Interview with Helen Hitchmough: Building a career in project management

Helen Hitchmough is a senior project manager at Acando. This month, we celebrated International Project Management Day. One of the themes was women in project administration. I wanted to hear the perspective of Helen Hitchmough (a senior project manager at Acando project management consultancy) about her career in project management. We also discussed her advice for female project managers who want to climb the career ladder. Here’s what she had to share.
Helen, how did you get into project management?
I was a former employee of a technology company. I then moved into project management, overseeing the delivery of infrastructure to BT. It was a complete accident! I started my career as a manufacturing engineer in telecoms. However, manufacturing was declining and I was looking for my next move. I went on to customer management, then assisted project managers, and finally became a delivery manager.
Every day is a challenge, and that’s what I still find 11 years later.
Even though you’ve been project managing for so long, you just recently received your PRINCE2(r). Why is this?
My previous company didn’t place much emphasis on training project managers. Project managers were people who could do things and didn’t need special skills. PRINCE2(r), was something I had always envisioned doing. When I visited Acando and saw their commitment to ensuring that project managers have a budget for training, I was able take the opportunity to improve my skills.
The course reinforces what you do every day at work. The training was more beneficial than anything because I was able talk about projects and ideas to the other participants. Learning with others makes project management more real. This is possible by sharing case studies and talking with the other delegates. It’s all about visuals in your memory; being present in the training room will help you remember later.
Now that you are a senior manager of projects, what is your day like?
Although I know what I need, not all days go according to plan. Working in an environment that changes constantly is one of the challenges. I also work on multiple programs with different dependencies. It is important to make sure communications are in place, to know the scope of the project, and to include everyone in the team. It’s a major part of my job to keep everyone informed. I am a very active participant in bringing other program and project teams on board.
What advice would you give to someone looking to climb the career ladder?
It is important to work with people. It is important to be able understand people and to ensure that the project runs smoothly. Listen to the people involved in the project and find out what their issues are. As soon as possible, work with them to make them feel like part of the project team.
I am also seeing a shift in the way we deal with support staff. We used to contact support teams at the end of the process. Now, we contact them earlier to help us plan.
This is a great tip and something I have also noticed. I believe support and project worlds are becoming more intertwined. Is there anything else?
You must have the passion to take on complex projects and push yourself. This allows you to utilize a wider range of skills. It is important to step out of your comfort zone and do something different. It’s possible for anyone to do it.
Acando’s structure elevates project managers to the top and sets a new standard in project management. We are fortunate to have the people at Acando who will support us in our next career step. We have a strong governance structure. You are constantly challenged by your colleagues to follow the guidelines. This ensures that you are doing things right. This helps to build competence in junior project managers.
Our mission is to eliminate all project failures