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DPM Podcast

Making Career Transition Work (with Dr. Eric Wright from Vets2PM)

By 12/05/2020July 29th, 2020 No Comments

Ben Aston

So whether you’re moving in, out or across in project management, career transition and change can be incredibly difficult. But in the words of the infamous Tony Robbins, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. So change is good. And change is inevitable. But how can you make a good transition? How can you prepare yourself for success? Optimize the transition process and play to your strengths. Keep listening to today’s podcast to learn from the lessons of a man who’s been there and done that and discover how you can transition well.

Ben Aston

Thanks for tuning in. I’m Ben Aston, founder of the Digital Project Manager. Welcome to the DPM podcast. We are on a mission to help project managers succeed, to help people who manage projects delivered better. We’re here to help you take your project game to the next level. Check out thedigitalprojectmanager.com To learn about our training and resources we offer through membership. This podcast is brought to you by Clarizen, the leader in Enterprise Project and Portfolio Management Software. Visit and dot com to learn more.

Ben Aston

So today I’m joined by Eric Wright. And Eric is a decorated military vet. He’s a doctor of business, a keynote speaker, coach, and founder of Vets2PM and the Veteran Project Management Mentor Alliance. He’s a man that has transitioned badly and then figured out how to do it well. And so now he helps other people make transitions in their careers. Hi, Eric. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Eric Wright

Hey, Ben. Thanks for having me. And wow, what a great intro. Figured out how to do it badly and then how to do it well with lessons learned. I love it.

Eric Wright

Let’s hope so. So I know that your Vets2PM helps train vets to become project managers. I’m curious as to why you think vets make great PMs. You obviously made that transition yourself. Why is it you think that vets make appends?

Eric Wright

Well, they’ve got a lot of tangibles and intangibles and it’s been proven under, you know, the heat of battle kind of figuratively. So what do I mean? I know how to assemble teams. I know how to coach individuals. I know how to get teams to work together synergistically. I know how to be responsible and accountable and be the one on the X and take it rather. It’s Talking to me or it’s an E-4 talking to me so I know how to communicate across different channels. You know, I am. Technically competent. I’m trained in technology. We spend 60, 80 thousand dollars per soldier to train them as of the stats a couple of years ago, so. And oh, by the way, very few civilian project managers manage projects under the loss of life or limb to their team members. Maybe run a war on gas. Maybe defense, maybe space. But every one of their projects to move a platoon of people to a rifle range successfully qualify and back. You have to literally go to all the rest to make a sprained ankle. Accidental discharge. I mean, so they are cool cucumbers literally under fire.

Ben Aston

Yeah. So risk management is obviously a thing that’s part and parcel of the job when you’re in the forces.

Ben Aston

And obviously there are lots of characteristics of what you’ve just been talking about. Make veterans good project managers. And now what you do is help people make that transition to project management. I’d love to know what the top project management tip is that you teach your students. Obviously, they’ve come from a military background and you’re helping them transition and take some of those skills that they’ve learned and transition that into Civvy Street. So how do you I ‘m curious as to the kind of most important thing that you try and teach them as they’re making that transition?

Eric Wright

Yes. Sort of transition in the city street effectively. You need to be able to sound like a civilian. Right. If you talk about old artillery or combat medicine or aviation, rotary-wing, they have no idea what you just said. So the trick is, how do I talk about missions and exercise experience in scope and risk management and schedule management and team development and whatever? The other trick really is kind of more subtle. It’s latent in most organizations in the military branches, we have doctrine. This is how a soldier, sailor, airmen, Marines operates within this branch of the military. This is what we expect. This is but that allows the commander to turn the troupe loose on the field. And because they have kind of this framework for behavior and decision making. They get the mission done in a very fluid, real-time environment. But it’s congruent with what the commander expects and wants to be done. So what are the fundamental things we tell them? As you know, you mentioned, hey, we make project managers. The reality is they already all are. We just showed them the rules that the civ. folks used assistive uses. And for example, here’s one of them. Here are the four functions of a manager. Here’s the fiduciary responsibility of a manager synonymous with the leader. Here’s what they do. Here’s what you do. Do you see the overlap? Yes, I see the overlap. Cool. So you literally can walk in there in the interview with all the confidence in the world and high integrity and say I have managed projects, even though you’re not saying I was an artillery officer. I was an infantry platoon sergeant. So you maintain your integrity, but you convey to them that you are what they’re looking for with confidence, with assuredness. And, you know, you get hired an organization and go make a difference.

