… the Accidental Project Manager

My path into Project Management began back in the 90’s when I finished my post-graduate research in Radiation Damage and needed to leave University and start earn an honest wage. I also left with the desire to cross the floor into Finance after reading books such as Gregory Millman’s The Vandal’s Crown: How Rebel Currency Traders Overthrew the World’s Central Banks (which was released in the UK as Around the World on a Trillion Dollars a Day, the version I knew of).

To pay bills I took a role with an IT outsourcing firm onsite with the IT and Resources team at ‘Auntie B‘. It was there that I was inflicted with the worst first-day introduction ever as I was walked into a room by the department Admin and introduced to two staff, X and Y with “X, Y, this is Z, your replacement.” At this point, the Admin turned and walked out leaving me, Z, alone with a less than enthusiastic X and Y…. (names changed to protect the innocent and me.)

16 months later I found myself in 24-hour operations for an energy trading company and spending my time between scheduling power stations and using Excel VBA to reduce the amount of cut-and-paste on reports. This showed me the world of energy commodities as I worked with electricity, gas, oil, and coal traders.

This role soon led to working as a trader myself. The good news; I got to take exams on derivatives and still used VBA to make life easier. The bad news; I crossed swords with Enron on a daily basis and, when they crashed and burned, they took a chunk of the market liquidity out. Regulators were driving down prices and, due to an excellent long term contract negotiated by our illustrious senior management that we’d been informed was ‘guaranteed to make money’, we were ‘long and wrong’ so, as the tide turned, we were like a beached whale left at the high tide mark. A few months later, the parent company cut us off like a withered arm and the remains of my firm was bought out.

This turned out to be the perfect opportunity to take a one year sabbatical and finally write up my thesis. (My strong advice: Never leave several years between your research and write-up; even with copious notes, it is hard work trying to recall all that work.) I did have a brief, but oh so lucrative, short-term contract as a RAD developer at an international Investment Bank, which both gave me ample opportunity to review the thesis with my old supervisor and restock the coffers with some much needed funds.

A few months later, Thesis completed, Examiners satisfied, and MPhil. awarded and in hand, I found myself in pre-sales for a major software vendor’s financial risk product reporting to a fellow ex-trader. This was shortly followed by an offer to work directly on-site with a client for 12 months supporting both the Risk Management application and a smaller, bespoke web-based position viewing tool that showed the positions and P&L in real time.

The client was (is) a major private hedge fund and 12 months turned into several years in which I got to see the Front, Middle, and Back office all working together with Risk and IT as this fund sought to make a profit in equity, fixed income, interest rates, inflation, and FX (everything except Credit, really). I also saw my first short squeeze when Porsche made VW the most expensive firm in the world.

As I watched, I recalled what my old head of desk had once said:

Two things drive the market; fear and greed.

Back to the day job, for the risk platform, my work boiled down to keeping it working and helping the client’s IT team automate more and more of the static data for new positions and assets, etc.

For the web tool, my work was far more dynamic. As well as supporting it and fixing bugs, I was working with the dev team who were several thousand miles, and 5 time zones, west of us. We would identify bugs or new features and their priority, rapidly prototype them and get it back through the client QA and deployment teams. We were Agile without realizing it.

Later, I was invited to join the main PM team to help deploy to new clients, or upgrade existing enterprise systems.

Fast forward to today and I now have experience in the full project life cycle from initiation to close. I’ve done this for projects hosted on both the company and on client hardware, and have run everything from short upgrades to trading systems to multi-million dollar enterprise risk platforms.

My clients have been investment banks, pension funds, and broker-dealers amongst others, and I’ve had to do this with geographically distributed teams.

I’ve learnt that “On Time, On Budget, On Scope” is not enough to define a successful project – we need to include “To The Client’s Satisfaction” to that list.

During all of this I’ve built my knowledge of PM methodologies including Waterfall (linear and spiral) and Agile (Scrum, XP, Evo, UP, Lean, etc.)

Oh, the fun had balancing one team running a modified PRINCE2 project methodology with another running a PMBoK Waterfall and an Agile development team (Scrum).

But if you want a quiet life, don’t be a PM.