Lyndsey Falcus, Project Manager, on progressing from receptionist to Project Manager, maintaining a work/life balance, and having her voice heard at work.

photo of lyndsey falcus

I’d never have thought I’d be a Project Manager at all, I really thought I was going to be a Personal Assistant. As a Stage Manager in the theatre, you’re almost a PA to the Director. I started in theatre when I was eight and I started doing stage management when I was fifteen. I went down to the National Youth Theatre in London and trained with them for three years during the summer.

I always wanted to be a Butlins Redcoat, even when I was little. So, while I was at North Tyneside College studying Stage Management, I started interviewing for children’s entertainer jobs, and that’s how I ended up working on cruise ships. I started on the Portsmouth to France ferry – a five-hour journey, three times a day, entertaining kids. I moved over to mini cruises, and then onto Mediterranean cruise ships as a Children’s Entertainment Manager. I loved it. However, when your ship docks and you feel like you’ve done it all, and you start staying on the ship instead of visiting cities like Rome, that’s when you realise it’s time to go home. So that’s what I did.

Settling Down and Joining Perfect Image

When I came back from working on the cruise ships, I went back into theatre for a while. I did a few tours and worked backstage in the Sunderland Empire for a year. I did a lot of dressing people and washing underwear – all the really lovely stuff you think of when you go into theatre!

It was 2006 when I decided I didn’t want to worry about theatre contracts coming to end and chasing the next one anymore. I was starting to grow up a bit. I wanted a house and car and to pay bills. Perfect Image hired me as a receptionist. It was the nicest little company – on my birthday, I went home with a gift bag full of really nice presents. I also helped with the overflow calls on first line service desk. When the recession hit, we weren’t getting clients through the door all the time, so Perfect Image asked if I wanted to move into our in-house Service Desk as a First Line Operator. I agreed.

Using Transferrable Skills to Progress

I worked hard and progressed to become a Second Line Desktop Support Engineer. I completed my ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) and Windows exams, but truthfully, I had no interest in growing technically. My manager asked what I wanted to do, and I said team leader. When I was on the ships, I’d always been a manager, I always had a team. He made me Team Leader, and I was glad because my focus moved from tech to people management. By the time I progressed to Service Desk Manager, I had a team of 14 under me.

A vacancy for Head of Managed Services came about and I went for it, partially because I didn’t want to appear unambitious. Our Project Manager at the time got the job, but as a result of my interview, I was put forward for his job. I told my manager that I didn’t know how to do Project Management. He said that stage management is being a project manager, just in a different industry! To make his point he made me break down what I do in the theatre and the roles involved, and he crossed out the titles I used and replaced them with titles we use at Perfect Image. That’s when I reluctantly agreed.

Overcoming Fear to Become a Project Manager

In December 2015, on my very first day of being a Project Manager, I was terrified. I was in London, doing my PRINCE2 Project Management exam. I thought I had no place to be there. I could see on the other Project Managers’ faces that they doubted me, but because I didn’t have any bad habits (yet!) and because I was learning straight from the book, it was easier. PRINCE2 was my big achievement because it’s a notoriously hard exam and I scored 100%.

A year later, I did my Agile Project Management (AgilePM) exam. That is far, far harder. By then I had real experience of project management and my own ways of doing things. You start questioning what’s in the book. It’s like your driving theory test – does anyone really drive with their hands in the nine and three position? No! But that’s what the book says, and what you need to do to pass. But passing that exam was another big achievement for me, and I became an Agile Certified Practitioner.

In 2017, Perfect Image hired Gordon Johnson as Head of PMO. Gordon being my manager was a massive boost for me. When he saw everything I’d put into place for Project Management, he said it was right and we should roll it out. That was really the first time I knew I could do this. Gordon is a really good manager, probably the best manager I’ve ever had. I couldn’t have anyone more supportive or trusting; he trusts me to get on and do it. If I say I don’t know how to do something he’s always saying, yes you do! If I really don’t know how to do something, he has my back and says ok, let’s try it this way.