Ben Aston

Nice. And so obviously, you yourself made this transition from the military into project management. And I’d love to understand a bit about that transition that you had. How is it that you discovered that project management was gonna be a good fit for you? And what was that? What was that journey into project management like?

Eric Wright

Well, Ben, frankly, the journey sucked. It was twelve years and I didn’t figure out a lot of these things like, you know, how do I find my new sense of purpose and identity and my how do I talk about my new skills and my old skills and how do I make it relevant to business and how do I even the hiring math? How do I make what I’m bringing this employer worth more than the ninety-five thousand dollars I’m asking them for a salary. Even so, a simple equation like that. I had no clue how to solve and how to talk about so. And I say all the time that the only reason I’m really still here is because of by the grace of God and because I’m a coward. Right. So it was dark. But during that time, I got some degrees and I got some credentials. And I landed in accounting and they figured out I was super gregarious. And I didn’t introvert. Well, so they sent me on the road to new project requirements and I get out of the office.

Eric Wright

And I really showed an affinity based on all those tangibles and intangibles I was talking about earlier as a project manager. And so my boss had enough foresight to say, hey, you’re a mediocre accountant kid, but you’re crushing this project management thing. And Ben, that’s where it all started. I got my capital on. I started using the pinback. In fact, I still have the second edition of the Pimm Buckets. I’m literally a white paper on my shelf right now. I’m looking at it, but that started me down the road. So what I say is, you know, I wandered around in a job desert for 12 years after leaving service until I found the land of milk and honey. That is project management. And ever since, man, I been it’s been six digits. It’s been an advancement.

Eric Wright

It’s been a rich, meaningful, purposeful work life. It’s it’s amazing. It literally saved my life.

Ben Aston

So for someone who’s actually thinking about this land of milk and honey that you talk about project management, you may make it sound like the best job in the world. Clearly, clearly, you’re passionate about project management. But why is it that you love project management?

Eric Wright

Well, the passion that you hear is it’s cathartic for me to do this for a living. I help other veterans avoid that job desert. Right. So every day I wake up, I and the universe were square that night. If I put my head on the pillow and I helped one veteran achieve a meaningful, lucrative career. Right. We’re square. The reason it’s for me, project management is it is an I have the tangibles, me intangibles, the leadership, the followership, the creativity, the problem solving, the curiosity.

Eric Wright

And frankly, it’s scary as heck. But on the one on the X, I’m going to deliver this project through a team of pipefitters and we’re going to make this organization better. It’s kind of a superstar role. And if you’re really good at it, you get promoted and you get resources to train you and your folks. I mean, it really is a neat gig and it fits my personality. I’m high strung. I’m usually highly caffeinated. I’m wired. I like to be competent. I like to affect change. I like to be recognized for doing so and making the place better. And I’ve got the attention span of a 6-year-old. So about 18, 20, 24 months in where ops get boring. Hey, look, it’s a brand new project, so it fits my personality type and my skillset.

Ben Aston

Yeah, no, that’s nice. And I think that’s a good analysis of your personality types being a good match.

Ben Aston

If you get distracted easily or bored easily, project management might be a good fit for you because you get to change your job when the end of the project. The good thing about projects is that temporary ventures. And so soon as it goes to business, as usual, your way on the next one, which is great if you’ve got a short attention span. So I’m wondering on your first day then of project management, obviously, I’m sure it wasn’t easy for you when you’re like, hey, I see big I have to I know I’m taking responsibility not just for the numbers here as an accountant, but now I’m thinking about the project’s scope. I’m thinking about the project budget. I’m thinking about the project timeline. You have they had you become well educated in not project management necessarily but in accounting. So what would you tell your younger self? On your first day in project management way, you kind of got thrown into it by accident, as it were. What would you tell your younger self?

