What's it like being a Project Manager: let's get personal

by Hanna Nykowska

In one of my previous blog posts, I wrote some tips on project management. But I didn’t really share my personal experience. Even though tips are helpful because that’s something you can immediately use, they only show a fraction of what is involved in leading a project.

Just difficult

Before the project had started, I knew we were getting a lot of documentation and help from the client. It was good news but at the same time, it started creating pressure (since we’re given so much, we must create something amazing). Then shortly before the kick-off, I realised how little time we had scheduled for the project. (The stress increased as I didn’t think that little time would be a good reason for not delivering).

As expected, things started falling apart slightly when we had a look at the data. The data sets were big and the data structure was complex (for example, some of the IDs were being re-used). Additionally, the data was completely anonymised which made the tasks more abstract. It made it more difficult for the team to put themselves in the shoes of the audience and to just understand what they were dealing with.

At the same time, some of the calculations turned out to be more complex in reality than on paper (much more complex). What’s more, the techniques used for this project were really advanced and while I was impressed with the work of my team, I was of little help with some of the technical questions.

My worst enemy strikes again

As the week progressed I was getting more and more stressed. In fact, I have never been this stressed before, or at least I can’t recall it. People around me started asking me whether I was alright and even though I usually go with the typical ‘I’m fine’ (also when I may not be…) I have actually got to a point where I was just not responding. Not good.

I talked through my problems with my parents during a 45-minute walk home, hoping that getting things out of my system would help calm me down. And that’s the story of how I walked through the middle of London, crying all the way. It helped a bit but not as much as I hoped for.

The worst part about all that stress was that I was aware it was all in my head. That the reason why it was nerve-racking to me were my own expectations. Not the clients’, not the head coaches’, not my team’s but mine. For some reason, I hoped things would go smoothly and when they didn’t, I blamed myself for it. I knew it wasn’t all my fault, sometimes things just don’t go well. Not every project is easy. All the time I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and I didn’t help enough. Instead of support, I was a burden to my team. (Again, don’t think it’s true but that’s how I felt at the time and couldn’t do anything to stop feeling that way.)

TIL has your back

Even though I was super stressed and didn’t really talk to anyone about my state of mind, I still felt the support of my coworkers. Not just my own cohort, but other Data Schoolers and the core team members as well. It didn’t have to be as big as a hug to count, even a simple fist bump meant a lot to me during that week. Thanks, everyone 🙂


Once I did my part of the presentations and let my cohortians take over, I felt much better and started to relax (it was almost over and it seemed like it actually might end well). I was genuinely interested in the presentations of my team: what was the final result and what were the clients’ reactions. The stakeholders were quite vocal and liked a lot of the work we did. What a nice way to finish the project!

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Despite the downs, it was a very good learning experience. The most challenging lesson was not to be too much in my head which I didn’t manage to do during the project. It’s difficult to remember that even though we might have been far ahead in the training, it was still my first take on managing other people. It’s an opportunity to learn after all, not a test…

I know that not everything went as smoothly as I would have liked it to. I’ll probably spend a lot of time thinking about alternative scenarios where I played my part better. But that’s life. Hopefully next time, I’ll learn from my mistakes and not repeat them. I should perhaps mention that I got some positive feedback from my cohortians so I guess I did something right. (It was actually nice to hear I was helpful.)

To end on a positive note, I was (and still am) proud of my team and their kick-ass skills that wowed the client. Whenever in doubt, prepare for the worst but hope for the best. Thankfully, we got the best.


Hanna Nykowska

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