My definition of a bombastic project management style, Part I: Background

Salary support sources and their impact on my job description

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my job (originally a two year position ending in November 2009) has been extended “indefinitely” (i.e. for as long as funding is available). My original salary support was provided by a tumour group – i.e. a group of pure scientists, pure clinicians, and clinician-scientists who work on a specific kind of cancer. This funding may or may not be renewed in the tumour group’s next budget – the decision is not solely in my primary supervisor’s hands, and apparently other members of the group are divided on the usefulness of continuing to pay all or part of my salary. (As I’ve observed before, I’m in a classic Catch 22 situation in that I’m most useful to the junior members of the group, but the decision about keeping me is made by the senior members).

So, for now, I’m being supported mainly by funds from my primary supervisor’s academic department. Said department contains a couple of MD/PhD PIs  whose research overlaps with the original tumour group, but also PIs who work on other kinds of cancer. So I will be working on fewer purely clinical grants, and will see more diversity of tumour types within the set of translational and basic research projects I handle. This is fine by me – my training was in basic research, and while I’ve learned a lot about clinical research in the last couple of years, I’m still much more comfortable writing and editing grants that focus on lab work. I’ve also learned an awful lot about the tumour type I’ve been working on so far, and am looking forward to learning more about other forms of the disease.

Would a Venn diagram help at this stage? Well, you’re getting one anyway…

I once was lost blue but now I’m found red

The remainder of my salary comes from specific grants – I was listed in the proposal budgets as a project manager, typically at 2.5% – 5% effort. I am also taking on more of a project management role on other projects which do not provide any specific salary support. My key role is to track progress compared to the milestones laid out in the grant proposals, and write the resulting progress reports as required by the various funding agencies.

To PMP, or not to PMP? That is the question

Now, I don’t have much (some would say “any”) project management training. I’ve been to one half-day course, and have tried to pick up the best practices in the field by observing other people in a similar role. (In some cases I learned more about bad practices to avoid, but that’s a post for another day). I know several people who have gone through the training and exams to become a Project Management Professional, which apparently is hellishly difficult. At the moment I don’t really feel the need to go this route, although part of this preference may be a reluctance to be pigeon-holed as a “proper” project manager when I prefer to be thought of primarily as a writer and editor. (And really, I’m only responsible for the pieces of the project management pie that facilitate progress report writing). Long-term, the qualification would certainly open up a wider range of future jobs – always a concern when you’re geographically limited in your career and there are maybe one or two local jobs a year you would be qualified for / actually want to do. But for now, I’m following the “wing it” philosophy.

Winging it: methods

Every project is different, and is best fitted to different management practices.The common thread in my department is that we’re going all high-throughput and fancy, with interconnecting and crossing pipelines all over the place. My boss has said that we need to adopt a “more corporate approach” to our projects in order to cope. This is where my industry experience comes in; I’ve tried to adopt the best practices of my former company in ways that fit my department’s different projects. My next couple of posts will describe a couple of different examples, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences (more best practices to adopt!)

It’s an evolution, not a revolution…

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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14 Responses to My definition of a bombastic project management style, Part I: Background

  1. chall says:

    wow. Just reading that wiki entry on PMPs and I am in awe… Let's just say, I wouldn't know where to start. and it sounds like a great thing to have a PMP (or you) in the project.I'm looking forward to the next installment of yours. "how to make it work", is that the title?? Because I sure wouldn't know how to jiggle all those different angles 😉

  2. Bob O'Hara says:

    My boss has said that we need to adopt a "more corporate approach" to our projects in order to cope.I assume that means the bosses get paid lots of money, and then ask the government to bail the project out when it doesn't have any money.Right?

  3. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Chall, yes, it's hard out there for a PMP (sorry, couldn't resist). I'm sure I'm only covering about 30% of what a proper PM does – for example I don't track budgets. We have an accountant who does that, although on some projects I do help her reconcile expenditures with scientific milestones. I'm kind of on a "need to know" basis at the moment, and gradually figuring out what works, what doesn't, and where the gaps are.Bob, in his dreams! We're all still scientists, after all, and definitely not "too big to fail"!

  4. Kyrsten says:

    You can be a PMP part-time (sorry, couldn't resist!). Mag is doing that – one course at a time. I swear it'll be the slowest achievement of any designation I've seen, but it makes it cheaper (becoming a PMP is expensive [again, couldn't help myself]) and time-consuming).