Eric Wright

Well, what I ultimately ended up growing up and telling myself later, which is get good at numbers and talk in terms that executives here in so time and money. So, you know, people say, how did you go from a welder to a project manager to a finance guy like a beach day in business with finance? Right. Like, what were we thinking? And my short answer is, I don’t. I wasn’t I overestimated the scope of what I was trying to and I overestimated my skills and I underestimated the scope, frankly. But after I had that realization, I decided, you know, you don’t quit, so I’m going to get through. I figured out not as quick as I should have been, that if I could talk time and money if I could point to the profit and loss statement, I showed the bosses why my project needed to stay funded while everybody else’s got to cut back. This because this last quarter was tight or whatever. You know how business works, right? Yeah. Let’s get funded. If there’s if we’re if we got cash on the balance sheet. They don’t. If we don’t write or revenue coming in on the income. So the reality was I learned to talk. Time and money and advance my career. It was a big accelerant to my career because now the exact social value they saw that I could run multiple products. They saw that I could run portfolios. They saw that I could run programs. And that I was thinking about the things they were thinking about while executing their strategy in a tactical manner through my projects and programs. So more speak time and money.

Ben Aston

Yeah, I think that’s super sound advice. Money. Money talks. And once you understand the strategic value of what you’re delivering and you’ve got your finger on the money and are really acutely aware of the impact of applying additional resources to a project or not applying it and thinking really about generating value as efficiently as possible, then that will for sure help you get noticed. But I want to move on to. Obviously, it wasn’t all smooth sailing in your biggest screw up in project management. I’d love to know what you learned if you could share what you’ll what your biggest group was along your project management journey. We’ve all had nightmare projects. Was there one that went particularly badly? And if there were any kind of hard learnings for you?

Eric Wright

Yeah, there was one I’ll never forget. It was my first legitimate, you know, “Hey, I’m going to paint the project by numbers. And I’ve got a process and I’ve got a toolbox and whatever.” I just did the PMP so I thought I knew what I was doing. And it was a super high vis project. It was for multiple stakeholders outside of our organization and they were senior executives in their organizations. And there had been a lot of bad press about the compliance issue we were facing around this project. So the previous project manager had been fired and an absolute flame ball of a wreck was a third of the way in and it’s already upside down. So that’s never a good situation to come in through anyway. Right. The most succinct lesson I learned out of that is I just busted out, hey, we got to do them and we got to do the scope. We got to manage the risk. We got to hit. So we hit a lot of the technical objectives that you’re trained in the book of managing stakeholders. And what I missed because I wasn’t yet seasoned enough was that there’s a big difference sometimes between what the stakeholder expects, what they expect, and why they expect it, what they need. So Jeron, you know, he talks about fitness for use and so we get all done in the project. He’d hit multiple technical expectations that before I took over were in question. And this one of the stakeholders was not as happy because of how windy the path was that we had to take to get there. Right. And that lesson taught me that, hey, when I’m talking to stakeholders in the future, I’m going to ask about why is that requirement important? Why is that necessary? Why do we want to deliver that? So I can really kind of get it. What’s under the hood? What’s forming their expectations? I got a lot better chance of delivering something that you’ll accept if I consider why you wanted it in the first place. Instead of just saying we talked about your rejected it, boss. It’s technically sound. Look at meets all the requirements.

Ben Aston

Yeah. Yeah. And I think it can often be the case when we have requirements.

Ben Aston

If we take them at face value and don’t understand maybe the unwritten requirement within the requirement a why the value that we’re trying to generate through that requirement. So I think that such sound advice to keep interrogating requirements so so that you’re fully aware of what’s the underlying value that they’re trying to create through the requirement. And if we have knowledge of that of why this thing that we’re producing should create value, we can better align and pivot the projects as we go to make sure that we’re aligning on the value that the requirement is supposed to generate rather than just focusing purely on the requirement itself. I think that’s really solid advice. And I mean, that was a project that didn’t go so well because you had stakeholders that weren’t that happy at the end. You delivered what they asked, but they didn’t get what they wanted. So can you also let’s talk about a really complex project that you delivered, perhaps the most complex one? What’re the most technically complex projects you delivered? I’d love to know what you learned through that process as well.

