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#11. Career path of a manager and a few universal tips

So, if you've understood everything so far, that's a very good sign. The reason why in the previous article I went into detail about how companies are set up, is that I wanted to show you the career path of an IT manager. Now, I suppose we are equally aware that, having started off as a Project Manager, at some point we will be promoted to the position of Program Manager. As PrM, our job is to coordinate a number of projects, until at some point we will become a Senior Specialist. By the time we've reached this level, we thoroughly understand the structure of our company and our place in it. We know our level of responsibility very well, we see the company's short-term and long-term goals. On a daily basis, we are engaged in resource allocation, coordinating the activities of other portfolio managers, and advising various members of our team on multiple issues.

Summing up, the career path of a manager depends heavily on the established rules in the company where s/he works. In its most expanded (longest) form, the way can be represented as follows: Junior Project Manager -> Project Manager -> Senior Project Manager -> Program Manager -> Senior Program Manager -> ???

In fact, having reached this level no one asks the question "what do I do next?" since everyone has a clear understanding of what s/he wants to do for the next 2-5 years, but anyway, we'll look at some of the most likely career paths of a project/program manager.

Personal development means having more responsibility, that's clear. You develop in proportion to the degree of the responsibility that you have in your role and position.

After working in the top management of an outsourcing company for a year or two, you reach a certain level, when the salary of your colleagues, their career growth, and much more depending on your decisions. Still, the main "dead end" here is the fact that your responsibility, in most cases, is limited to the company in which you work. Yes, you work on different projects, but you are responsible for them only until they are released onto the market. If something happens to them after they have been launched in the market, the extent of your responsibility is limited to whether your teams delivered to the client the set of new functions that were recorded in epics and stories.

At this level, I see the following development paths:

The first option is to become a COO. You can become the chief operating officer in a company (whether yours or someone else's), and, in addition to coordinating other managers, you can integrate new work methods, new processes, and maybe new services for your clients. The degree of responsibility here is also limited to projects, but now you can also engage in significant reforms in the company, which may well be exciting and fun.

The second option is to become an entrepreneur. After all, you have enough knowledge to quickly create a company, develop processes that you already know by heart, hire personnel, and fulfill all the desires that you were dreaming of. The extent of liability is limited to your company, including your employees. This option gives full scope for exercising your creativity, but, because of the initially limited resources, the first few years will be spent on developing your company. At some point, you will realize that you have so many projects – and many of them may be long-term ones – that you'll start thinking about creating your own product. The thing is, however, that you have spent the last years focusing on the development of your company. As a result, your knowledge about products is patchy and outdated due to new technologies and new approaches and mostly because you didn't have dedicated product management experience. Maybe that your company worked on a lot of projects from scratch using all the newest technologies, and in general, you have made so many incredibly cool products for your customers. And maybe now you are itching to create something of their own, but firstly, this is an exception, and secondly, it will be difficult for you to do this within your existing company: it will be much better to create a new one for these goals. The option of becoming an entrepreneur is always valid. If you understand this, then you should not be in a hurry to make a decision.

The third option is to become a product manager. Good product managers are precious specialists, whose importance is increasing literally every day. Market competition between different projects is heating up, and companies are beginning to take a more serious approach to the question of choosing a specialist in this profile. The difficulty of finding such a specialist is that s/he must have a very broad knowledge profile. As part of their work, the issues that product managers need to include topics such as the cultural characteristics of different nations, an understanding of their religious and ideological aspects and habits, up-to-date knowledge of the regional and international political environment, an understanding the basics of jurisprudence, and of course, best practice in developing applications (both mobile and desktop). Of course, an essential component here is also an understanding of the technical aspects, including the basics of programming and the principles of databases and computer networks. Another major piece of knowledge for a product manager is understanding of cognitive science, especially cognitive biases. From professional development, this is a qualitative transition, which will enable the PM/PrM not only to develop, but also to constantly be on the cutting edge, understand what new innovations are happening and where, and strive to learn all the latest and useful things for their product. This transition is smooth for an experienced Project/Program Manager, as he probably will have worked on various projects for years. Although he will rarely have participated in creating and changing the product himself, he has continuously observed their creation, and in the course of things, will have learned a lot of useful information for himself. 

Probably at some point, I will write a separate series of articles structurally analyzing the work of a Product Manager, mainly related to cognitive biases.

Instead of offering you a fourth career option, I will just make a few remarks about a new profession, which began to take shape quite recently, and about the duties of which there is still no clear, unified vision. This is the Business Architect, whose icon you might have noticed in the last picture of the previous article. To keep it brief, let me just say that an IT-Business Architect is someone who, in addition to solid IT knowledge, also has sufficient legal, financial, and business knowledge to help build a business from scratch or to restructure/optimize an already existing one. In the case of already existing companies, business architects are those who are engaged in the optimization of the company's key processes, determine the business strategy, and assist in developing market exit/capture strategies.

