How did you get into project management?
I started as a scientist beginning in a start-up company leading a cell biology team then I moved into project leadership. A mix of my experience in science and having some people skills got me into the role. I learned the project management operational skills on the job. I have now moved to work in project management at Cancer Research UK Centre for Drug Development.
In a mid-size company situation what are the key aspects of the project manager role?
Working with a reasonably large portfolio compared to a start-up company. Coordinating activities right from preclinical all the way through to completion of Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials. Working with science, legal, contracts, planning, budget – a wide skill set.
No ‘project manager / project leader’ split as there is in a large Pharma company. Working with multiple projects each project leader may support three projects simultaneously. In my role there is a reasonably systematic process for portfolio review, reporting and support for decisions. Plus work on some outsourced services – CROs for toxicology, manufacturing and so on.
What are the typical challenges for project management in this role and what strengths are needed?
As in a larger company we have a matrix system involving managing without direct authority and managing stakeholders. You have to work at building individual relationships – often the boundaries are not quite clear. A degree of gravitas and confidence is required to make an impact. It is quite a diverse skill set – nobody has it to start with!
Many medium-size companies do require people to complete a qualification such as Prince 2, which our PLs have. But it just provides a common background and framework rather than applying Prince 2 to the letter.
To what extent does this type of role prepare you to move to a larger company situation?
To a great extent! People in my sort of role may well move to a larger company or a small / biotech firm.