Eric Wright

Well, it was we were basically standing up one system and taking down another system and there could be no operational lag. So it literally was a hey, we’re gonna cut this thing over at midnight on X Day and then we’re gonna brown the old system out. And that’s really where my first kind of appreciation for, again, the human psychology underneath the rational part of the project. The plan and the schedule and the poem and the dates and the whatever. But the the the rational, that’s a human being part of it. Was there was a lot of users. There were a lot of customers downstream of the systems, users who had a lot of concerns and a lot of just things that weren’t ever documented and understood. And so when we did that to the technical components, well, cut it over. Turned it off. Got it out of it. It wasn’t in keeping with some of the human timelines. So the lesson learned there was, hey, we got it cut over. We stood it up. We ultimately fueled it exactly what we were supposed to. And all the stakeholders were happy. It just was a very painful process to get them to satisfied from dissatisfied because of a lot because it didn’t appreciate the fact that the human beings involved had the transition to the systems in their head. Right. I know how to use this system. I know that it’s got this X percent confidence rate. I can expect, you know, these few payment errors …we just expected a lot of things to magically happen that. And I think that’s the takeaway is as the project manager, you really have to think through all of this stuff, because if it’s supposed to happen, you have to somehow make it happen. You have to exploit it or mitigate it or something. Right. It’s just not going to happen by magic. And if you miss it, you’re on the X. You’re the one responsible and accountable.

Ben Aston

Definitely.

Ben Aston

I think that’s such sound advice when we’re thinking about fully understanding those tacit requirements, fully understanding what’s really going to generate value. I think those things that we as project managers always need to drill down to and just make sure that we’re not just focused on the projects and the numbers and the scope and the timeline, but really go back to, OK, what’s going to make people happy at the end of this.

Eric Wright

And just to put a little asterisk on that. So, hey, Eric, what made it complex? Well, so I’m the project manager and, you know, was a prior accountant, an auditor, and whatever. I was no technical expert on any of these systems. When we were leaving in the way we were going to. So I remember multiple weekends over multiple months, reading manuals nine times because they were so complex and so dry. I had no idea what they were saying. But I had to understand what these means were talking about. I had to understand the technical complexities they were they were challenged with. And so it was the first time I realized it. And now it’s part of the reason why people beat me up in the marketplace all the time for this. You can’t take a project manager from pharma and put them in agriculture. Well, you can if you give the right text in the right lead. Time to learn the new context, because setting up the infrastructure, the scope, the schedule, the teams, all that stuff. That’s always the same. I’m going to do it on a project regardless of its size, complexity, industry, whatever. But you have to somehow develop the capability to do the research and develop understanding quickly about technical things you may be doing so that you at least can ask stupid questions. Yeah. Yeah. Of the experts on the team. Right.

Ben Aston

Yeah, I think I think they have the ability to ask stupid questions and be comfortable with the fact that this might sound stupid.

Ben Aston

It might be stupid, but probably sometimes the most simple and basic questions are the most difficult even for people who have been working in that domain for a really long time and sometimes actually as a project manager coming in from the outside without that domain expertise. Sometimes when we asked these really simple questions, it can really help people think through the problem that they’re trying to solve. Their approach. And help them think through. You know, we don’t see the barriers that maybe they see that we look at a problem from a different perspective. So actually using that ignorance to our advantage and asking, well, why can’t we do this or how can we approach this from a different angle? What if we were to do this? I think all the useful questions. So I think often we can have this imposter syndrome when we come into a new domain. And we think I should probably really know about this. But actually there’s a beauty in the humility of asking stupid questions and it can help. Well, it will help yourself, but it will also help your team as they’re thinking through the problem so that they can get to a better approach and solution and so that you can refine the process and the approach ultimately, again, so that you’re delivering more value. So I’d love to know what projects you’re working on now. Obviously, you help now train PMs to become project managers. But do you have any projects yourself that you’re working on?

