Now and then here and in my various speaking engagements I talk, mostly jokingly, about how people should go into Project Management, since I did it for nearly a decade (I just moved up to “one level higher,” Program Management, sort of the Epic Class of Project Management)). When a friend asked me for details on the career and what to do I realized I should A) write it up so I didn’t have to again, and B) do it as a column for the same reason as reason A.
Also hey, I already talked about management, so let’s get to my kind.
This is that column. So buckle in, because the joke is over, it’s time to get real.
OK, So What Is Project Management?
In a nutshell, Project Management is the ability to ensure a specific time-bound goal is reached by planning, organizing, and working with resources (people or otherwise). You do this with a mixture of techniques,tools, common language, and human interaction.
So what it comes down to is that when you have specific goals in mind (like a software launch, an ad development, or a building getting done), and want someone that’s going to help you get there, you get a Project Manager.
(By the way, if by now you’re saying, “hey, I’ve been a Project Manager but wasn’t called that” you are not alone – but you may want to make it officially).
It really is a specific discipline, and historically you can probably recognize people that did the job even before the term existed. It’s not general leadership, it’s not technically implementing something, it’s that ability to say “we want to go here, here’s how, and let me check up on where we are.”
As the profession has developed it’s become even more distinct, with tools, principles, techniques, and organizations. People are damned serious about this.
So Why Would I Want To Do This?
First of all, you may not. In my experience the best Project Managers (and those practicing similar professions) are sort of naturals at it. If you don’t like it, you’re not going to want to do it.
Now that being said, here’s reasons:on:
- It’s a profession about organizing. If you are a natural organizer, this could be your job. In fact, it’s probably needed because if you’ve ever met . . . a lot of humanity . . . you know a lot of people just aren’t that great at it in scale.
- It’s a profession that provides structure and support for your career. Project management a recognized profession, and it has many associated professions like Program Management, Product Management, and more. If you’re a PM (the short term for Project Manager), it provides you access to various career options. In general I find it may limit you, but you may also not care.
- It’s a great next step. My story is that at one point, being an Engineer,I wondered what was next. After talking to some people, it seemed the logical conclusion – I should move from programming to being a person that organizes engineering efforts, using my experience. If you feel you need a step up, it may be for you.
- It’s a good transition. Even if you don’t want to do it forever, Project Management is a good transitory step, to do for a few years (though I recommend 3-5) and then move to management, recruiting, etc.
- It’s a great way to open options. Most of my engineering experience was banking, government, and to an extent media. But with Project Management I was able to make “horizontal” moves to different industries – picking up knowledge each time.
- It is a social profession that supports you. There’s an international organization, PMI, that supports project managers and related professions, provides events ad groups, and more. Frankly, it’s a great professional organization, so you’ll get supported.
- Pay and compensation is usually pretty good, and there’s a lot of long-term potential.
One warning though – you gotta like it to be good at it. Sure you may want to be a manager or a product manager, or you want to broaden yourself or something. But if you don’t like it you’re not going to be happy. And you’ll be bad at it.
What’s It Like On The Job?
Different for every Project Manager, but there’s a few things you can count on:
* You’ll make and maintain plans in various tools and forms.
* You’ll track and measure progress of projects – and unblock them.
* You’ll talk to and interact with people a lot, from networking to convincing to reporting.
* You’ll have to do a lot of reading and analysis to know what’s going on.
* you’ll use, explore, and develop techniques to improve all of the above tasks.
For myself, my usual day was:
- Review email and communications.
- Check project progress, and keep a list of worries, concern, and issues.
- Update reports, people, tackle issues that came up in progress.
- Resolve any sudden emergencies or issues throughout the day.
- Take on new projects and have meetings, reviews, planning sessions, an more.
- Evaluate ways to improve things and improve what I was doing.
- Lots of reporting, communications, and keeping up with people.
Sound like something you’d like? So how do you do it?
Being A Project Manager – General
So being a Project Manager has two parts, I like to call General and Advanced. General is how you do it- Advanced is how you really engage it.
So basically, to be a Project Manager, try these steps.
Join PMI: Really. If you are serious go join or at least g to a local chapter to meet people and participate. But the fact it provides so many resources, tools, and a magazine is worth it.
Get Familiar: First, read up on it. Go grab “Project Management for Dummies” (which is quite good, actually) and get familiar with the terms, techniques, and so forth. Project Management is in part about a language of communication. If you want to dive deep into traditional project management, you can read the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) – I did, and though it was not exciting, It gave me a good grounding in traditional management and terms.
