Follow your nose and build a personally rewarding career
Andreas Heil joined Zühlke Germany as a software engineer in 2013, working from the Eschborn office near Frankfurt. He started his transition to Lead Project Manager in 2017, and now works across a global community of like-minded professionals.
Insight in brief
- Learn how Zühlke supports its people as they transfer their skills from one role and re-apply them in another.
- Discover how Zühlke’s global network of professionals helps support the acquisition of valuable insights.
- Find out about some of the most important skills for becoming a project manager at Zühlke.
Andreas said: ‘I studied mechatronics, which was a combination of electronics, mechanics and software. When looking for jobs, software developer skills were in high demand, so that was my trigger.’
‘Originally, I found software development interesting. But eventually I recognised: OK, the people that thrive in this discipline are deeply passionate about it. For me, the joy of the work was less in the technical challenges and more helping people collaborate effectively together to achieve a common goal. And I could see clear areas for improvement there, so that was my motivation to investigate a change.’
Support with career progression
Zühlke supported Andreas in his move. He said: ‘I was already acting as a scrum master within my team. It wasn’t directly project management, but I was helping the team be more efficient.’
Around that time, Zühlke was very interested in supporting those who wanted to move from technical roles to project management anyway. So Andreas talked to the person with responsibility for project managers in Germany, who became his mentor.
Andreas said: ‘We had a close collaboration with training every week – one or two hours where he introduced me to different areas and challenges. I didn’t have any background, so all my on-the-job learning was at Zühlke.’
Following personal motivations
As well as that support, Andreas also attended training courses, and got involved with the Zühlke-wide community of project managers. That acted as an information exchange and enabled him to learn from others.
Andreas said: ‘Some of those exchanges gave me strong insights. It really helped me see that I was fundamentally more galvanized by project management than coding.’ ‘One very visible area that was missing from the technical side was the social aspect. I was personally very keen to develop more experience and skills in team leadership and motivation.’
How the project manager community strengthens the whole business
The German and Austrian community consists of approximately 30 project managers, and is aligned with the global, group level team. Before COVID19, the group-wide engagement had just started, and met once for two days. The community in Germany met more often, yet lockdown inevitably made everything remote.
Andreas said: ‘We talk about our experiences, and the head of project managers introduces topics that he thinks are relevant. It’s all about improving our business, helping project managers get things done, gaining an overview of topics and exchanging experiences.’
‘There are all kinds of working groups in these communities, with dedicated topics where we say: ‘OK, we have to investigate or deliver some assets’. The last topic I worked on was designing and maintaining a ‘Development at Zühlke’ training programme. We created a general mindset so that everyone – project managers, techies, whatever – has a vision of how to work on projects. There’s also a programme for coaching new trainers.’
The importance of technical knowledge
Andreas believes his background is crucial to effectiveness. He said: ‘As a project manager, you’re responsible for delivery. You need a good gut feeling about what’s going on in the project. If you can’t follow the technical discussions, it’s harder to instinctively have that feeling – you’re dependent on what technical colleagues say. No matter how good, techies have different perspectives on projects – different motivations. So you need to be able to follow what’s going on – find the bad smells.’
‘I don’t know – and don’t want or need to know – all the details. But to bring the team into a good position, all aligned to the right vision, it’s good to have a development background.’
‘There are only a few project managers at Zühlke who don’t have that. I’m currently a mentor to one of them, and can see that he can’t moderate discussions in a way that he otherwise would. So he’s learning, and mentoring is one of the tools Zühlke uses.’
Managing conflicting interests
Andreas also reflected on the softer skills his role requires. He said: ‘As a project manager on the supplier side you have to align the sometimes-conflicting interests of clients, Zühlke’s teams and its wider business. You need empathy and to know everyone’s position.’
‘The other thing is team leadership. You want to keep colleagues motivated. I think communication is very crucial – talking to the right people about the right things. And project managers are also out to help each individual member of the team to grow.’
For the future, Andreas understands the importance of a shared approach: ‘Zühlke is growing and growing, so work will continue to be distributed across multiple locations and countries, more and more, by default. Not everything can be standardised, but the mindset and general collaboration setup can be.’
‘What I am looking for, personally, is to work in cool teams. I’ve already worked with teams that performed very well.’