It's all about the career.

The rules of development

Actually, despite the grandiose title, I want to write not so much about the rules, but about a few intellectual ideas, with which a manager (or for that matter, anybody) can accelerate their development. Everything set out below has been applied and continues to be put into practice by me, as well as by several high-quality specialists, whom I have the honor of not only knowing, but also calling good friends.

  • There are no stupid questions
    • An integral part of a manager's activity is the constant search for answers to the broadest range of questions. Whatever you do, do not break yourself out of the habit of asking questions, and if you do not have such a habit, develop it. Be candid in your motives and ask explicitly if something is not clear. After all, if someone is offended by your directness, or if your questions are too "simple" and "basic" for him, then in effect, instead of sharing his knowledge and helping you as a colleague to develop, this "genius" is just guarding his knowledge as a privilege and giving himself airs, while forgetting that he is the simpleton among us. Knowledge is a form of power. And power can be treated either as a privilege or as a liability. A responsible person will be happy to help, and will mentally consign their medals, awards and certificates to a box in the corner.
    • You will probably meet (if you have not already met) many such people. Do not be like them. Grow, share knowledge and ask questions.
  • We can always achieve our maximum
    • At any single moment you, as a specialist, can be as productive as possible. The point is not that you can be better than more experienced specialists, but that you can do your best in the framework of the knowledge you have. To achieve this, you should always keep in focus everything that you know, for example: write down everything to the extent you understand the structure, and periodically return to it to see if there are any fundamental changes/additions (like these notes, which I initially wrote for myself, but eventually they became articles on the blog). Secondly, you need to be confident within the framework of your knowledge up until precisely the moment when your opponent presents a more convincing argument. Do not shy away from thanking the person who, perhaps in a dispute with you, helped you find a mistake and thereby become better. Revising your attitude to discussions is a direct path to better and faster development. Be honest and open to yourself and others. This will allow you to continually ask questions without feeling embarrassed about something you do not know or did not understand.

      Say "I understand" only when you’ve really understood

  • Say "I understand" only when you've really understood
    • This is a kind of continuation of the preceding paragraphs. There is nothing wrong with not understanding something. If you are struggling to get some information, then ask questions, and google as much possible, until you really understand. The test of whether you have understood a topic is simple: can you easily explain it to someone else?
  • Every day is an opportunity to become a better version of yourself
    • Do not allow any situation to stop your development. Try as early as possible to develop a habit of learning something new within your profession every day (Trite but true).
  • We can fill every minute of our life with something that will make us better
    • Whenever we have a free moment, we can take command of this time and spend it as we see fit, and not in the way we used to do when on "autopilot." For example, we can get rid of such habits as scrolling Facebook or browsing YouTube, and instead switch to reading a book whenever we have free time, or we just want to have a break from work. The choice of literature is a separate topic.
  • Work and study can be a single process
    • It is not necessary to follow the trend of attending early morning or evening courses in addition to a full day's work, and then return home with a sense of accomplishment but totally wiped out. We are fully capable of teaching ourselves to divide professional and personal life strictly and uncompromisingly. If we can integrate the process of our studies directly into work, saving ourselves from unnecessary habits such as useless internet surfing, chat rooms, etc. (or at least leaving that for the evening, after work), then at some point we will notice that we are in no hurry, we go home after work, but our development does not stand still.
  • Some companies may simply not be suitable for us, and we need to accept it
    • We can love a company very much, but this does not necessarily mean that we will like the work in it. If the company is ruining our career development, then no matter how nice the office is, how tasty the cookies are in the kitchen and how fabulous and nice the employees are, we should put an end to it (if, of course, there is no way to fix it by e.g. switching to another project). Here I have in mind large, well-known companies. You would be surprised to learn how common it is for "specialists" to sit for days in the elite offices of these corporations without doing anything productive for either the organization or the projects (And yes, they get paid!)
  • Senior is a way of thinking, not a position
    • Throughout your career, you will meet many different specialists, but never let high positions and "titles" mislead you. With a competent mindset and an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as highly developed communication skills, you can in many ways surpass the coolest "seniors" even early on in your career.
  • Think globally
    • (Consider this as my personal request – since we're best friends ☺ ). Another clothing store, or another dating site, or another primitive website for some mega cool company - these are all grains of sand on the beach. Our brain is capable of incredible things. Do not allow yourself to grind to a halt somewhere "upstairs" with a high salary, paid seminars, and the self-satisfied facial expression of a person "who knows everything."
  • Share knowledge and be simple. We are all equal. The more you know, the greater the responsibility, therefore, as you gain knowledge along your journey, use it as befits a simple person, without showing off and without drama. Redeem your ego.

Thanks!