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12 Nuggets to Help You Succeed like a Superhero in Your New or Not so New Career as a Project Engineer or Project Manager

The job I wanted to do after graduating from my university was project engineering. I remember being very excited to get to work and put all that hard-earned academic training along with my internship experiences to good use. After accepting the job offer, completing all the onboarding activities, meet and greets and facility tours, “the rubber started to meet the road” very quickly.

I soon realized there was more to learn than I could ever have imagined. If I was going to be any good at managing and implementing projects, I had to talk to a lot of people and take in as much of their knowledge and insights and advice as I could handle.

The reason I thought project engineering was a good place to start my career was the result of one of my internships. I was assigned to be a project engineer at a well known company and was responsible for a much needed capacity upgrade to a piece of machinery. Back in those days, an intern was a team of one. Nevertheless, I still had to get project input from manufacturing stakeholders, technical support engineers, maintenance experts and a host of other individuals. I also needed to understand the project objectives and timing required to meet the needs of the business. I had to learn how the machine was intended to work; do all the required calculations, design the necessary changes, order the needed components and line up machinists and mechanics to assure that everything would be completed and work as desired.

What I came to quickly realize was how much I had to depend on other people, all of whom I didn't know. These people were critical cogs at various points in the project implementation process and they assisted me in achieving the objectives of my assignment.

I also had to learn how to network within the company in order to get information, find out how to get things done and develop on-the-job influence management and motivational skills in order have a successful outcome. The internship experience was a challenge and a blast at the same time, and it pointed me in the career direction I wanted to pursue. The company went on to extend a permanent job offer to me. I declined that job offer, but that's another story.

When you have responsibility for a project, you essentially become the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of that project. You must establish the project's vision and mission and communicate this to whoever will play a part in achieving and receiving its objectives. Because of the many experiences I gained in the project management arena, my career progressed, and I went on to lead global organizations and operations responsible for many flagship brands around the world.

If I was able to do this as a first-generation college graduate from very humble origins, I'm sure you can accomplish this as well ... and perhaps, even more.

I want to share a few experiential nuggets with you. I believe these insights may help you to excel in a great profession and propel you into a future of fantastic opportunities.

1. Confidence and Humility. You have worked hard to get your academic degree; you have successfully made it through numerous interviews, and you landed a job. Yes, out of all the candidates who were interviewed by the company, they picked you because you had the character, talent, skills, and abilities to do the job. Moreover, they thought you were the best person for the position. Let that fact sink in and serve as a confidence booster for you.

At the same time, however, it’s important to maintain a sense of humility and realize that you still have a ways to go on the career learning curve. You probably don’t even know what you don’t know yet. Seek out people in your organization who have been there, and done that, and get to know them. Get to know what successes and failures they’ve had and get to know who and where they go to for help.

Find a mentor.I had several mentors and having at least one good mentor along your journey will be one of the keys to having successful career experiences. You should also strive to develop the people skills and soft skills that help you to communicate with, understand and appreciate others from various cultural backgrounds. As a result of using these skills coupled with your personal attributes, you'll develop close professional relationships with some of your colleagues and some will alert you about potential problems and help you to overcome blind spots you'll encounter along your journey.

2. Listen and Learn. It's very likely you'll enjoy a long and successful career. As you start your career, you're probably going to be eager to jump in and get going. However, try to practice the art of being slow to speak and quick to listen. Develop a hunger to learn and work to continuously improve your business and technical knowledge. Take the first three to six months to focus on listening to your colleagues and your leaders. As you get started on your assignments, glean insights from all your interactions with people and gain knowledge on how they communicate, their personal attributes, the culture of the organization, what’s important and what’s not. At the same time, take notes on things that you believe you can contribute and impact relative to the positive outcomes on projects, programs and processes in which you'll be required to play a role.

