Do you believe in redefining technical project management for the digital age? In this ELEVATE session, Shayla Gibson (Technical Services Operations Manager at Treasury Prime) will talk about the various tools for technical project management, and discuss how to invest in the technical and the people skills. Attendees will learn how to prepare for the unexpected.
In this session, Shayla Gibson emphasizes the importance of leadership and team management skills, stating that people skills are a superpower that can set project managers apart. She also highlights the need for technical proficiency, explaining that project managers should have a deep understanding of technical tools, processes, and industry standards.
Shayla Gibson: Thank you Amanda and hi everyone, I hope you’re doing well this lovely Wednesday and happy hump day everyone. So, welcome to Good to Great Strategies for Achieving Excellence in Technical Project Management.
Little about myself. My name is Shayla Gibson. I have roughly eight years experience in project management and seven of those have been in the banking and finance sector. I have led company-wide agile transformations and created and revolutionized project management techniques for small businesses and small corporations. Some of the topics we’re going to go over today; leadership and team management, technical proficiency, tools, and project management and its aliases.
So, first things first. What is the difference between project management and technical project management? And apologies in advance that this seems kind of obvious, but it’s the technical aspect. Technical project management requires knowledge and expertise in technical software development or specific technical domains and a deep understanding of technical tools, processes, and even industry standards. Project management can be on a wide range of projects and a wide range of industries, including construction, marketing, and event planning. It doesn’t mean that technical project managers cannot also be in those fields, but the difference mainly is just the technical aspect.
Now, leadership and team management. If you Google or search project management, this term is probably within the top five of that list of skills that you need. But I like to bullet down even further and for me, it’s the most important thing to have; people skills. People skills are your superpower. Can it be taught? Sure. But if you’re good with people, if you’re good at persuading people, sharing your narrative, your story, inspiring them, talking to them like a person, everything else can be taught. I can teach you the intricacies of how money truly moves through our banking system. I can teach you how to read NACHA Fedwire files. I can teach you change management or how a system works, but if you know how to manage people, manage a team, manage stakeholders and executives and everything in between, then that is your superpower.
And I want to make it clear, you do not need to be defined by being an extrovert or an introvert. I know plenty of introverts that are amazing people, have amazing people skills, and I know the exact opposite with extroverts. The thing you should focus on is, can you use your people skills? Because if you can, that is the excellence that’ll make you stand out from others.
Now, back to the defined bullet points that I have. You need to be able to lead a team, lead by example. If you are working hard, your team will also work hard. You need to inspire and motivate. Sometimes we have to work on things we don’t always care about or don’t even have the complete vision. Technical project managers and project managers need to have the ability to explain that vision and to keep their team motivated and going. You also need to have the confidence in the decisions that you have to make. For me, it’s making sure I have all the information, all the sides of the stories, and all the risks laid out. So even if I make a decision and it doesn’t pan out for the best, I was confident that I made this right decision with the information I had.
I have a little story time and it is going back to that bullet point about inspire and motivate. I worked with various technical teams. Some comprise the developers, engineers, product owners, product managers, you name it. This particular team was mainly developers and engineers and they worked well together. So this is not a story of where they weren’t working together, they didn’t mesh, and I came in and saved the day. No, they worked just fine with each other. If you ever meet me in person, I am this bubbly ray of sunshine and I actually really love bad jokes and dad jokes. So, every Friday that team will actually get a bad joke from me, a dad joke, and I can hear the eye rolls and the groans, and that’s what the team gave me too, but I still did it every single Friday. Eventually my team was, I’ll say, bold enough to all start ganging up on me and tell me how terrible these jokes are, that I need better jokes or some of them just don’t make sense at all.
Eventually, they started posting their own jokes. I didn’t even have to post anymore, but I still did because I love doing and I love hearing the groans. Eventually, they started giving each other feedback on these jokes, whether they were good, they were bad, whatever. Eventually, my team started going from working well with each other to great to excellent. Why? Because they were able to communicate together. They were able to collaborate and give each other feedback. Now, I’m not saying this is the secret sauce. All I know is that I’ve done it multiple times with various different groups and I’ve gotten the same outcome. So that is me using some sort of people skill, my superpower, to inspire and motivate a team.
Technical proficiencies. So what do you really need to know to be considered a technical project manager? It’s not knowing how to code. It’s not me logging into GitHub and looking at failed processes in sandbox, debugging it, and figuring out the best way to resolve it. It’s not me knowing that in a NACHA file for ACH payments, one place I can find a routing number is in the file header record, which always begins with 101 followed by the routing number of the originating sending bank. It also includes some date timestamps and the originating bank and the company name. But what language they use to code, knowing that some of their errors are flagged in GitHub, or even that my engineers need help debugging it, maybe this is an error that we see regularly.
Now, let’s go back to that technical statement that I just said, and feel free to fact check me on those routing numbers. Understanding the technical aspect, understanding the technical language and be able to spit it back out so others can understand is key. Things are always changing so you need to stay on top of them. So I’ll repeat that technical statement, then I’ll repeat it back in a more digestible way. So the technical statement. For a NACHA file, one place I can file a routing number is in the file header record, which always begins with 101, followed by the routing number of the originating sending bank. It also includes date time stamp, as well as the name of the originating bank and company name.
