So you want to be a Project Manager?

So you want to become a project manager? Well who can blame you? With all those glamorous start-studded parties to attend (ha ha!), the respect and adoration that comes with the role, and of course you know you’ll get all of the praise when the project turns out well and none of the blame when it doesn’t!

Well not quite. But there are many parts of the job that make it a good skill to have. The satisfaction of a job well done, working closely with a diverse range of people, the challenge of continuous improvement, the ability to get better with every project and new challenges to test you often so you don’t get too bored.

If you are still reading and interested then great. There is no standard way of becoming a project manager. or adding that skill to your technical utility belt Some people just fall into it, others progress naturally and some are forced into it because nobody else wants the job!

If becoming a project manager is a goal then here is are four steps to getting there:

1. Get Some Experience

I accept this might seem odd and maybe counter intuitive. How can I get experience before I get a job? Well it may not seem as strange as it may first seem. You’re right, you won’t get a PM job with out some experience but you can manage projects with out getting a PM job. And when you do start going for those first interviews you’re already one step in front of your competition!

So he question is how to get experience? Well there are as may ways as you can think of. You could:

  • manage a personal project (from moving house to starting your own business and everything in between).
  • volunteer to help out with that sponsored walk/fun run/charity event that is being organised at work.
  • volunteer to help with a charity (type “charity volunteers” into google!)
  • Join a local social group that helps with local projects: Round Table, Lions Club, Rotary Club. These clubs do a great job helping out in their local communities, you can meet now friends and they look great on your CV too!
  • ask to help on a project at work – maybe not as the project manager – you may be able to help in the project office which is great experience.

And there are probably other ways you could think of too. It doesn’t matter if these projects are managed in a formal way or not, the point is to get experience with projects and to see if it is something you might like to do.

2. Get Qualified

You can go on a 3 day training course as a Scrum Master (Agile) for about £700 or a 5 day Prince 2 Practitioner for £1000+. PMP and PMI courses are similar in price to Prince 2.

Some may say “I can’t afford it”, “I can’t get the time off work” – or all other manor of similar excuses. Well ok, if that is your opinion then fine. But consider this, a PM qualification is an investment in you. It is a statement made by you saying that you take what you do seriously enough to show you have the academic knowledge in your area of expertise.

I personally think that going on courses is a highly valuable use of my time and money, an investment in me and a furthering of my ongoing education. Of course, cost is inevitable so may I suggest setting up a separate savings account and putting money from every pay packet into it until you have enough.

On the question of which course, I suggest you start with Prince 2 if you are UK/Europe based and PMP if in the US. Accredited Prince 2 course providers can be found here. If you work in a formal Agile environment then Scrum Master may be appropriate or the APMG Agile Project Management course.

3. Get a Job

So by this point you have some project experience (all be it voluntary) AND a formal qualification. You are in the ideal position to land your first PM contract or job. If you work in a software development environment it helps if you also have experience of leading a team. It tends to be a natural progression to move from developer > team lead > head of dev > then project manager. Not every one chooses this route and I respect each individuals choices. However if you do want to move into project managership and you have enjoyed the leadership, planning, problem solving and motivating aspects of your team lead role then a new position as PM could be just the ticket!

For those with one eye on the future Project Management offers opportunities for moving your career upwards. Not only does it give you the perfect chance to interact with roles you possibly otherwise wouldn’t, the role is also higher profile and you are also more in-charge of your destiny. you now have the power to deliver your project successfully.

4. Ply Your Trade

In my opinion, the greatest reason why some project managers are considered not to do well (and in turn their projects to fail) is that they are simply not doing their job. It is all too easy to become complacent and not bother with the Org Chart for this project, or to not update the Issues or Risk register (it will never happen!), or to manage the changes in your head, or I’m just too busy to send out an update this week. Well sorry but it is part of your job to do this. Yes its a pain sometimes but if you make the effort it will be worth it.

So to finish off this post, I would like to share a statement that was once told to me, I was told “if a project manager is doing there job well, everything will run smoothly and it will seem as if you don’t even need a project manager!”  I can see alot of wisdom in this statement, they sound like wise words. When the Pm gets into their groove everything feel just right and this is what you are aiming for in every project.

2 Replies to “So you want to be a Project Manager?”

  1. I am really interested in becoming a PM. I have recently completed my BEng Mechanical Engineering and am looking for an entry level position to kick start my career.

    1. Hi Kartik, congrats on completing your BEng in Mechanical Engineering. A PM qualification and some project management experience can be very beneficial to your career especially if you want to move into Senior Management and beyond.

      One question you might want to think about is your area of expertise. Most (but not all) PMs tend to specialise in one industry (mine is software engineering). Where might yours be? Given your qualification there are a whole range of possibilities from civil engineering, manufacturing, IT, transportation, communications etc etc. Once you think you might know it would be very beneficial for you to gain a few years experience delivering solutions. A natural progression for your career would then be to move into team leadership and then project management.

      Now that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t become a qualified PM now, just that in my opinion the knowledge and experience you gain by working on a project is incredible valuable when you come to lead one. It enables you to see things from many different perspective. That said there are many successful PMs who started as PMs. If you want to gain a qualification this can be done either by self study then taking an public exam (slow but cheap) or by attending a course (quick but a bit more expensive).

      In addition you need some experience and the best way to get some is to ask. Can I suggest you approach one of the PMs at Sunner & Associates and ask if you can help out on one of their projects? If you say that you are really interested in learning about what a PM does I am sure they will be more than happy to help and will probably appreciate an extra pair of hands too!

      Hope this helps.

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