That Bad Project Can Still Help Your Career

Written by lewsauder

May 28, 2014

bad project

Bad project, good project

I once received a late-night call and was told to travel the next day to a project three and a half hours away from my home. When I reported to the project the next day, I learned that it was well behind schedule. They needed me to help them catch up and get back in good graces with the client.

At that time in my career I was trying to transition from a technical coder to a team lead or project manager role.  I wasn’t happy about being assigned to the programming role for this project.  I labored over the next seven weeks working long days to help the project get caught up. I felt like I was wasting my skills on that project.

A few months after finishing the project, I received my annual performance review.  In it, my boss praised me for being a team player.  He said I had “taken one for the team” by working on that project and that I had played an important role in client relationship management for helping to save the project.

I didn’t realize that they viewed it that way.  I just felt like I was wasting my time.

I realized that not every project that you work on will be a high-profile assignment that will define your career. You don’t always get to work on the newest technologies or ones that have the CEO’s closest attention. It is usually luck of the draw.  When a new project comes along and the company needs people with specific skills that you have, your name may come up if you are available. Management rarely says, “Bill is a great fit for this project, but he doesn’t like to work on those types of jobs.  Instead, we’ll go hire somebody new who likes that kind of work.”

For more information, checkout Career Management Tips for Project Managers

What do you do when your organization asks you to be on a project that doesn’t sound attractive to you?

Accept it.  In most companies, turning down a project is a career limiting move.  At best you will develop a bad reputation with management.  At worst, you won’t get assigned to any desirable projects in the future.  If you think you’re too skilled for the job, seek out ways to excel and add value.  It may do more for your career than you expect.

Don’t complain.  If you feel like you’re stuck on a project that isn’t boosting your career, protesting to the management will probably mark you as a whiner.  There are better ways to let them know of your desire to work on other projects.  You could tell your manager, “I like working here, but I don’t feel like this project is helping me grow.” Then tell them what you would prefer to do.  Ask the manager if he thinks you are qualified to do what you’re interested in. They can’t solve a problem if they aren’t aware of it. You just have to let them know without sounding like a complainer.

Learn other skills. If you think that you’ve been categorized into an undesirable role, develop new skills that may help you get the roles you desire.  Take some classes or volunteer for responsibilities that will help you grow and prove your capabilities to the management. It may help them see you from a different point of view resulting in assignments more in line with what you want.

Related post: How to Leave a Project

Decide whether it’s time for a change. If you’ve addressed the recommendations above and your organization continues to assign you to undesirable projects, it may be time to decide whether you’re with the right company. If you have told them diplomatically what you’re interested in, and they’re either unwilling or unable to provide it for you, you may be better off finding a company that can. Most companies value their people and will do what they can to keep them.  Some companies take their people for granted.  One company’s junk is another one’s treasure.  You may be able to move on and find one who will treasure you.

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.


Copyright 2014 Lew Sauder, Inc.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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