Eric Wright

We’re working on a huge one. And I’ll go ahead and tell you about it because it will be in effect before this podcast goes live. But because of this whole COVID thing. Yeah. You know, a dozen people reach out to us and say, hey, there’s all these requirements for continued education that aren’t that have not been lifted. And I’m about to lose my credential that I spent a lot of harder and time and money to get more on my supposed to do. Can you guys help me? I can’t go to a chapter meeting. I can’t do this. I can’t do that. You can read a book. You can watch YouTube videos, whatever. And so the second week of May. We’re launching the PDU University and it’s basically going to be the Amazon.com of professional development. So if you’re an accountant, if you’re a nurse, if you’re a project manager, if you’re a cyber guy or gal, you literally can go on, find your section of the course catalog, find course catalogs that you can take courses from and maintain your credentials. So that’s a big, huge project. Another project is we’re currently redoing our Web site from the nuts and bolts all the way to, you know, the user experience. And we’re also building another pipeline, just like project management. But we’re doing it for cyber and we’re doing it for H.R… And the reason you’re doing that is simple. Our mission set is simple. We help veterans achieve meaningful, lucrative careers, post-service. So now we can cover down on more of the transitioning veterans. And, you know, if they don’t want to go out and be a project manager, maybe they want to do cyber. We take them aside or maybe they want to do H.R. You know, we’re just trying to meet the needs of the customer, the voice of the customer.

Ben Aston

So and in this I mean, that sounds like this PDU University sounds like an exciting big project. What are the major challenges that you’ve had to overcome delivering that product?

Eric Wright

Well, in my 28-year journey from welder too, you know, PTSD, finance business owner guy, what I didn’t tell you about was the five or six years I spent at university as a college chair and a full professor. And so this is really stressing testing my micro projects skills of, hey, can you go from concept to course to some independent third party approving that course for you? Continue education in a field that you’re maybe not an expert in. And the answer is, well I’ll learn how really fast! I’m burning the midnight oil. Get about 3 4 hours of sleep at night.

Ben Aston

And so, I mean, obviously, you get inspired by helping people in their transitions and helping veterans get well-paid jobs to make good exits from the forces. But where do you personally get inspires them? What inspires you to both do that? But also in your work to you know, you’re talking about now expanding your scope beyond project management to HR, to cyber. What is inspiring for you?

Eric Wright

Well, so, you know, it’s a multi-part answer. But the first part is every time I help a veteran specifically, it’s literally cathartic. Cathartic for me as well. Right. It puts a little more time and distance between me and the place where I. The dark place where I came from. And it’s fulfilling. You know, I turned 50 last year. And the reality is that up until I was about 50, it was about the money. And if you have enough of it, you go, OK, what is what’s it about now? And now it’s literally about I’ve realized I can use my superhuman or my superpowers for good and help people because the reality is it’s not unique to a military veteran to want a meaningful, lucrative career. It’s just not it’s not that it’s not the privilege. It’s not the domain of just a veteran. So we’re using what we know about business and about project management and about how to manage people and get work done. And the fascinating area to me is it absolutely is incredible to me to think that there’s the field of behavioral economics that literally does nothing for a living but study how we make decisions and behave under time, risk and uncertainty and that nobody’s ever done a deep dove into. Hey, that might apply to project management, that might apply to other professions. So it’s really now about leaving a legacy. How many pyramids can I leave on that plateau at Giza and how many people can I help before I draw my last breath?

Ben Aston

So, I mean, you were diving there into behavioral economics. Well, what are you personally trying to get better at? What does your personal development genitals look like now as you’re trying to how other people get there? You’re obviously learning the ropes of trying to become accredited by third parties, building a PDU University, cyber, HR… Well, what’s your personal development looking like at the moment?

Eric Wright

My personal development is I’ve read—don’t know. In the last maybe four weeks since the covered start—I’ve read about five or six books on behavioral psychology and behavioral economics. And I’ve probably consumed, I don’t know, 30 videos on YouTube. Some of the biggest giants, the research giants in that space, I can stand up on top of their shoulders. So it’s just fascinating to me to think, you know, we make decisions every day and ninety-five percent of the time we make them well and. But most of them are inconsequential. And when we add time, risk, or uncertainty to it, when it becomes of consequence, that’s when we can literally blow it. And so to me, that’s just fascinating, especially as a project manager and as a business owner who has people dependent on us to make payroll, whether it’s covert or not coded. I mean, this has all been a very discrete lesson in here’s what you thought you knew, you knew, and what you thought you knew how to do. And you know how well you thought you could do it. Let’s completely stress you your paradigms and the system, the entire system around you, and see what you think you know now. So I do a lot of praying for the folks being crushed by this thing. I do a lot of reading and I’m doing a lot of course development right now. So that’s my professional development interest at this point, too.

