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How to Become an Overnight Project Management Success…in Just 10 Years!

career pm project management Oct 05, 2022
How to Become an Overnight Project Management Success…in Just 10 Years!

Ah, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Screaming crowds, adoring fans, and tons of money! What’s not to love? Well, for starters, how about the thousands of hours of practice and hard work, along with the rejections and disappointment it takes to get to this point? Eternally memorable frontmen such as Jim Morrison, David Lee Roth, and Mick Jagger all experienced this pain and paid their dues before they hit the big time. 

As a matter of fact, an expression in show business says it takes only 10 years to make an overnight success. All the audience sees is the band once they’ve made it big. We don’t see the years spent outside in the cold, knocking on the door to be let in.  

Similarly, do you know someone who’s an overnight project management success story? You know the type. Everyone wants them on their project, the executives love the results they deliver, and they are regularly interviewed about ‘project of the year’ or ‘how to successfully manage impossible projects’. Guess what? It probably took them 10 years to become this overnight sensation. 

So, what does it take to become a project management rockstar? Time. Practice. Hard work. Rejection. Disappointment. Time and experience will propel you to project management stardom.  

Let’s see how we get there. 

Start at Your Local Coffee House 

Bands are so excited when they get their first gig, usually at a small, hometown venue with less-than-interested patrons. But, it’s the perfect time and opportunity to hone skills and learn the craft. Bands don’t know exactly what they are doing yet, and make mistakes along the way, but are optimistic that a big break is right around the corner. 

The coffee house phase of your project management career is when everything seems a bit overwhelming and you’re not even sure where to start. Kind of like when John Lennon started playing guitar as a teenager. His mother had taught him how to play the banjo, which only has four or five strings. John carried those banjo-style chords over to guitar, playing with the sixth string slack. After time, John clearly figured things out. 

This phase in your PM career is spent devouring books, attending classes, and joining professional project management associations. You watch videos, talk with project management professionals, and are uber-excited about everything there is to learn. 

This is also the time when mistakes are made, such as saying the wrong thing to a customer or not properly managing risks on a project. You don't know what you don’t know, and are sometimes caught by surprise. Rejection is a common experience at this point, in not being assigned to the project you wanted to manage, or worse yet, being passed over for a promotion. 

But, your rock ‘n’ roll legs begin to steady. Sure, you’ve been knocked around a bit, but you’ve also had a few successes here and there. A promotion or two may come along, and finally, a big break. 

Talking about big breaks–fun fact–AC/DC’s Bon Scott was originally the band’s limo driver! History has it that one night, the original singer, Dave Evans, didn’t want to go on stage. Bon Scott was asked to fill in and the rest is history.  

The same thing can happen early on in your career. Someone is not going to show up, or will quit or get fired, or whatever. The work still needs to get done. That’s the moment you step into their shoes and become a star!  

Play at Arenas 

When a band becomes popular in their hometown, they are often asked to open for another act in an arena in a nearby city. They go from performing in front of tens or hundreds of people to thousands. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone! As the band prepares to go onstage, their nervous anticipation is palpable. Will all their time and hard work pay off? 

Likewise, taking the arena’s stage in your project management rockstar path reveals if all the work, study, practice and learning how to deal with rejection and disappointment will pay off. You may be a bit nervous at times as you get out of your comfort zone, but knowing what you need to say (and to whom), do, and deliver, gives you the confidence you need to perform. 

What you’ll also realize at this point is it’s not just what you say or do that’s important, sometimes, it’s just as important what you don’t say or do. Case in point. A project manager worked on-site with their customer. Previously, an internal problem on the project had been identified and quickly resolved. There was no reason to say anything to the client about the issue. The project manager wanted to show that he was ‘in the know’ and thought he would tell the client about this problem that was no longer a problem nor a risk to the project. This unnecessarily opened up a can of worms, and it took some time for the dust to settle.  

Sell Out Stadiums 

The Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, and Metallica play to sold-out stadiums with tens of thousands of seats. Ah, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of screaming crowds, adoring fans, and tons of money! Bands know how to nail it at this point. Each performance is a finely-tuned spectacle of sound, lights, drums, and guitars. Fans are willing to pay almost anything to see their favorite band perform live, and it’s worth every dollar. 

You’ve made it to the stadium phase of your PM career once you’ve paid your dues, learned your lessons, and can execute consistently on every project. You are surrounded by screaming crowds (people that want to be on your project teams), adoring fans (executives that want you to manage their projects) and tons of money (okay, maybe not TONS, but your pay will increase as you make the right moves in your PM career). 

You are also recognized by peers and colleagues, asked to mentor and coach others, and speak regularly at industry events. Who knows, you may even have an article or two written about the impossible multi-million-dollar project that you rescued! 

In the immortal words of AC/DC, it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll! Be sure to check out High Voltage Project Management for even more rock-solid wisdom from AC/DC on how to be successful in your project management career. 



How to Become an Overnight Success in Just 10 Years 

Identify which of the three rock ‘n’ roll phases you are at in your PM career and focus on the activities listed in each area below.  

  1. Coffee House Phase - Become OBSESSED with all things project management. Expose yourself to different disciplines within project management, spend time with mentors, read books, take courses, and figure out what comes natural to you. Try and practice new things and don’t be afraid to fail. (2-4 years) 
  2. Arena Phase - Get out of your comfort zone. Put yourself in a position to take on larger and more complex high-visibility projects in the organization. Work on developing your confidence, establishing your presence, and delivering results. (4-6 years) 
  3. Stadium Phase - You made it! Now, give your fans what they want: projects of all sizes delivered on-time, in-budget, and in-scope, time and time again. Share your knowledge and expertise with others, develop a strong network, and give back to your profession as much as possible. (ongoing) 

Interestingly, an organization’s Project Management Journey can also take 10 years to become an overnight success. Map where your organization is at in its journey while you work on your individual journey to the top! 

Are you lost or struggling to gain traction on your Project Management Journey?

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