Here’s a more digestible way. ACH, it’s a payment type. And for banks to digest it, there’s a file format that’s called NACHA and this format is regulated federally. So there’s certain rules that all banks need to follow. The routing number, and I’m sure everyone here has opened a checking account or a saved account, we all get paid. You get a routing number. In this massive network of banks, that routing number is how we know which bank is which. So Bank of America, Chase, you name it, they all have their own individual routing numbers. So if I’m looking at this NACHA file and if I can find a line that starts with 101 and then right after that should be the routing number. Now there’s additional data in there and sometimes it’s going to look like a date timestamp or company name, but as long as I find 101, right after that should be the routing number.
That’s much easier to understand, right? And that is what we need to do as a technical project manager. Understand the technical and have the ability to rehash it for others to understand. We don’t need to be the smartest in the room, but we need to know how to talk to them.
Common questions I always get asked is, where can I get training for this? And the safe answer is starting with a PMP or a course in project management, figuring out what types of technologies or software are in your industry of choice, and learning about them. But this is the digital age and I can’t tell you countless times someone has asked me about a project or to look into something that I have never heard of. But YouTube has, Google has, and I am never shy to ask 1,000,001 questions. Sometimes it just takes that initiative.
Lastly, cross-functional understanding. Going back to the example I gave, not everyone in your company is going to have the same level of knowledge as you. So you need to be able to rehash those technical aspects and understand the 360 view. On the screen, you’re going to see a list of tools and you don’t need to know all of them and you may have came across them, you may not have, and you may, in your career as a technical project manager or a project manager. But if I can zoom in on one, the project manager software box, there’s two listed in there, but there’s probably 1,000,001 out there. Project manager software tools are all the same with different colors and maybe a slightly different feel to them. But let’s say you know nothing about Tableau or Power BI, once again, it’s a digital age. So somewhere someone has figured out how to use it and has put it online. Let’s work smarter, not harder.
Professional development. So I already touched a little bit about this, but just to give you some more color, I am actually currently studying for my PMP. So in the world of project management and technical project management, there is the infamous question, PMP or not? All I can say is this; whether you get one or not, experience is going to be what you can follow on. And also a PMP might help you get your foot in the door. I don’t have a complete answer, but just like anywhere else, if you look up professional development, you need to keep networking, talk to other project managers, technical project managers, certifications out there, especially within the industry of choice, and conferences and events like the one you’re attending now.
All right. Last but not least, technical project management and its aliases. So here’s a short list of what a technical project manager can look like in the world. It can be an IT operations manager, the DevOps project manager, or a implementation manager. If it walks like a project manager, or a technical project manager, it probably is, but just make sure you ask your questions too. Here’s an example.
So at my current company, my title is a Technical Operations Manager for our Technical Services Management team. I work on special projects that pertain specifically for the Technical Service Management team or the Operations team, and I mainly focus on our internal clients. But when I started at this company, I was actually implementation manager, getting our clients’ implementations up and running. It was very customer facing. I was working hand in hand with our solution engineers, our engineers, our product managers, and I was in charge of creating a template project plan and then following that through through its ups and downs. And before that, I’ve had many other tiles, but they were all within project management. Just make sure you do your research and you ask your questions when you’re seeing titles out there.
And thank you everyone. So glad you came to listen. Please get in contact with me on LinkedIn. Amanda, I don’t know if we’re open for questions. Do we still have time?
Amanda Beaty: Yeah, you’ve still got a couple minutes.
Shayla Gibson: I see one in the Q&A, I think this is a good one. So, how do you think AI is going to change up the situation for program or project managers? I think AI is a tool that we need to get used to and that we can use to our advantage. Going back to that this is a digital age and that there’s so much data out there, there’s so many tools out there, AI is just another tool that we can actually learn to use for our benefit. So, I would actually encourage you to learn a little bit more about AI and see how you could use it in your day-to-day. But I think they are only up to date until April this year, so be careful what you ask AI or ChatGPT or whatever you use, and it is just a tool, so you will have to actually read it and make the decision if you can use it or not. I will take one more if I can and I said-
Amanda Beaty: Yeah, go ahead. Yep, you’ve got three more minutes. Go ahead.
Shayla Gibson: So, do recruiters look for PMP or mainly reply, I think rely, on the experience of project management and roles? I think that’s really dependent on the company. Like I said, some really, really would love to see a PMP and others are more lax on that. So, unfortunately there’s not a really good answer, it really depends on the company, but sometimes the PMP just gets your foot in the door, and then other times if you can prove that you have the experience.
How to mention transferring skills in another industry when transitioning to tech. Are all program and project managers fundamentally doing the same core work? That’s a great question. If you have the basis of project management, you should have some of the basic skills to go and take that from one industry to another. However, I will say this, in tech it’s all about your experience with tech and how much you know. So if you are going to be transferring from a different industry into tech, make sure you do your research, learn as much as you can on some of the tech fields and most popular fields out there. And that way you can still use that within your resumes and your interviews to talk about that experience. I think I’m at time now.
Amanda Beaty: Yep. Let’s go ahead and call it and we’ll pop over to the next session. And thank you so much, Shayla, everybody really enjoyed this and thanks everybody for joining us and we’ll see you in the next session.
Shayla Gibson: Thank you.