Set aside the first few months to learn the processes, systems, and people that you will need to interact with. Engage in diverse conversations and also don't be afraid to help your colleagues learn about you. When the moment is right, refer to those notes you took and find opportunities to bring your ideas and talents to the forefront as you take on more assignments. I'm sure you'll impress your colleagues with all that you have learned and all that you know and all that you will contribute.

3. Seek out expertise and ask questions. I was a mechanical engineer by training and one of the first projects I was assigned would have been better suited for an electrical engineer. I was asked to evaluate, design, and enhance an electro-mechanical machine that was used to store heavy rolls of polymer-based films. The machine operated completely in the dark and several rolls had dropped which caused management to pause its operation until the safety issues were resolved. These roll drops presented a dangerous situation that could have resulted in facility damage, worker injury or worse, a fatality and I was assigned the task of correcting the problem.

Talk about a daunting early career project.The keys for me were to seek out design information, machine history, and people who were familiar with its operation and ask a million questions ... well not that many, but it felt like that. Once I was able to compile the information, I shared what I thought were good solutions with knowledgeable colleagues and I received a multiplicity of feedback from various people who worked in engineering, operations, and maintenance.

I was able to coalesce all the input I received into a project plan that was able to be implemented quickly. The project worked out great and we never dropped another roll. My point here is this, I don't think successful problem resolution would have been the result if I had not sought out the expertise of others.

4. Try to understand both negative and positive feedback that you receive. You might encounter someone telling you that your idea can’t work. If this occurs, avoid being defensive and try to determine why they believe it can’t work and what data or information they have to support their position. They may be right...!!

Another person might say we’ve always done it that way. Again, find out why they have only done it that way and why it shouldn't be done any other way. You'll need to vet all inputs in order to assess the validity and importance of the input and feedback you will receive. Keep in mind when someone says that something is impossible ... impossible only means that you haven’t found the solution yet.

If I have an idea and I’m trying to get feedback, I like to say, “Here’s my idea, I’m hoping that you can tell me how it can be done better.” It always amazed me how much more superior the input was that I received from others, simply by framing the request in amore open fashion that welcomed their expertise.

If you do something spectacular and someone says, “Wow, that’s a great job,” say thanks and then ask them why they feel it was a great job.Some might feel that this query is just a method of fishing for compliments, however, their answer may give you helpful perspectives that you weren't aware of.

5. Understand the objective of your project, the benefit it will yield and the problem it will resolve. If the project title is to "Replace Pump A", for example, it would be good to determine; why the pump needs to be replaced, how good of a job did that pump do, why was that pump originally chosen, what the purpose of the pump is, why does it have that purpose, does it still have the same purpose, what are the benefits of a new pump, when is the replacement needed and what will the successful result be from changing the pump.

In getting a deeper understanding of the project and objectives, you might find opportunities to make the project results even better than it was originally intended or even lower its cost of implementation. Sometimes you might find a needed change will cost more, but the new benefits will significantly outweigh the cost.

6. Learn the systems and processes used to implement a project in your company. Even the simplest of projects will have some level of complexity that you’ll need to deal with. Having a good project process and good systems to keep activities organized, prioritized and on track are critical components which are needed to complete projects successfully.

During your career, you'll likely encounter various project processes and systems that range from very simple to very complex. Whatever the systems or processes are in the company you work for, learn them well. Simply put, it's important to learn the steps and methods that allow you to get the right things done at the right time by the right people.

7. Find out who you'll need on your team and know how they will support the project. “Teamwork makes the dream work” and pulling the right team and resources together will also make your project work. Learn the capabilities of each direct or indirect or contracted team member and assure that everyone is passionate and motivated to do the best job they can.

It will be imperative that everyone on the team feels valued and respected. No one team member is more important than the next. If there's a problem or issue that comes up, involve key players from all or a cross-section of the team to foster buy-in and commitment to resolve any obstacle in a productive and effective way.

8. Courage. Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.” You are going to encounter many difficult situations in your career. Your integrity, character, sense of ethical behavior will be tested. How you progress personally and professionally is going to be heavily dependent on learning how to strive outside of your comfort zone and under adverse situations.