  5. Mermaid says:

    You would be fine if you choose to get certified. It is amazing how much of our last position can be used as qualifying experience. Much of the work you are doing now can qualify as well. Likely you could qualify the same way I did and take the exam prep course and write the exam based on having enough prior experience, rather than taking the courses. The learning curve is much steeper, but most of the PMPs around here went that route.It never hurts to have a qualification… will be valuable even if you don't have the PM title.

  6. The bean-mom says:

    I've no real idea of what professional project management entails, but good luck with it all! Like Chall, I'm curious to see how exactly you balance all these angles… I think my old PI's senior administrative assistant actually acts as his de facto project manager (even if not in name). She does budgets, computer submissions, everything. I never had to deal with the pain of electronic submissions or even final formatting–just the pure writing and editing! Good luck with it all. And never hurts to expand skill sets and credentials, as they say.

  7. Liz says:

    I know a few people currently working on the PMP and it is something that I would consider for myself after finishing my PhD. Those I know doing it seem to have been persuaded to do so by their employer who has pegged them for the "project management track" in their given company/institution. I have no ideaUltimately, I've wondered how much weight this particular desination holds or whether getting more experience in the area is more beneficial. I wonder if you get some project management experience on your resume, will the PMP truly be beneficial for future career options?

  8. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Kyrsten, I think if I was to get into the PMPing business, I'd either do it part time, or go the route that Mermaid just finished (although the exam prep course sounded just awful!). I swore after I got my PhD that I'd never do another exam EVAH, but I've already broken that promise in order to get citizenship, so it's not the hard and fast rule I once thought it was. Having said that, I really do think I have enough qualifications and have taken enough exams in my life!Bean-Mom, I'm hoping that people like Mermaid don't laugh too hard when I reveal my methods! They're really not based on anything other than my own experiences. It'll be interesting to see how close I get… I already manage all the grant submissions and signatures etc. That's why I call myself a grant wrangler rather than a grant writer!Liz, the qualification has quite a bit of weight locally, at least (I don't know about elsewhere). I've mentioned before that our institute contains one department (Mermaid's!) that has a proper, well organised team of project managers / grant wranglers. Many (most? all?) of them are on the PMP track. My boss and lots of other local PIs collaborate and interact with this department on a very regular basis, and they all say great things about how the department runs (I think this admiration may have helped inspire my boss to help create my job description). So, as research gets more and more high throughput and data intensive, I can see lots of other departments trying to duplicate aspects of Mermaid's team structure. And therefore valuing the PMP qualification. My department has also just hired someone to project manage from a more lab-based perspective (e.g. manage the next-gen sequencing pipeline)/ Well, she'll be doing that part-time alongside regular lab work. I'm going to be interacting with her a lot, and it will be interesting to see how that changes things.

  9. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Forgot to add: it might be worth getting the qualification just for the PMP puns. Although I don't think those wide-brim hats would suit me.

  10. Mermaid says:

    Personally, I like the fur coat aspect of being a PMP rather than the hat. The long flowing coat just makes me look tougher (kidding! Really!). I noticed that some of the bigger funding agencies are now allowing salaries for Project Managers, which is awesome. Of course having the credential isn't the most important aspect, actually doing the work well is much more important….like most positions. However, I figured if it was something I could obtain and add to my qualifications, what would it hurt? If I end up looking for work in the field in the future, it certainly is a positive qualification to hold. By the way, all of us manage in different ways depending not only on the personality of the PM, but on the PI we work with and the granting agency we are assigned. PM world isn't a rigidly structured system, but is a way of working through daunting projects to break them into manageable pieces that can be adapted for pretty much any situation. That's actually why I like it!C'mon, Cath, join me in PMPing!

  11. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Hmm. I can get ethical fur just by combing Saba – at least an ounce a day!I can definitely see that having the PMP qualification on your CV might help get the PM funds through the budget review. Nice definition of PMing! (Like PMSing, but more fun).

  12. Mermaid says:

    OK, I need to start a blog just so I can have an honour roll and use "Like PMSing, but more fun.":)

  13. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    DO IT!!!

  14. hgg says:

    oh great, now that 50cent tune is in my head for a couple of days

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