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How I Became a Project Manager and How You Can Too

Getting into project management has been rewarding, shaping my career in unexpected and fulfilling ways. If you're considering a career in project management, I'd like to share my personal experiences and thoughts on navigating this path.


So, if you like the detail, can communicate well, and don’t mind the ‘goat rodeo’, then read on.


What is a Project Manager?

A project manager is responsible for planning, executing, and closing projects.


They ensure a project is completed on time, within budget, and to the required quality standards. This role involves coordinating people (often the hardest element), resources, and tasks, managing risks, and communicating with stakeholders.


A project manager (PM) is the glue that holds a project together, ensuring all pieces fit perfectly to achieve the desired outcome.


Top 5 Project Management Responsibilities

Here are the key activities that a Project Manager will undertake;


  1. Project Planning and Scheduling:

  • Develop detailed project plans, including scope, timelines, and resource allocation.

  • Create and maintain project schedules, ensuring milestones are met.

  1. Team Leadership and Coordination:

  • Lead and motivate the project team, ensuring clear communication and collaboration.

  • Assign tasks and responsibilities, monitoring progress and performance.

  1. Budget and Resource Management:

  • Manage the project budget, tracking expenses and ensuring cost control.

  • Allocate resources efficiently, balancing workload and availability.

  1. Risk Management:

  • Identify potential risks and develop mitigation strategies.

  • Monitor and address risks throughout the project lifecycle, adjusting plans as needed.

  1. Stakeholder Communication and Reporting:

  • Communicate regularly with stakeholders, providing updates on project status, issues, and changes.

  • Prepare and present reports, ensuring stakeholders are informed and engaged.


In some medium to large projects, the PM is very ‘hands-off’ making sure they are taking that helicopter view of things to make sure it’s all unfolding as expected, and in other smaller projects, you can find yourself working on tasks as well – so there can be a lot of variety.

 

My Journey into Project Management


I've been in IT for 30+ years, and I have been seriously managing projects for 20 at least. My journey wasn't a conscious one into Project Management, but that can be a very common path for most; show aptitude and get sucked into something you are good at.


Here, I'll step through my career and each of my learnings.


Seek Early Opportunities

My journey began early in my career when I was recognised as a 'safe pair of hands.'

This reputation led to opportunities to take on small projects within my existing role as an IT Support Manager.


These were simple tasks initially, but executing them well boosted my confidence and demonstrated my capability to others.


Build Confidence and Competence

Successfully managing these small projects built people's confidence in me and my self-assurance.


Realising the importance of formal education in project management, I pursued PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner certifications. These credentials gave me a solid grounding in project management principles and added substantial weight to my CV, evidencing my capability in the field.


Formalise Your Approach

I began to formalise my projects using the skills I had learned. However, it was crucial to strike a balance.


Overdoing formal processes can sometimes upset management and team members if they feel things are too rigid. So, early on, I learned the importance of applying just enough structure to keep projects organized without stifling flexibility.


Working with my team of support analysts on small projects, we started to formalise objectives, scope, and reporting channels.


This approach led to managing a small portfolio of projects and eventually reporting on them, paving my way to becoming an IT Governance Manager.


Progress Through Demonstrated Capability

My path forward was built on existing opportunities, formalising my approach, and, most importantly, demonstrating capability and positive outcomes.


Success in these areas led to being rewarded with more responsibilities.


Future roles often came through recommendations or connections with people I had worked with previously.


Specialisations

Eventually, I gravitated towards software project management.


For those considering this path, I strongly advise taking some form of course on Agile lifecycles and tools, whether through informal means like YouTube or paid courses.


While you can pick up some of these skills on the fly, a structured approach provides a better foundation.


Advice for Aspiring Project Managers

  1. Leverage Existing Opportunities:

  • Look for small projects or work you can formalise and manage in your current role. This evidences your capability and demonstrates the value of project management techniques.

  1. Formal Education and Certifications:

  • Consider certifications like PRINCE2 or PMP. They provide a solid foundation and make your CV stand out.

  1. Demonstrate Capability and Positive Outcomes:

  • Delivering projects successfully builds confidence in your abilities and often leads to more opportunities.

  1. Balance Formality and Flexibility:

  • Apply just enough processes to keep things organised without becoming overly rigid. Adaptability is key.

  1. Develop Soft Skills:

  • Be a mediator, manage conflicts, and balance being stern with being approachable and friendly. These skills are crucial for managing teams effectively.

  1. Seek Recommendations:

  • Network and build relationships. Future roles often come through people you've impressed in past projects.

  1. Consider Specialisation:

  • As you gain experience, consider specialising in a particular type of project management, such as construction, IT, or office setups.

  1. Aim for Contracting Opportunities:

  • Project management can lead to contracting roles, offering a variety of projects and potentially higher earnings.

Conclusion

Getting into project management requires a blend of formal education, practical experience, and attitude.


Start small, build your skills, and leverage every opportunity to demonstrate your capability.


With persistence and dedication, you can navigate this path and find a rewarding career in project management.



 

Here are five excellent project management training resources you can explore:


  • Google Project Management Professional Certificate (Coursera): This comprehensive, beginner-friendly online program covers key areas like agile techniques, project documentation, and stakeholder management. It includes 140 hours of instructional material and hands-on projects. The course is free to audit, with an option to pay for a certificate of completion.

  • Google Project Management Professional Certificate on Coursera

  • Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification Training (Grey Campus): This training program is aligned with the PMBOK Guide and offers detailed video lectures, simulated tests, and other study aids. It includes over 35 hours of training and 120+ practice tests.

  • PMP Certification Training on Grey Campus

  • Fundamentals of Project Planning & Management (University of Virginia, Coursera): This free course focuses on essential project planning and management techniques to keep projects on time and on budget. It is suitable for reinforcing vital skills across various industries.

  • Fundamentals of Project Planning & Management on Coursera

  • Mastering Digital Project Management (The Digital Project Manager): This self-paced, online course covers the entire project lifecycle, including methodologies like Waterfall, Scrum, and agile project management. It includes group discussions, assessments, and access to various project management templates.

  • Mastering Digital Project Management on The Digital Project Manager

  • Post Graduate Certificate Program in Project Management (Simplilearn): Developed in collaboration with the Isenberg School of Management, this program covers core concepts of project management and includes Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification. It offers interactive peer learning and job assistance.

  • Post Graduate Certificate Program in Project Management on Simplilearn

  • Prince2 Agile Foundation & Practitioner - Including Exams (Global Knowledge): Where I started. A five day, intensive course that gives you formal qualitifications and a great foundation for robust project management practices.

 

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