Learn Regular Tools: Traditional linear project management, called “Waterfall” is the basis of a lot of modern tools – because things happen in order. I’d get basic skills in thi method by taking a crack at Microsoft Project, Merlin, or OmniPlan – or on the web, Wrike. You may or may not use these, but it’ll help you know WHY you didn’t.
Know Some Agile Techniques: Agile is the big thing the last decade or so, where Projects aren’t done “Waterfall” but are done in semi-organized “lumps” of tasks called sprints, that are small and heavily reviewed. Think of it as getting a “bag” of to-dos and then evaluating what more has to be done later and refilling the bag. I’d read up on SCRUM, which is the big one everyone pretends to use. Note that though these techniques are usually used for software and IT projects, they are creeping in elsewhere.
Get Some Training: There are tons of classes, and PMI will point you at them and provide many. If you’re really serious, you can get pretty educated.
Use It: Use what you learn as soon as possible. On the job. At home. VOlunteer to be a junior PM at work. Whatever it takes. But go and use it right away because that’s how you learn.
Short form,go learn the techniques and tools and use it right away, that’s how you become a PM. Or realize it’s not for you
Project Management: Advanced
Now if you’re hardcore serious about this, being a PM has a few more requirements. Here’s what you do if you say “I’m really serious”
Join PMI: If you haven’t already. Really. It’s indespensible. Shell out the money, join your local chapter, and go.
Get Certified: PMI provides certifications, the “junior” Certified Associates of Project Management (CAPM) and the Project Management Professional (PMP – yes we’ve heard the PiMP jokes). The CAPM is sort of transitory to the PMP, but is noteworthy, and the PMP is gold. Both have stringent requirements and you actally have to keep up the PMP and register your self-development with PMI. If you get these – and maintain them – you WILL be a better PM and people will notice.
Become A PM: How did I become a PM? I mentione dto my boss that was my goal and kept working at it. THen I became one (probably thrilled they could pay me my engneers’s salary). So if you’re serious figure out how to work to it at your company or look for jobs that will let you be a PM.
If you are a titled PM, have your PMP, and are part of PMI, and always improvig, you are one of us. And it’s worth it.
Being A PM: The Challenges
So, this sounds great, but it can’t be all sunshine and Gantt Charts, right? Well, it isn’t. Because you don’t become a PM to have an easy time, you go into it frankly because it fits you. Here’s the challenges:
Order Out of Chaos: Ever wonder why no one organizes things? Well as a PM that person is you, and you’re resonsible.
Power Of The PM: PM authority comes from knowledge, negotiation, expertese, and association. YOu rarely have any actual power of assigned-over-people.
Constant Self-Development: A PM requires constant self-development, from reading and studying, to practicing and applying, to maintaining certifications. There’s not always a lot of breathing room, frankly.
Weirdness Hits Home: Strange hours, unusual happenings, unexpected interruptions – a lot of times they filter through you. If it is bizarre, liming, traging, disatrous, or insane itcomes to you at some point or another.
As I said, you don’t do this job because it’s easy.
So, Any Regrets?
Now, what is my take having done this for so long (over half my IT career)? Frankly, one of the best choices I ever made.
At some point as an Engineer, you usually have to make the call of Specialist or Generalist. Netiher really fit me, and I also wanted to help get things done – since I was always an organizing and documenting force. Being a PM fit me, or as I joked (ala Dilbert), at least as a PM any stupid decisions I made would be the informed stupid decisions of an IT professional.
Being a PM broadened what I did, let me expand my horizons, and really used all my skills, not just my technical ones. It let me try more things, meet more people, and as corny as this sounds, I think it made me a better person. Being a PM prys the lid off of your world and requires you to grow.
I also like the people I meet. PMI is a great organization, the meetings are fun, and I like the camaraderie. I like how my job means I’m taking to engineers, managers, makreters, product managers, and more. I think I’m more extraverted because of the profession as well.
Finally, I loved how it opened up industries to me. As an engineer I had a specialty (data driven web apps) and specialty industries (banking, government). As a PM, exposed to so much, I could go farther – communications, games, advertising, software, etc. Admittedly having faced assorted layoffs I wish for a little less diversity, but still.
Regrets? Actually . . . none. I’m happy. I made the right choice.
If you think this sounds like you, you’re probably PM material.
So What’s Next?
Well, what’s next? I’d at least take a look at PMI and grab Project Management for Dummies. If that appeals, then start taking on PM duties and see what’s next. I think you’ll know.
And best of all, when someone asks you what it’s like to be a PM, you can show them this post.
Efficiency, after all, is one of those PM watchwords . . .
– Steven Savage