Ben Aston

I mean, you’re managing these projects internally. So can you tell us what is in your project management toolkit in terms of tools that you use or anything that you’ve found recently as you’ll kind of run trying to roll out these new initiatives that are making your life awesome? What’s what are the tools that are using the frameworks, the software that you’re using to actually make all this happen?

Eric Wright

Well, so we’re big. So, you know, I don’t have a financial interest in any of these tools I’m about to share with you. But we’re using Trello, right? We use that as our visual kanban, running our weekly staff meetings, our daily stand-ups. When we have them, we are using Slack. So anything internal anytime, real-time. So, hey, Ben, I need you to go on and look at this podcast and I need a caption for this area. Can you help me with that? Like internal stuff like that so we can move better, faster, quicker, cheaper. Right. Fewer communications, friction. And then we use email and SharePoint to kind of document and how’s the residue of all the things that we’re doing? So those are specific tools that I’m using. And of course, you know, I’m learning how to use a YouTube channel. So that’s a new thing. That’s a new skill set for me. How do we use YouTube better? Right. And more actively instead of passively to bring value to the project management community specifically and then larger corporate America community at large, you know, to help them help us place more veterans into corporate America.

Ben Aston

Cool. So let’s transition into talking about transition and your post and for those that haven’t read the post yet. I just want to dive a bit further into that story that you were talking about, that story of transition from military service to project manager to founder.

Ben Aston

And I’d love to learn more about those transitions and I guess the pivotal moments for you. I’d love to know what you’ve learned from transitioning badly and transitioning well and what you can say to someone who’s, you know, thinking about making a transition. What should they know that they should do and definitely not do so that they can transition successfully?

Eric Wright

So if anybody is listening to this and taking notes, this part, this next part is going to be a little manic. So good luck. But you’re here probably six or eight principles that you can use to help you transition. So first, I need to set that stage with a little bit of context. I’ve had executives on airplanes say to me when I tell them what I do say, that’s ridiculous. You seriously can’t tell me that you make a project manager in 60 to 90 days. And I laugh and say, that is ridiculous. I don’t make them. I just help them understand they are and then I help them how to convey that to you so you hire them. The other thing is that I get a lot is, well, wait a minute. You can’t possibly take somebody from pharma and put them in AG. You can’t possibly take somebody from AG and put them in construction. And the reality is, project managers and general veterans specifically were pretty good. MacGyver’s. We’re pretty good at hey, I can assess my own skills, capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, knowledge. I can identify the gaps. I can close those gaps because that’s the part I control. Once I understand the objective, I’m also very good at interpersonal skills, getting others to want to help me do whatever thing it is. We’re going about the set-out. Do people like being engaged? They like being responsible. They like achievement. I mean, think about climbing to the top of a mountain. If you want somebody to climb on top of a mountain, you must be thinking the entire time. That’s absolutely insane. That looks like the most miserable thing a human could endeavor to do. But they get to the top of the mountain and they what? Take a picture. They come back out. They start planning their next mountain. I mean, so, you know, it’s about the achievement. So what I would tell people was with that context set. Here’s what I would say. Then take some time to figure out what you’re new or your next picture of yourself is professional. Hey, I really like this about my current career. I really hate this about my current career. I think in between those two things, I would like something along these lines. Right. And take 30 or 40 minutes and figure out what does that looks like? Does it align with your personal beliefs, your convictions, your values? So there’s your first rule. Your second tool is to learn how to tell your story in that new context. Hey, I’m this person. I have these skills in this industry or this company has this problem. I would love to solve that. And here’s how I use my skills and capabilities to solve it. So you need to paint your new instate. You need to create a story that opens a dialog. And the listeners head that, hey, this guy or gal sounds sharp. They could probably help me. They understand my problem. Right? Right. And then with those two things set, you now can map a professional personal development plan to get there. OK. Wow. I’m going to need this skill. I’m absolutely horrible at that. So how do I develop that skill? You know, and I would tell you, the university you Google and the university YouTube, you can get smart enough to ask stupid questions on almost any topic in like an hour and a half on either one of those platforms, if you’d both better and let experts find experts to help you accelerate that development. Right. So I know Tim Ferriss, but there would be the first couple of tools that I have personally used to manage my transition in my head and in my action.

