When speaking with people at conferences, one of the most frequent questions we are asked is “What is the best way for someone to get into project management?”.
It is a fact that in the past, many people have gotten into project management quite accidentally. Usually, someone not currently in a project management position would find themselves working on a small in-house project because of the many and varied skills at their disposal, and as a result, will end up taking on some Project Manager tasks.
After doing this a few times, they will eventually end up in an official project manager position, where they are managing a full-sized project and this is often the time that this person will seek to formalise their position with a recognised project management qualification so that they have the proper ‘lingo’, as a recognised qualification is always a good thing to have once you find yourself in this situation.
It is important to understand that project management is not just a common-sense approach to task management. It’s a professional discipline requiring both project experience and the tools and training to operate within the particular discipline.
The first concern for many organisations is always project management experience or capabilities, and specific sector knowledge is often secondary. While many might disagree, we find that the higher up the project management community your career progresses, the less sector experience becomes a limiting factor.
But there are some things you need to keep in mind if you are interested in pursuing a career as a Project Manager. Project Managers are not the same as operational managers and a career in project management can take you down a number of routes, each with their own special skills and disciplines.
An effective way to break in is to become part of a team where you can showcase any organisational and coordination skills you may have to manage the schedule, the meetings, the updates, and the feedback etc. This will not make you a ‘Project Manager’ rather, a Project Coordinator, but this can be an excellent stepping stone to move onto the next level within project management.
But there is a real difference between being a Project Manager and working in a PMO environment, and at some stage you will need to decide which path is right for you, choosing a career as a Project Support specialist or that of a Project Manager.
For graduates wishing to enter the project management profession, the challenge is to back up your educational achievements with some practical experience which will enable you to take on a project management career. Two routes immediately spring to mind here, either working within a Project Management Office (PMO) or secure a role as a junior project manager within as existing project team where you can start to build a portfolio of PM work experience and successes, whilst still under the guidance and mentoring of a more experienced Senior Project Manager.
The PMO route is always a good first step to becoming a Project Manager, where you can support on a number of different projects, assisting and working on several junior project manager-like roles and eventually you can decide to fulfil your wish to become a true project manager, delivering your own projects or continue your career as a PMO specialist, providing professional project support and administration services into a wider project community within the organisation.
Another route to consider is joining one of the big consulting services firms as a Junior Project Manager. These tend to offer quite fast-track paths to a ‘Project Manager’ title role. After a few years at these firms, you will have honed your skills, delivering into live projects, while under the guidance of more experienced Project Managers and will be ready to branch out into the wider PM world. With the lack of opportunity now available into the public sector, this is possibly one of the best ways for someone with little or no work experience and little or no formal project management training.
One area of confusion that we often see is when someone moves into a PM role from a development position, One thing that a project manager does not do is product development (for example, the actual hands-on work of building the bridge or designing the software). As a project manager, you should leave all those hands-on tasks behind and delegate them to your team members or to outside vendors. You will be managing the actual execution of the product development as well as managing other activities (such as product design, vendor activities, and documentation),
Another area of confusion in the current market seems to be the large number of clients seeking ‘PM/BA’ or ‘a hands-on PMs who will be expected to roll-up their sleeves, debug code, etc.’ kind of roles. In our opinion, whilst they are not truly PM roles in the purest sense, they are still worth considering as a good stepping off point from where you can move up to a full-scale project.