I was one of the most connected and well-known project managers in the company. I had a huge variety of experience and a sterling reputation. I was coming off of a wonderful two-year international assignment and was just getting ready to start back to work in the United States when I was told that my position was being eliminated.
While I had been away, my entire management chain had changed and my organization's mission had shifted out from under me. The company was laying people off in droves. A father of five, I was staring unemployment in the face.
The first order of business was to try to find another position within the company. It took a mad five-month scramble, but I managed to hang on.
During that period, I was very busy. Still, I took the time to reflect--not just on what to do about the situation, but what I might have done differently, and what I might do in the future to prevent it and how to be better prepared if it should happen again. In retrospect, it's easy to recognize this as textbook risk management.
I also considered the things I had done well (that in the end made it possible for me to find another position) and reflected on what I might do to ensure that I continued to do those same things in the future--textbook lessons learned.
I collected my thoughts, my resolutions, my lessons learned, in a one-page document titled simply, "I wish I had." I review it periodically to keep it at top of mind and I will tell you honestly that often enough, it's painful to re-read it. Some lessons are only learned painfully.
I'm happy to say that I have been given the opportunity to put those resolutions into practice, and so I would like to comment on them in this space with the sincere hope that perhaps you might find value in the lessons I've learned.
In our business, a certain level of technical prowess is necessary but not sufficient. Beyond technical skills, we need to develop people skills, and the essence of people skills is relationships.
As I look over my one-page document, I note that there are some things that I don't see:
• I wish I had been better at making Gantt charts.
• I wish I had been a better software developer.
• I wish I had cultivated deeper skills in earned value analysis.
On the contrary, my list is filled with resolutions about relationships. It's about people skills and how I need to further cultivate and employ them to not only ensure continued career success but also appropriate work/life balance.
I'm looking forward to sharing more reflections around these career lessons learned--and hearing your thoughts as well.