Ben Aston

Right. Yeah, I think that idea of having that vision of where you want to go and then beginning to map that out those milestones or steps along the way.

Ben Aston

And that dialog is so important as well. So beginning to I guess I have empathy for people who are on the outside looking in and helping them understand how your past ends and where your trajectory in terms of where you want to go aligns with what they are trying to do as a business and what they’re trying to achieve so that they can see that having some synergy there. So I think that’s super, super great advice. And I want to know, though, they don’t like that. Ben, I want to know in terms of obviously we can make a plan and we can you know, we can create this vision of the future. That’s that’s great. But, hey, things don’t go to plan. We know as project managers that projects don’t go to plan. And our career itself is a project anyway. So I’m curious, as you made that transition as a project manager, what challenges did you face, and what and how do you keep that vision on track when it doesn’t go to plan?

Eric Wright

Well, I’ve learned that the type-A in me, the overachiever, the, you know, usually highly caffeinated person, you know—I will rub my head against the wall until I wear a hole in it. Right. And not ever lose sleep overdoing that. But I’ve learned over the last. And this is probably just within the last three or five years how to kind of put things in a bit healthier perspective. So what I’m saying is, is realize that you can make the plan, realize that the plan may go sideways when reality slams into it at the first red light it runs. Right. Like, just realize that we are not in control. So the illusion of control, a psychological principle. We’re not in control. So I’ve reset my own expectation. Here it is. I’m good. I’m still me. I’m still going to strive to achieve perfection. But I’m not going to let it be the enemy of done. And it’s done me. Hey, I got blown a bit off course. I ended over here at this other island instead of the island I was going with. Well, maybe I learned to love pineapples on the island I’m on instead of miss all the coconuts I’m not having because I’m not on the Coconut Island. And I know that’s an overly simplified, you know, analogy. But, you know, hey, I left everything I had on the field. I still achieved it. And I just need to realize where I am now and focus on the success I’ve created to get here. And that can inform what my next, you know, the plan of my next trajectory, launch angle and all that stuff that you need to go back and plan.

Ben Aston

Yeah. Yeah. Again, I think this is super important when we think about our projects as well. We can have a destination in mind and I think we need to be embraced.

Ben Aston

The fact that the projects do change and this is way more of an agile mindset comes in mind where we think about maybe our careers more iteratively. Hey, we kind of do a sprint. We develop our career in an area we and then we test and learn and then iterate. And I think thinking about maybe our careers in that way is an interesting way so that we don’t get disheartened maybe when we don’t end up exactly where we thought we were gonna end up. But hey, that is an opportunity to test and learn and iterate so that you can develop the skills that you need to get to the next place or the experience you need to advance to the place where you want to. But I think embracing the fact that we are our career path is unlikely to be as this beautiful, this beautiful succession of one amazing job after another. The reality is, is that we’re going to have to gaps. Those gaps mean we won’t always mean that we end up where we want to end up. But actually, if we continue moving in the right direction, I think we can see that as a positive.

Eric Wright

Yeah. Yeah. I love that agile career. I love that.

Ben Aston

And I’m curious to you in terms of helping people make transitions. I’d love to know what’s what hasn’t worked and when when when this fails in people’s minds, maybe because they didn’t end up where they wanted to end up. But where does this fall apart? Where to put where does transition fail, maybe from your own experience or in the experiences that you’ve seen in other people? How does transition go badly and how can we avoid that?

Eric Wright

I think it goes badly. And I’m sure that this is a very complex question. So I’m sure it goes badly on multiple levels in multiple ways. But here’s two of the ones that I have learned helping thousands of people do this. And these are personal stories of where I’ve felt them or that’s how I feel. It’s not probably realistic, but since I had an active role in it. Right, the psychological illusion of control, I have an active role. They didn’t achieve it. They weren’t satisfied. I feel it’s got to be here.