How Project Management Works

My focus is more on Waterfall projects, whereas Gordon’s is Agile. With Waterfall you’ll have a list of tasks, and you’ll do task 1 then 2 then 3 and you go down and down the list until a project is done, like a waterfall. An Agile project starts with a Minimal Viable Project (MVP), which is the very least a client can go live with and we’ll build that. From the hundreds of requirements, we sort the must-haves from the want-to-haves and build it in phases. It’s Agile because it’s forever changing. The only two things that don’t change on an Agile project are the budget and the deadline.

When I was in the theatre it was all about people and service. I have a background working with a lot of different people. I think that helps at Perfect Image. Because if there’s no people, there’s no project. Communication, dealing with people and knowing how to handle people in general are the most important parts of my job. What I really like about projects is the problems and when everyone thinks it’s all a disaster. A project is never just one person’s vision. Not just for clients, but internally too. We can have someone sell something then someone else gets hold of it and prefers to do it a different way, and it’s on Project Management to figure it out.

Improvements to Internal Project Management

Internally, we’ve been creating a PMO Handbook that we’re now happy with and we’ve got a plan for how to roll that out. The PMO Handbook is to standardise responsibilities for Project Owners and what is expected of them. An Engineer or Consultant can be a Project Owner for small projects. A medium or large project, or a project that spans across different teams, would be run by me or Gordon.

We’re centralising everything so if, for example, an account manager has a meeting with a client today and wants to know what work we have open I can give them the latest update straight away, and refer them to the relevant people internally who are working on it. We’re trying to improve visibility for everyone in the company because it speeds things up, and it’s nice to know I’ve made my mark and had input.

Being Heard and Having More Freedom

The one thing I prove is that if you want something in Perfect Image, it’s there. If you want to progress, you can do it. I’ve come from nothing and worked my way through. There’s always been that across the company. Perfect Image has grown but it still feels like a small company; we’re just wearing bigger boots, and I think that’s quite nice.

If you’ve got something to say, say it, and you’ll be listened to. I don’t think you get that in the bigger companies, you’d be more of a number. For instance, I’ve got a friend who’s a PM at a bigger company. She travels all week – I don’t have to. When she’s in the office, she’s working until at least eight every night. I leave at five, half five, six at a push, but that’s because I’ve decided to start later. You get a lot more freedom here. Especially because we’re setting up the structure of Project Management, there’s a lot of space for me to make my mark.

I do sometimes miss managing people. But then as a Project Manager, I manage people anyway, because my project team becomes my team, so I’ve got to organise their days and check they’re doing what they should be. I just don’t have to write appraisals at the end of it.

Achieving a Work/Life Balance

Outside of work, I run an inclusive theatre group in North Shields. Some attendees have learning disabilities or use it as a way of getting out of the house. It’s very much like therapy. Separately to the theatre group I also run a youth theatre, for seven to eighteen-year-olds, and we do a show every year. My fiancé and I run an event company on the side, too, that I help with. Life gets busy and there are times you think, what am I doing? But it’s our lives, and we fit things in where we can.

My fiancé and I travel a lot, and any time we have free weekends (which isn’t often) we’ll go away on a mini break. My fiancé also worked on the cruise ships for four years – not with me, and we didn’t meet through that, but it’s a weird coincidence. We both travelled the world… and then met each other in Blyth.

People always ask, “What’s your goal or wildest dream?” – but there’s nothing I’m striving for at the minute. My fiancé and I are getting married in 2020 then the year after we’re going to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans for our honeymoon. They’re the big things I want to do next. Otherwise, I’m happy with where I am and with what I’ve got. There’s nothing in life I’ve wanted to do that I haven’t done yet, because if I want it I get it.

What does Lyndsey’s manager think?

Gordon Johnson, Lyndsey’s manager, says: “Lyndsey is really good at getting things done, she takes a no-nonsense and pragmatic approach, sets clear goals and timescales, and follows up on tasks. She is also very good at making the best use of her time and managing conflicting priorities. All of these skills add up to make her a very effective project manager.”

About Lyndsey Falcus

After beginning her career working in theatre as a Stage Manager and on cruise ships as a Children’s Entertainment Manager, Lyndsey began working at Perfect Image in 2006 as a receptionist. She worked her way up through first line service desk to second line, team leader, and to Service Desk Manager, overseeing 14 people. In 2016 she made a big career change to become a Project Manager and has completed both her PRINCE2 and Agile exams. She works on external projects for clients and internally to optimise processes and improve visibility and communication within Perfect Image.

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