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PMO Advisory | January 2019

Five Steps to Advance Your Project Management Career and Achieve Your New Year's Resolution

Prof. Dr. Te Wu (PfMP, PgMP, PMP, PMI-RFP)

Introduction

Are you like me and millions of others who ponder during the holidays how to best reinvent ourselves? For example, is it time to transition from your current career to one that offers you more opportunities? Or have you been eyeing a certification that you just did not have time to pursue? How about learning something new, trying a new activity, or just exploring ways to advance your current career? As project managers, we are always busy and running low on time whether the tasks are managing finances, handling escalations, keeping up with the day to day operations, putting out the latest fires, and looking after others. But given this special time of the year, let’s be selfish for a period and focus on ourselves –what are the personal and professional goals that you want to achieve in the year ahead? What is your New Year's resolution?

Please note that PMO Advisory sponsors a free monthly webinar, and the topic of this month is New Year’s Resolutions. To signup for the webinar, which is scheduled for January 16th at 1 PM, visit http://www.pmoadvisory.com/webinar/5-steps-to-advance-your-project-management-career-and-achieving-your-new-years-resolution/.

A Brief History of New Year’s Resolutions

Around 4,000 years ago, the world witnessed the first record of New Year celebrations by the Babylonians. At the time, their years were linked to the beginning of the agricultural seasons around the spring equinox. The Babylonian Akitu festival celebrated the renewal of life around the beginning of the agrarian year. For 12 continuous days, people asked the gods for favors such as debt settlement, good fortune, rich harvests and the return of borrowed belongings. (A.L., Bylines in Economist, 2018)

Other civilizations had similar rituals. At the beginning of the ancient Egyptian year in July, Egyptians used to offer sacrifices to the god of the Nile, Hapi, and ask for God's generosity and support. The habit resumed with the Romans yet with a different date. Before 700 BC, the Roman year had ten months starting in March around the spring equinox in addition to the 60-odd winter days which were not included in the ten months. Afterwards, two more months were added. However, around 46 BC, Julius Caesar introduced the current calendar, officially beginning the year in January as it was the date where the city’s newly elected consults began their tenure.

For individual resolutions, the first known case started about 200 years ago. In 1813, a Boston newspaper published the premier article about New Year resolutions following another published earlier in Walker’s Hibernian Magazine. The article focused on common goals. After all, who isn’t looking for a better paying job with better benefits, salary increase, professional network improvement or certification to acquire? In the beginning, individuals focused mainly on tactical improvements – a particular task or skill. But with the humanistic revolution of work in the 1920s and ’30s, companies and people started to develop and refine the idea of careers. A career is much more than a full-time job of several repetitive tasks that you perform every day. An experience of one year that is repeated for five years is STILL one year of experience. So to be able to have career progression, you have to focus more on the skills that you need to acquire to be able to compete in the marketplace. However due to the fast-paced, rapidly changing world we are living in, we tend to lose focus on ourselves.

Be Selfish - Focus on Yourself

How often do you ask yourself some of the following questions? In our busy lives, one or more of these questions probably entered our mind at random times. But if you are like me, the question is quickly forgotten as you are untangling the latest problem or responding to an unforeseen crisis. But it’s the new year, so block out a few hours, take a deep breath, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I on the right track? Is this job right for me?
  • What is my next challenge?
  • What is the next step in my career?
  • What am I really good at?
  • Do I need a mentor?
  • What have I achieved so far?
  • Do I have clear goals for my career?
  • How is my work/life balance?
  • Money, passion, and convenience, which Matters Most?
  • What is holding me back in my career?


The
answers to these questions will surely help you improve after you figure out what you want to do. For most people, including me, the biggest stumbling block is committing time and resources to take actions. To help you actionize your resolutions, this article highlights the five steps to advance your project management career and achieve your new year's resolution for 2019.

Five Steps to Advance Your Resolution

Step 1: Focus

You cannot do everything, especially because your time and resources are limited. So pick one, maybe two things you wish to work on in 2019. Make sure the goal is “stretched” but not impossible.

Michael Hyatt, a leadership expert, suggests that you should start the journey with an optimistic mind. 

Moreover, you should also adjust your mindset to focus on being as specific and detailed as possible so you can have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and how.