Eric Wright

But one would be the overabundance of pressure that we put on ourselves. So you may miss Coconut Island. And then on Pineapple Island. Well, you can either resent that and regret that and be dissatisfied for the rest of your life or you can figure out what you want to do about it if anything. Or learn to enjoy pineapples. So, like, take a little bit of pressure off yourself. Don’t dampen your drive. Just take some pressure off yourself because you’re not in complete control. Chance and probability are going to play a factor. This thing is to make sure that you really have taken time to noodle through your next instate. So it might not be your final in-state, but the next iteration of your career. Because if you don’t think about what you like and don’t like and what you value and don’t value if you don’t. If you can’t articulate that stuff to yourself. Right.

It’s like the old analogy. Hey, I’m going somewhere where you go and I don’t know anywhere. Well, guess what? You’re probably gonna end up somewhere and you may not enjoy it, right. So you need to, you need to really noodle through. You go do the planning and the resourcing and the execution. Is this where I think I want to go? If I was there in three years. Is that where I’d want to be? Because I have a child. I’ve helped now. Not, you know, dozens probably of people get to where they thought they wanted to go and their dispatch satisfied when they get there. Because of all the time, money, and effort, it took to get there. And it’s not really where they wanted to be right now. I still feel. Complicit in all of that. But I can’t noodle your instinct like that’s between you and yourself. Right. So. So I would say spend some time upfront thinking about that so that you’ve got a little bit clearer target. You may still miss it, but you’ve got a clearer target. And you what if that you know, here’s the trick. Here’s the tool you can use. A lot of people think the first-order effect, it’s easy to do. Men do this thing. This could happen. Think second and third-order effects. I’m not saying you got to spend five hours thinking about the three levels of effects. What I’m saying is if your initial response is to think about a couple of first level effects and that’s where you start. I would encourage you to spend five more minutes of your life before you go expend, spend hours, days, months, weeks, years, spend an extra five minutes, and do some second and third-order effect thinking.

Ben Aston

So don’t just think about that. And I think we can sometimes be. Yeah, have this kind of blinkers on.

Ben Aston

We decide, hey, I want to become a senior project manager or I know, I want to get promoted. And then it’s and then it’s thinking through. Okay. And then what is it? What I’m thinking through. Why as well. So when you a senior project manager, what will that mean? You travel more. You have to work longer hours. Yes. You get paid more. Is that really what you want? Why do you want that? And I think often we kind of just see this the herd disappearing often and doing their thing. And this is true for my career as well. When I think when I was in my early 20s, my big goal was, okay, well, I want to become director of project management. And that was what I was shooting for. And then I got another oh, I don’t know what to do now. So I think it’s always. Yeah. I think it’s so important for us to be thinking through it. Okay, not just the next big goal, but it’s OK. Well, two, three steps beyond that. Have a game plan that has more longevity. And I think this is why continually reviewing our goals, maybe at least on an annual basis, thinking through our goals in terms of personal goals, in terms of career goals, professional goals are thinking about our fitness goals as well in terms of our lifestyle was the kind of lifestyle that we want. And how does our career support or detract from that? I think these are all super important things to be thinking about. So, Eric, thank you so much for joining us today and giving us lots to think about as we think about transitioning and advancing our career. It’s been great having you with us.

Eric Wright

Thanks. It’s been quite a pleasure. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Ben Aston

And I’d love to know from our audience as well, what are your hack’s, what are your tips?

Ben Aston

What are your tricks for making the transition work, whether that’s in your career advancing or moving across what’s worked for you and what hasn’t? Please share any stories you’ve got in the comments below in this podcast. And if you want to learn more and get ahead in your work, come and join our tribe with DPM Membership.

Ben Aston

Head to www.thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership and you’ll get access to our community through our Slack team, templates workshops, ask me anything sessions, office hours, ebooks, and more. And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on thedigitalprojectmanager.com. But until next time, thanks so much for listening.

Ben Aston

Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedigitalprojectmanager.com. I've been in the industry for more than 15 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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