Who Needed Law School Anyway?

Today I’m honored to be speaking to PMP professionals in the great state of Utah at the Project Management Institute Conference.

I wasn’t supposed to become a project manager.


I was going to be a lawyer.  I spent my entire undergraduate career and high school extracurricular time in debate, holding student government roles, shaping and developing policy, and advocating.  And, I loved to communicate.

(And still do!)

Plans are great until change happens, eh?

Instead of law school, I opted to get a J-O-B in 1997 when the market was semi-soft for graduates.  I didn’t know it then, but I fell into a great career: projects.  And, one of the best investments I made early was to get my PMP credential.  For those of you who hold your PMP, I applaud you.   You understand how laborious and ridiculous of a process it is, but a necessary step in becoming a competitive resource.  My PMP gave me credibility.  It put me on the the fast track from consultant to manager to leader and from small to larger more high impact initiatives.

How did that happen?

I learned and demonstrated to leadership very quickly that projects are nothing more than defining, guiding, leading, and sustaining change.

Projects are funded to change a process, system, people, an organization or entire culture. Multiple projects roll up to a program, and programs shore up a portfolio of work.  And if scoped, planned, and communicated well, all of these initiatives help better people, companies, causes, profits, and some cases mankind.

Yes.  It’s really cool to be a Project Manager.

But, I stopped calling myself one many years ago. When I realized what I was really doing, I decided to identify myself more as a Change Leader.  Change professionals help people get curious first about the need, help leaders develop a compelling case for why they need to change and then define the necessary projects that are going to take them to where they want to go.  Then they coach leaders to execute.

And, when you can understand the bigger picture and how your project plugs into that, you can harness the impact you can make as the leader.  And, like anything else, size, scale and complexity determine your street value after the project is done.

change_projectsI bet you don’t realize it but you’re a project (change) manager, too.

Yes my friend, you’re a project (change) manager.

They say the best way to predict the future is to change it.  That's why project management exists...to change the future.  

You may not be following a structured process or an official PMP, but I can guarantee you probably spend your entire day managing projects at work and at home.  Here’s a simple example.  In Houston, Saturday errands are a project for me.  I like to plan my routes across town so I don’t waste time and precious $4.00/gallon gas in traffic taking point-to-point trips.  I strategize the best routes and times to get all of this work done efficiently.  This then gives me time (and money) to do other things (projects).

Are you a part of any sort of religious, civic or business group?  If you’re actively participating it’s likely you are running projects.

Yeah okay but project managers build stuff.  I’m not building anything.

You may not be building a software system or constructing a building, but you are managing projects.  You are managing a set of tasks that will lead you (and others) to a change.  And the ability to scope project, time, cost and dependencies between tasks, defining risks and managing issues are critical skills in today’s business environment.  It's also equally important as someone who can deliver them and manage the politics.

So I ditched my love for the law to find a new love: projects.

I am still curious about the law so much I married an attorney.  We get the best of both worlds.  We both deal in the business of risk management but in two unique ways.

When I was 5, I had a dream I would become the first female President. (It's a sweet story that makes me smile but not a path I would dare venture on today.)  Law was an academic path into government and the presidency.  After a few classes, I learned it didn’t suit me and dropped out.  I thrive on the ability to draw outside the boxes, create, re-create, change, and help organizations and leaders create discipline out of sheer chaos.  And I still get to debate, shape, develop and advocate ... for people and change.

From process and systems change to people, leadership and cultural changes, I cannot think of a more exciting career than projects and change.  And in the oil industry, projects and change are even more exciting because we're developing and bringing resources to the world in a responsible sustainable way.

Looking for a way to boost your career (lawyers, too) or help your own kids chart a course for success?

Consider the PMP and the PROSCI change credential.  It might open new doors that don’t exist today.  And lawyers can get credentialed too!   If you are interested in learning more, come visit me June 9-11, 2014 at the Reliant Center at the Houston Project Management Institute Annual Conference. I’ll be leading three sessions on project management and a full-day workshop on change leadership.

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