For example, instead of having a generic goal of learning about a particular topic in project management, let’s be specific and focus on earning a certification. Even better, if you know the certification, say risk management, then a more specific and measurable goal is to complete the PMI-RMP (risk management) certification.

Step 2: Plan

Now with a focused goal, the next step is to create a reasonable plan that accounts for potential problems in this journey to achieve the goals. Plus, determine the few things or interim objectives that you need to achieve to reach the destination.

For project managers, it is easier to talk about planning as most of our jobs are related to planning. Also, risk planning is essential in the goal-setting process. You need to identify the potential risks for your plan and their mitigation strategy. This will help you be well prepared for any changes.

Step 3: Engage

Arguably, this is the hardest step – engage. Chinese has an old saying, “a thousand mile journey starts with the first step.” For many of us, the hesitation to take the first step can be debilitating. Doubts often creep up: “What if I fall after a few steps? Have I thought through the details? Perhaps I should wait and see if someone else can lead the path? What if we are heading in the wrong direction?”

Robbins (2017) has a simple solution – count to 5 and leap. Do not delay. Procrastination is perhaps the single biggest enemy of achieving your goals.

Today’s remarkably competitive world is a result of the highly competitive and innovative individuals who are growing, and will be leading our business world. Today’s Leaders focus on having annual resolutions, sticking to their goals and working towards achieving them.

Step 4: Adapt

Have you ever arrived at an unfamiliar destination and were not sure where to go? I often visit foreign cities, and even with my Google Map clearly showing the direction to the destination, I still have no clue what the right direction is. There I am, standing on a busy corner like a complete idiot, looking around and afraid to ask someone as I don’t speak the local language. Lately, I have become smarter. I would just quickly pick one direction and walk about a block. Immediately on the Google Map, the dot moves to show whether I am lucky and have walked in the right direction or I need to adjust course.

There are so many of life’s experiences that are similar to the above. Few goals can be achieved without some sensing of the environment or changes to course with the latest unknown. Thus, it’s important to monitor progress and adapt to changing situations. 

Self-correction is a crucial key in this whole process. You have to track your progress regularly and be agile with the changing circumstances. Adaptability will tremendously help in case you need any changes to your plan. And certainly, it is expected that your plan at the beginning of the year may have to be adjusted a little bit by the end of it. Be patient and motivate yourself to stick to your end goal.

Step 5: Celebrate

I recently read in an excellent article entitled “Kind to me” by Drs. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer (2018), two leading experts on mindful self-compassion. Studies have shown that individuals who are more self-compassionate tend to have greater happiness, satisfaction, motivation, health, better relationships, and less anxiety and negative stress. So reward yourself not only when the goal is reached, but also along the way as you make progress. Be kind to yourself and celebrate the small wins, and even if you make a mistake, so what? I will take making ten small mistakes over one larger one any day.

In “Your Project Management New Year's Resolutions,” David Cotgreave (2017) presented five specific New Year resolutions for project managers. Given the audience, those five resolutions may not exactly fit your needs. But the fifth resolution, celebrate the success more, is a reminder that the workplace is often stressful. Find a good time to be a bit selfish. After all, how are you expecting others, e.g., your manager, to celebrate your successes if you are not? Giving yourself credit for well-deserved accomplishments boosts your enthusiasm to work more. So breathe and enjoy moments of success.

Selected New Year’s Resolutions

Here are two good examples of New Year’s resolutions (Mann, 2018):

In 2018, Richard Branson, the English business magnate, investor, author, and philanthropist declared that his New Year resolution would be “Get unbelievably fit, so I’m ready for a trip into space. I’ll be doing lots of trekking and biking to get me into top shape. When I finished the Virgin Strive Challenge in 2016 I felt like a 25-year-old again – I hadn’t felt that good in 40 years. I’ll also be doing some centrifuge g-force training, so I’m as acclimatized as I can be for the journey.”

Melinda Gates, the co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had a different perspective and focused on picking one word for each year and said "I've found this to be more successful than setting a more traditional resolution because instead of prompting a radical change in behavior, it encourages a gradual change in mindset. Last January, I chose the word 'gentle,' and I've spent 2016 trying to put it into practice — being gentler to those around me, gentler in my approach to the world, and most importantly, gentler to myself."

Having dreams and striving to make them real is the true key to success in your personal and professional life. Sometimes, the journey is more important than the destination. Wishing you a happy and successful 2019 and Happy Resolutions!


 

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