In terms of soft skills, I had quite an easy start to my project manager career path because communication skills and the ability to analyze risks, which are very useful in a project manager’s work, were utilized by my work as a lawyer. 

And technical skills come with time. You don’t need to know precisely how to develop every solution or be able to write in every programming language to become a project manager in IT.

But it is useful, among others, to understand what kind of technical problems a team can meet or know how to, for instance, help the team estimate their work efforts. And these are skills you can’t be born with; you need to learn them. 

You should learn how to use some project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Jira, but you also need to remember that they are for you and your team, not for themselves – they should support, not limit you. 

See also how to forge a manager into a leader.

Q: What is your advice on learning to be a project manager?

Maciej: As I said earlier, there are some skills you need to learn, even in terms of soft skills.

In my case, even though I have good communication skills, I needed to put energy into learning and understanding more in terms of the meaning of words.

They all have different power and when you work with a team so closely and communication is the core of your duties, you need to be very careful about every word you use. 

This example shows that you can’t have faith in simply being a good project manager, even if you have a good position at the start; the knowledge and experience is still needed.

Besides gaining experience, it’s good to work it – always ask yourself, “why did I do things like that?” A better understanding of your actions gives you confidence that your decisions are wise and supported by evidence, not only intuitive (which is also helpful, but decisions based on intuition alone should be closely examined).

You can also gain it by listening to the experiences of other project managers and teams – from every story, every conversation, you can learn something you will use in the future.

Q: Is it necessary to participate in project management courses if you want to start a career in project management?

Maciej: Participating in project management courses is helpful, especially if you work in an organization that is rather resistant to change.

At Tooploox, we are agile, and we are open to changes, career path changes as well.

That’s why I had the possibility to take in all the information first-hand from my project manager colleagues.

But it doesn’t mean I skipped the courses. I think they are significant in every self-development path – you can listen to other people’s wisdom and experiences, not only of mentors but also other students. 

In my opinion, the crucial thing about courses is to be aware that it is not enough to be on a bunch of project management courses, webinars, studies, or workshops – certificates don’t make you a project manager. You need to have practical knowledge and experience. 

Q: What does a project manager do? What are your project manager responsibilities?

Maciej: Well… It depends. I can say from my role and my perspective, but this doesn’t mean every project manager does the same. Some project managers are focused on a single project, so their priority is to bring it straight to the finish, while some are more focused on a team. My core responsibility is to support my team and, by this, the project itself. 

At Tooploox, we always put people first – we know there is no project without the team, that’s why my project manager responsibilities are, among others, conducting scrum events (e.g., plannings, retrospectives), talking with the team and clients about challenges, needs, things to improve, organizing feedback sessions, etc.

Often project managers engage not only in managing projects and teams but also in company organization. Thanks to our project managers’ skills and competencies we can help in such initiatives as conducting feedback sessions for a company or mid-trial and after-trial meetings.

Q: What tools and techniques of project management do you use?

Maciej: First of all, I use Agile frameworks such as scrum, kanban, and practice an Agile mindset in general. And in terms of tools, I can name a few that are very helpful: Asana, Jira, Miro. In Tooploox we work in a Holacratic structure, which has Holaspirit, a unique tool to help manage it. 

And what about project management techniques? I always try to choose the one which will be the best in helping me with particular tasks or challenges.

To give an example, I can speak of planning poker, which is very useful when I need to estimate our work within a team. 

In a very short and basic way – the procedure used in planning poker requires a few decks of cards, all of them are the same and have numbers showing the Fibonacci sequence, so 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on. These values represent story points.

Every member of the team has their own deck of cards and uses them as an answer to the facilitator (project manager) question e.g. “How big is this task?” Everyone shares their score and then the team starts a discussion about the scores that vary the most. Afterward, voting is repeated until a consensus is reached. 

Q: Did anything surprise you when you started doing project manager duties?

The most surprising thing was that what I do right now is not so different from some things I did in the past; actually, I even found a few analogies between these two roles – lawyer and project manager. 

The second thing which surprised me was how much time I spent in meetings.

I, of course, knew that communication, so meetings, would be the core of my job. But right now, in the times of the pandemic, the number of meetings is really high. But to be honest, I’m happy about it, because now more than ever people need contact and miss social interactions, so the meetings help them and I’m glad I can be part of this. 

In the end that was the main reason I decided to become a project manager – to be helpful, by making other’s work easier and more value-driven.

Read more about how to manage a remote team.

Final Words 

Switching careers is always a leap of faith. The employee needs to test new grounds and find his new path. With the support from the company, the transition can be easier and more successful for both sides.

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