Discussing Project Management with a peer one day we got on the topic of how it works in small companies and my experiences. Employed at a small company one is frequently required to wear many metaphoric hats.
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Project management becomes entwined with the technical part of a job. For example, from my experience developing embedded industrial products, the developer also performed testing, not just the development testing, but also systems integration work, the discovery of issues in that work, and adapting the product.
I recall one time having some field stimulus that caused malperformance. Eventually, another engineer and I traced the problem to an electromagnetic generated energy coupled onto the wires external to the product and brought into the product enclosure. We made the correction to the product. Then we needed to find a way to test the correction. We found a drill that was electrically very noisy, and placed this over the product housing and harness, watching electrical ejecta from the sides of the drill toward the device. As the result, the product did not fail in this round of testing, and we saw no further field failures. The example illustrates hands-on knowledge you might not get in a large or maybe even a medium-size company.
From experience, large to medium companies tend to functionally organize. Functional organizations have management structures for coordination across domains. This functional structure can have a benefit, which ultimately is really a double-edged sword. That is, functional structures in an organization help developed specialized skills and processes specific to that functional area. This only works with sufficiently staffed (volume) with talent within that domain. Smaller organizations do not require this lateral coordination due to the size, and therefore each person often ends up filling more than one role.
This diversity of experience provides a broader view of the requirements to create and deliver a product to the market. Perhaps the magnitude of the overall work is smaller. For example, the average amount spent on project work may be different from larger companies, the size of the projects likely varies (for example, $3million dollars versus $130 million dollars). This type of experience possible adds to your industry knowledge (for example manufacturing) and will benefit you when it comes to conducting your project. A breadth of experiences can help throughout the project from initiating through closing. The advantage has a predicate on one’s willingness and ability to take the actions the learning indicates required.
In the discussion, the subject of resume came up, specifically, if your resume reflects working at a small company will this result in not getting an interview. I have hired people, at relatively large companies, I know, anecdotal and my own experiences, you should consider the worth of that. I have no idea how to find this out, and as many different people there are reviewing the resume, there will perhaps be that many different perspectives. A demonstration of the variety of those experiences, no matter the company size, articulated in the resume can perhaps help catch the reviewers’ eye. For example, perhaps a person performs activities like a project manager, a description of these types of experience and end results of the actions will be helpful. It demonstrates competency via experience even without the title from the company. The truth is, titles might mean much to some of us, but hiring managers want to get appropriate competencies to make the company and as consequence their department, outstanding.
The resume may get a person in the door, and one of the things I would look for was the range of experiences, particularly, to get some sense of this person’s attitude about learning, not just about the skills they presently have. Those are important, to be sure, but I was not hiring them for the position or (headcount) they have presently or had in the past. I am seeking to hire specific skills – importantly, how their past experiences may apply in the context of the talent I am seeking to hire. I would also have those in my group that would be working with this potential new hire, review the resumes if they wanted. If they chose not to, I would make the first pass select and hand the resumes of those I thought might be suitable candidates to the people with which they would be working.
When I was a manager, I would not exclude somebody that had worked at smaller companies. I am not sure I would be able to even tell, in fact, it is often not at all relevant for the hiring consideration. What was more important, is what they have done where they were, and evidence of continuous learning by the individual, the ability to adapt and learn based upon circumstances.
So, our view is getting experience running projects in small companies is valuable and a great first step to becoming a project manager. Although, having an expectation of going from a small company project environment to managing a multi-million-dollar project may be a large challenge. But applying to fill the role of an assistant project manager might be appropriate. After all, every experience managing a project is a learning experience. Even if you cannot start undertaking projects at a formal level, it is possible to acquire many of the requisite project management skills while executing our work. Take time to plan your work, consider dependencies to best structure the sequence of the work to reduce risk and improve throughput.
A little self-learning coupled with an application where possible in your present role will get you familiar with some of the concepts and make you better prepared when the opportunity arises.