Friday turns out to be a heavy administration day. As a Project Manager you have to be quite versatile and move nimbly across different activities. You need to keep your focus firmly on the future, on deadlines and on the next steps in the sequence of tasks. But you also need to track what’s happened, making sure that decisions are documented, actions are recorded and reports filed. You know from experience that just before the launch of a new product, a senior manager will always ask ‘who agreed to change X?’ or ‘who decided that Y feature is out of scope?’ And as the project manager you’ll have to produce the evidence in a matter of minutes (sometimes the answer is ‘actually you did’). As a former doctoral researcher, I feel that documenting my sources is second nature, and that’s another reason why PhDs make good project managers.
So I spend some time writing up the minutes of a meeting held earlier in the week (unfortunately all the actions are for me). Every Friday I also write a brief status report on each of my projects for my manager. It’s a good discipline to be able to summarise project progress succinctly – maybe in the future I’ll compose my reports via twitter? Then I take a look at co-workers’ calendars so that I can book some more project-related meetings for next week. I decide in the end that we don’t need one of the meetings – six or seven people in a one-hour meeting is the equivalent of a whole day’s work, so if we can do without the meeting, let’s drop it.
Another of my responsibilities is to maintain a calendar of all the projects which have started or will start this year. This allows us to see at a glance when new products and improvements will be introduced over the course of the year, and manage our resources accordingly. So in the afternoon I have a call with a Programme Manager in the Netherlands, who looks after large IT projects that affect one or more of the countries in which the bank operates (Triodos has branches in the Netherlands, UK, Spain, Germany and Belgium, and an office in France). Amongst other things we discuss the US government’s requirement for financial institutions outside the US to report information about US citizens to the IRS, to help combat tax evasion.
Finally, ahead of the project management training day at the end of the month, I send a survey out to all of the participants. The survey’s been designed by one of our co-workers. Participants are asked a set of questions about how they manage their time, such as whether they’re ever late for meetings. It’s been written using MS Excel, so that feedback on how time-keeping habits can be improved is automatically generated in response to answers! Watch out for the app, coming soon to a smartphone near you!
And that’s my Friday done. Although I manage to catch a slightly earlier train home, the train company decides mid-journey not to stop at my station, because this train is really an earlier train which happens to be running late, and they want to make up the lost time! So a few of us hapless commuters watch mournfully as we sail through our home station without stopping. We’re put off at the next stop after our own, and we have to wait for a train going back the other way to take us home. That’s the second hour of family time I’ve lost to the railways this week …
… and there ends my week at work, getting home late on a Friday night! I’ve really enjoyed writing these posts … I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them! I hope too that you’ve got a flavour of what working life in a corporate is like, and how skills acquired during a PhD can transfer directly into a business context. If you ever hear anyone say that PhDs are too specialised or too removed from the real world, just direct them to this fantastic website! Thanks to Michelle for inviting me to contribute, and feel free to ask me a question or make a comment.