As we wrap up our discussion on how to become a project manager there are a couple of odds and ends to address.
What about Certification?
Certification is starting to become a must. I interview PMs for my company and one of the things I look for is certification. Although it isn’t a major deciding factor for me more and more companies that advertise on job search sites are requiring it before they even consider you. Experience obviously outweighs certification but with equal experience most employers are likely to opt for the certified candidate.
One of the reasons for this is that certification shows potential employees you are serious about your profession. If you have taken the time, energy and money to get certified you deserve a second look.
Does the type of management matter?
For the most part, the people side of management remains constant whether it is line management, general project management or technical project management. You may be dealing with different types of individuals (ex. Support resources vs. creative, cutting edge developers) but you will still have interpersonal problems to work through.
Line managers generally work ongoing in production or support environments. A project manager by contrast handles “a temporary endeavor to accomplish a unique deliverable” (definition of a project). The focus for line management is to constantly improve the way in which their team does repetitive work. Project managers are more linear with their delivery and may only get one shot at a problem on any given project or phase.
Comparing general project management to technical really depends on the definitions being used. For purposes of discussion let’s assume that a general PM is someone who mainly handles the reporting and financial aspects of a project and a technical PM also works through the mechanics of the project. Using these definitions I consider the general PM role as a weak one. Even when I manage project that I lack a technical background in, I quickly come up to speed in order to understand talk to the issues in that industry’s language. If I have to haul a techie with me to every meeting, she isn’t going to have time to do her own job.
One problem with a technical PM is the temptation to try and do the actual work. When things get tough, inexperienced PMs have the urge to fall back onto what they did well before getting promoted. If they were once strong programmers the tendency is to pick up a keyboard and start coding again.
Can a PM do any type of project?
Although project management techniques are universal, I would be hard pressed to successfully manage the construction of a bridge. Having a background in the area you are managing is important. My brother, Andy, is a foreman on steal building construction. No one is going to let us switch places for the day.
However, within your industry there can be lots of room for movement. I grew up performing Cobol and ‘C’ / Unix programming yet I’ve managed web development, testing and other engagements well. Having the background doesn’t mean you are an expert; you just need to be able to adjust to the industry specific language the team uses.
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).