Today marks National Project Management Day and we wanted to celebrate that here at Nuffield Technologies by interviewing our very own project manager, Kat Hodgson. Having been at the company for well over a year now, Kat has become an integral part of the Nuffield team and we thought it only right to pick her brain on all things project management to mark the occasion.
How Did You Get into Project Management?
Starting at the start, we thought we’d ask Kat how she first started out in project management. “I’ve typically always found myself in coordinator-type roles”, Kat begins. “I just found that I enjoy being organised and organising others.”
“When I was working at an engineering company – it was the next progression, really, to move from a coordinator role to a project management role.” We asked where Kat went next. “I went into cinema for a software company as a project manager and support lead, there.”
Has Project Management Been How You Expected it to Be When You First Started?
We wondered, having worked across a wide number of industries, whether the coordinator roles and project management roles had been very different. “Project management is very similar, regardless of where you go,” Kat replies.
“I worked as a coordinator for a long time, at the telecoms company and then at the engineering company. I scheduled engineers’ times, I sent them to jobs, made sure that they met the customer’s expectations, so it’s very much project management.”
“I don’t think we realise how much we do naturally when it comes to managing projects. They’re very transferable skills that I’ve been able to use.” She went on to talk about the differences between the experiences, “When I went into cinema, I went from a very corporate background to something a bit more relaxed.”
After her stint working for the cinema software development company, Kat moved on to her current role with Nuffield Technologies, so we thought we’d ask how she’s found her time so far.
How Has Your Experience Been With Nuffield Technologies, Thus Far?
“I’ve really enjoyed it. Although it’s a smaller business, everybody knows what they’re doing. They’re very attentive as far as the team is concerned – really, really considerate. Highly professional but a good balance as well.” That’s what we like to hear!
What Challenges Do You Face as a Project Manager?
Like any profession, project management isn’t without its challenges and we wanted to find out, directly from Kat herself, what she thought some of the main challenges in the field were.
“If you’re project managing hardware, your manufacturing costs ordinarily would stay the same for each item. So, if you were producing a pen, apart from your supplier’s costs, the cost of a pen wouldn’t change significantly because your manufacturing process would be the same.”
She continued to explain, “The challenge that we have with software – especially if it’s a new type of project – is that you’re basing your estimates around the scope of work which can change. Also, when technology changes, and there’s so much innovation in the technology world, that you can never see foresee it until you’re in it.”
“So that’s probably been one of the biggest challenges that, when I first started out, I didn’t expect. It’s not written in a textbook when you go through your qualification, so it’s definitely a learned experience that you get from software, specifically.”
What’s Your Style Like as a Project Manager?
“I don’t like a blame culture,” Kat starts. “And so, for me as a project manager, if a project goes over, I would rather us consider how we make it better next time, as opposed to concentrating on who did what wrong.”
“Yes, let’s acknowledge what went wrong, let’s problem-solve it and let’s move on. Because actually, nobody is gaining from finger-pointing or making other people feel responsible. I think that, as a team, we successfully deliver a project or, as a team, we don’t”.
We decided to probe a bit further and ask about the type of project manager Kat wants to be. “I like to be a project manager that people want to work with. I want to be a PM where people go, ‘Great, Kat’s on the project’.” And we can certainly vouch that that’s absolutely how the rest of the Nuffield team feels.
What’s a Day in the Life, Working as a Project Manager?
We really wanted to get an idea of what Kat gets up to on a daily basis, so we asked her for her day in the life. She was gracious enough to take us through her typical work day.
“Typically,” Kat starts, “I would only manage my projects and I wouldn’t engage in support activities unless they specifically impacted what I’m were doing for my project.” She continues, “So, I’ll make sure people are up to date with their timesheets, and that people are booking the right things for the right projects.”
Going on, she says, “I make sure I’m updated on where we’re at with things; check in with the development team, as well as an interaction with the customer to see if they need anything. There’s so many aspects and so many different people to communicate with on different levels; it’s a role that has involvement with everybody.”
“In terms of Rugged Data [one of Nuffield Technology’s software products], I do an element of business analyst work, with regards to improving customers’ forms, and there’s also a degree of support, too, like supporting with customer queries. I like the customers to know that we’re here if we need them.”
Building Rapport With Customers
“I’ve always been customer-centric in the roles I’ve done.” Kat says. “That relationship with the customers makes them feel really seen and heard, and I think that no matter whether they’re having a really bad week, knowing that they’ve got somebody at the other end of the phone or an email who will listen and understand – as opposed to react – just makes everything so much better.” Truer words have perhaps never been said.
“If there are problems in a project, isn’t it better that you’ve already got a relationship with that customer? That whole relationship makes delivering any difficult messages a bit easier. If you know each other and already have positive rapport, then it’s easier to overcome any challenges together.”
Where Do You See the Future of Project Management Lying?
“In the years that I’ve been in project management, I’ve seen projects go from a waterfall-type approach to an agile-type approach. Processes have changed and there’s been a realisation that there are so many factors that need to be considered.”
Kat explains further, “Lots of project management tools still rely on a waterfall-style approach which can make things a bit trickier. There are still ways you can make the software work for you, though.”
She goes on, “Moving forward, I’m almost certain that AI is going to play a role. I’m sure that in some industries AI will play a big factor in project management; perhaps more so in building management and construction, though, rather than in software given that software development can be so bespoke.”
Do You Have Any Advice for People Just Starting Out in Project Management?
We wanted to conclude our interview with Kat with some words of wisdom – though she’d already provided us with a veritable font of wise words. Still, though, we were feeling greedy so we put the question to her anyway.
“Never sell yourself short,” She starts, “I once had an interview and described project management as something that you do everyday.” Elaborating further, Kat says, “Everybody does it – in a certain way – so if somebody tells you that you can’t do it, just don’t give up because you can.”
“I’ve also spent a lot of my working life in male-dominated environments, and seeing project management ordinarily being a male role was challenging.” Kat says.
“And so the shift in mentality towards female project management is definitely positive.” She continues. “There are certainly opportunities that lie ahead, so if you want it – get it. There’s nobody apart from you stopping yourself from achieving it.”
So, there you have it – our very own project manager interviewed in depth to mark National Project Management Day. Without project managers like Kat, companies everywhere would struggle to deliver the quality of work they strive toward.
So, here’s to you, Kat, and all the project managers out there like you. Whether they’re neck deep in a Gantt chart or, in the words of Kat, “gently reminding” teams about their timesheets, businesses simply wouldn’t function without them.
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