Project (Parts 1-4)
© Douglas E. Welch 1999
In the past, a person might have worked for one particular department
in a company. They often didn't deal much with those outside their
department except to trade paperwork. As many of you know, the
story today is much different. Gone are the days when single-function
departments handled everything internally. Now most companies
base their work on "projects." These projects draw talent from
all the different functional departments to set up a project group
that works together towards a specific goal and a specific deadline.
As you might imagine working at a project-oriented company is
quite different than working in one that is arranged along the
older functional departments. Projects create a unique collection
of advantages and disadvantages and anyone who wishes to build
a career at such a company needs to pay close attention to the
rules of the game.
Binge and Purge
One of the largest problems facing you today is the large scale
hiring and firing that is associated with any project-oriented
company. Basically, the company will hire dramatically as a project
starts, level off during the height of the project and then, just
as dramatically cut staff as the project begins to wind down.
Little thought is given to developing a series of projects that
allow employees to move from one project to another. Even less
thought is given to the talent and experience that are walking
out the door at the end of each project cycle.
There is little you can do to change the operating procedures
of a company but you can protect yourself and your job by knowing
a few guidelines that pertain to all project-oriented companies.
If you are about to enter a project-oriented company or already
work at one, the most important tool is to have an awareness of
the work environment. Few companies today provide an extremely
stable work environment and project-oriented companies provide
even less stability. Therefore, it is up to you to prepare and
protect your career as much as possible. There are several ways
to go about this.
o Keep your resume and portfolio information as current as possible
You need to be ready to move to a new project or department at
a moments notice whether this is inside your current company or
out. You should consider updating this information on at least
a weekly basis but you must do it at least monthly. Add your latest
accomplishments, artwork, programs, marketing info, etc.
o Network as if your life depends on it (because it does)
Success in a project-oriented company depends on connection to
people in other departments and other projects. In order to provide
the most stability you must be aware of the other projects currently
operating in your company. You need to know who is or will be
managing these projects and how your skills can best be applied.
You will also need to know the other people that are currently
attached to the project.
Next week: Networking tips
This month I am discussing project-oriented companies and how
best to build a stable position in a sea of instability. Getting
to know the people around you is one of the most important guidelines
and this week I am offering a few tips on how to do this. You
will also need to get to know yourself a little bit better.
Does your company have a computer user group, volunteer organization,
employee suggestion board or any other social groups? You will
find that these are the best way of getting to know other people
within the company. One major advantage is the informal information
you gain about other departments and projects in the company.
There is no better way to learn about what projects are scaling
up and what others are about to be cancelled.
It is up to you to unearth this information since most companies
tend to keep this information quiet. They don't want outside competitors
or even the employees themselves to know what is about to happen
on any particular project.
Make sure you pay close attention to company newsletters, memos
and other official communications. Often the information that
is left out will be more important than what is being said but
it is all information you can use.
Know your next step
One of the worst situations to find yourself in is "not knowing
where you next job is coming from." You need to always be looking
for your next project. This doesn't mean you don't complete your
current project, but you need to develop ways to manage your transitions
well so that you aren't constantly in fear of your job.
Obviously, doing good work is one of the best ways to stay employed.
You don't need to honk your own horn too loudly but make sure
you get recognition for those things you do best. There can be
problems with too many people wanting you for their next project,
but all of us should be so lucky as to be in that much demand.
Once you have a good idea of what the company is looking for,
it is time to address your own wants and needs. We all have different
methods of working and different desires. Some of us prefer to
be on one long-term project that may take years to complete. Others
may prefer many quick projects that have a definite beginning,
middle and end.
Not only should projects match your skills and desires, they also
have to be a good match with your particular work habits. Attaching
yourself to the wrong project could leave you looking for a new
job, not just a new project.
Next week: The search continues
This week I continue the discussion of project-oriented companies
and ways of making your career a long one. While we all have successes
in our jobs, when you deal mainly in projects you can't rest on
your laurels. Success only lasts as long as someone else's memory.
Success does not guarantee success
Being successful on one project will not mean that you will be
automatically assigned to the next project. In fact, if you haven't
done your footwork, as mentioned earlier this month, your success
might be quickly forgotten.
Perhaps you are a network specialist who is successfully bringing
a major project to a close. Nothing can assure you that there
will be another project that requires your skills. By developing
a diverse set of skills and doing your footwork you can find a
place to go instead of waiting for someone to find you.
Even worse, previous success can sometimes land you in a project
that isn't right for you. Perhaps the project life cycle is too
long or too short. Perhaps you don't fit into the project group
as well as you had hoped. Perhaps you were the only person available.
Perhaps you are just in over your head. Maybe your experience
hasn't prepared you to be where you are. All of the above can
happen. Careful consideration on your part can help to avoid this
problem and prevent you from setting yourself up for failure.
Think of yourself as a freelance consultant
Taking into account all of the columns this month, it is sometimes
best to think of yourself as a freelance consultant instead of
a full-time employee. Think of a project end date as the date
your entire job will end. As with any consultant this will help
drive you to start looking for that next project.
This is very similar to a writer who gives themselves personal
deadlines for their writing projects. The deadline acts as a constant
reminder of those actions you need to be pursuing to stay employed.
Conversely, you will know deep down that you may not be out on
the street when the deadline arrives and this gives a certain
This method doesn't work for everyone, myself included, but it
is another tactic you can use on yourself to drive you to a better
career. It pays to have as many tactics as possible in your toolbox
so that you can adapt to whatever situation might present itself.
It is important that you don't depend on your boss, your project
leader or your fellow workers to get you another project. You
should be running your own career. Pretend you are running your
own company and you need to prepare bids, proposals and other
information. The only difference is that instead of trying to
get the city garbage hauling contract you are trying to get your
Next Week: Unglamorous but steady
Despite the challenging picture I have painted of project-oriented
companies over the last month there is one island of stability
even in these types of companies. In fact, it tends to be one
of the most neglected areas in almost every company. Long after
the projects are completed someone has to support and maintain
the services and products developed. The project people will have
moved onto new projects and in the worst case the project may
fail to achieve its goals because no attention was paid to the
issue of maintenance.
While it can be very exciting to be working on a cutting edge
project, what happens when those projects are complete? Someone
has to support the customers. Someone has to design and implement
upgrades. Someone has to deliver new services based around the
Maintenance may be unglamorous but it can be fulfilling and, more
importantly, more stable over the long term. Someone has to keep
the web site operating, the dial-up service working and the support
line answered. It might as well be you.
Look around your current company. Who are the most senior employees?
I can almost guarantee that the people who have been at the company
the longest are not the project superstars but the rank and file
people who actually get the work done.
Not all of us are looking for the high stress, long hours and
creative chaos that revolves around major projects. Some of us
want to spend more time with our families. Perhaps you get your
creative charge outside of work by writing, painting or some other
pursuit. No one ever said you had to define yourself by your job.
In truth, more attention needs to be paid to maintenance in almost
every company. Too many projects are left to languish without
proper support or assistance. How many times have we waited for
a new device driver, new software upgrade or seen hopelessly out-of-date
information on a web site? Use this problem to your advantage.
While everyone else is fighting over a few project jobs, step
outside the box and find a stable and perhaps lifetime career.
Over the last month I have detailed the ways that the project-oriented
company differs from the old business standards and how to address
these changes in the best way possible. We all have to adapt to
new ways of doing business and this means managing our own career.
High tech careers can be exciting but that excitement shouldn't
be wondering what or where your next job is going to be.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org