Defending the Project Management Profession
By Bruce McGraw
Project management is not just something you do when you cannot get a real job. Project management is a profession and project managers are professionals. I am probably preaching to the choir here, but having recently seen ads for fast, cheap and simple project management training and tools, I felt the need to state firmly my position on this matter.
Project managers must possess a wide range of skills that include technical knowledge, organizational ability, seeing the big picture and most importantly, they must communicate effectively. A project manager achieves job satisfaction through directing others. Project managers must lead, motivate and provide an effective work environment. Behind the scenes, the manager plans, observes, assesses and solves problems both technical and people-related. It is a not a job for the faint of heart.
Becoming a Project Manager
If you aspire to be a project manager, preparation is essential. Most of your project management education will happen outside of an academic classroom. However, in addition to technical classes, a future manager benefits from formal instruction in communication, systems thinking and business intelligence. And, a couple general business classes won’t hurt.
Once employed, pay attention to the behavior of managers you respect and those you do not. Try to find commonalities in skills and personality traits. Compare the skills you admire with your own abilities and seek to enhance areas that are weak.
Learn from practitioners. This can include joining local project management groups, taking PMI or vendor sponsored classes, and reading articles and blog posts by project managers.
Because effective communication is essential to project managers, look for opportunities to practice including writing articles and proposals and giving presentations. Ask for feedback and work to improve your communication skills.
Learn to use PM tools including planning, scheduling, costing, tracking and report writing.
Seek out opportunities to practice managing. You can volunteer to lead a special project, assist the lead engineer or PM or even manage projects outside of your work environment. You need to develop the mindset of “thinking like a manager” instead of thinking like a contributor.
Preparing for becoming a professional project manager takes time and seasoning. Most small project managers have 3 – 5 years experience and those managing complex programs often have more than 10 years in the field, at least half of which involved project management of smaller projects.
Whether you pursue a PMP certification or not, be aware and appreciate the skills that define the field. In addition to formal academic and experience requirements, PMPs pass an examination of knowledge on all aspects of project management including initiating, planning executing, monitoring and control and closing a project. In addition, each PMP meets the requirements for continuing education hours in the field.
So whether you want to be a project manager or you are seeking to hire one, do not be mislead by false claims that becoming a project manager is fast, cheap or easy; it is not.
Bruce A. McGraw is COO/EVP for Cognitive Technologies, a WBE/DBE consulting firm delivering project /program management, collaborative processes, and organizational effectiveness to commercial and government clients (www.cognitive-technologies.com). Bruce has been a program manager for over 25 years and has experience across multiple industries. His ability to craft pragmatic solutions to meet project goals, coupled with experience in all aspects of project management, enables him to meet customer expectations with on-time, within-budget deliveries. Bruce is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and is an active member of the Project Management Institute. Bruce authors a project management blog at Fear No Project and can be contacted at (512) 380-1204 or Bruce.McGraw@cogtechinc.com.