You need to draw on your courage, as well as your acquired wisdom, knowledge and talents to perform well under tough situations. You may even need to draw on your courage to ask for help from time to time. Asking for help is OK because no one human knows everything.

9. Get into the mix. Nowadays, with computers and smartphones, it’s easy to communicate and do things electronically. These techno-tools are valuable but you really need to get out there and talk to people one on one and in groups, walk the job site, talk to contractors, craft workers, operators and other field or shop floor personnel and find out what’s working and what’s not working, what they need and how things could be done better. Show everyone that they matter and get to know them and also, have them get to know you.

10. Take notes. I’ve found that I’ve had to write most everything down and refer back to my notes often. Many times after having a conversation or receiving information, I even go back to the person or group who I was speaking with and tell them, "After going through my notes, this is my understanding ... Did I get this right?" Most people really appreciate learning that what they say is important enough for someone to write it down and request their engagement.

This is especially important if someone is venting an issue to you.Write down what they say and share with them what you wrote down a day or two later. It’s fascinating to see what happens when a person reads what you noted when they were venting a problem or frustrating circumstance to you. Employing this method of engagement can serve to diffuse conflicts and other difficult situations.

I remember when someone came to me and was very upset about an issue. I told them to go ahead, tell me everything and please don't mind it as I try to write down all they were saying. After the person shared their frustrations with me, they asked if I was going to respond. I said yes, but I would like to digest everything first. I suggested that we pickup the discussion again first thing the next day and I'd let him read what I wrote down to make sure I accurately captured his feelings.

I typed everything up and gave it to him the next morning to read and after carefully reading it, he said, "Wow, I remember saying all this, but I really didn't mean all of it." He then explained what he really meant in a calm and purposeful manner. The result of our second conversation was a quick resolution of the issue and he went on to become a stellar team performer.

With current technology, I would even advise that you convert important written notes to a digital format. The search tool in most digital applications is a wonderful thing when you are trying to find something that you've noted.

11. Know how your project will spend-out over time and know how spend is accounted for in your company. Companies have limited cash to operate and to invest in projects. They also have a fiduciary responsibility to properly categorize how money is used. Talk to those who are responsible for spend budgeting, planning and accounting to learn the financial and business impacts that your project may have.

Your project will spend-out over time and a graph of that spend-out over time will likely resemble a s-curve.Talk to project estimators to get a sense of how much data and information went into coming up with an estimate as well as the accuracy range of that estimate. The accuracy of any spend out estimate is directly proportional to the accuracy of the total cost estimate of a project and the degree of detailed information that was used to determine the estimate. Whenever you present an estimate for a project, you should always be able to explain the plus or minus accuracy of that estimate. For example, this cost estimate is accurate to within +/-30 percent because ....

12. Estimate the key milestones and milestone dates that your project will need to achieve in order to be successful at meeting business objectives. As a project moves through the various implementation phases from concept to completion and achievement of beneficial operations, there are a number of milestones along the way that will be a good measure of how well the project is tracking against its timing objectives and overall schedule. More importantly, having an early baseline sense of how long a project should take to accomplish will be valuable information that can be used to push back on those who might try to pressure you into agreeing to a schedule that is baseless and wildly unachievable. Giving in to the pressure of wildly unattainable expectations is often a precursor to a project becoming a failure.

The Brandon Group (TBG) believes that their Early Spend-out Profile and Milestone Estimator (ESPME) can help you to be successful with the last two nuggets above.

Please check it out. We suggest you look at some past projects that your company has done and input the historical data you have in the tool. You can then see if the tool would have been able to provide a reasonable spend-out and milestone estimates well before you had the details that would be more common in the later phases of a project.

For a limited time, you can get FREE access.

This link will take you to a page where you can learn more and use the tool.

“The world belongs to optimists. Pessimists are only spectators,” —Francois Guizot

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