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How Do I Become a PM? Part 2 (#2 in the series How Do I Become a Project Manager)
By Thomas Cutting

When Should I Start?

Having grown up on the technical side of the aisle, I am probably biased, but I think it is important to get experience before attempting to manage. Not only does it give you a good understanding of how your business works, it also gives you a chance to mature as an individual.

During Y2K company’s were short on PMs. I remember an instance when we partnered with one of the “Big 5” consulting companies to remediate a DB2 database application for a large financial institution. The PMs from the other firm were fresh out of college and it soon showed. Their glorious solution was to download all of the data to Excel, run a macro to change the fields and then reload it to DB2. The amount of data that needed to be converted far exceeded anything that Excel could have handled. Needless to say the technical team’s and the client’s confidence in their management abilities dropped quickly.

How do I get there?

If you have decided that project management is the right career move you should Prepare, Position and Perform your way into the role.

Prepare. Take classes, read books and get a better understand of the profession. You can do this while still gaining your experience. The more you learn the more it will either confirm or dampen your decision to become a PM.

Position. Being in the right place at the right time is key. Consider taking a project coordinator or administrator role as a stepping-stone to management. Working for a consulting firm gave me the ability to move around while maintaining my benefits with a stable company. Be up front with your management and let them know what your career objectives were.

Perform. Begin using the skills you are developing. Most of your assignments can be treated like a project. Define it, Plan it, Track it and Report on it.

  • Define it – Document the request and present it back for verification. Don’t get too fancy or long winded. Keep it simple and clear.
  • Plan it – Develop an approach for accomplishing your assignment and lay out a schedule with hours, dates and duration.
  • Track it – keep a record of how much effort you put in and how it matched up against your dates and estimates.
  • Report it – Even if you company doesn’t require status reports from team members, issue a weekly status report to your manager.

If you are a developer, the key is to do these things so that they don’t interfere with your “day job.” Keep them simple (ex. 1 page definition, high level plan, and 1 page bullet pointed status report). If your management questions the amount of effort you are diverting from your real work, consider do it after hours.

Another great training ground is an organization like PMI or another nonprofit organizations. There are always projects that need to be done. Treat them like projects and use them to develop your skills.

Note: This series builds on the conversation I had with Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, of The Project Management Podcast. To hear the interview visit http://www.thepmpodcast.com/ and select Episode 062: How can I become a Project Manager?

Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge (http://www.cuttingsedge.com/) and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (http://cuttingsedgepm.blogspot.com).

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