Moving on Up in Project Management
By Ray W. Frohnhoefer
A recent PM Hut reader asked “I’m a PM at a small web developing company, but as soon as I can I want to work at a multinational company. I hope you can help me with that.” The rest of the message asked three specific questions and also implied this was a move from a small to large environment. Having worked on both US coasts for companies as large as General Electric and as small as one employee, I thought I might be able to shed some light on this in general, as well as address the three questions. I broke the general case down into five specific categories:
Portable Skill Set
As a Project Manager, if you are adhering to the internationally recognized best practices of the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK Guide®, you have developed a highly portable skill set which can be used across industries and companies. There is a bit of a “catch” — the recent Value of Project Management study by the University of Athabasca found there is not one path to project management. As you embark on a new position, there will be a learning period for “local rules”. Take the time to find out how they do project management, so you can identify areas where you can immediately contribute and others which might require some ramp up. If you don’t have this skill set, visit Learn About PMI Certifications to get started.
I often suggest to my project management students that they keep the “bureaucracy” proportional to the company size. A small one month project doesn’t require a 50-page project plan and daily status reports. However a 10 year, global project may require something larger. Make sure the supporting tools and techniques you use in your management of projects scale to meet the circumstances.
Maturity of Project Management Practice
I’ve observed that larger companies often have more mature practices. This can be due to longevity (GE has been around for more than a century and started out small), funding for development, business needs, or continuous improvement, among other things. Reviewing tools such as Kerzner’s Project Management Maturity Model and PMI’s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model will help you in understanding your environment.
For a multi-national company, be aware of how the people you will be dealing with think about time, costs, and doing business as this will impact your ability to control project costs and risks. Australians frequently go on summer “holiday”. Some European cultures are know for long afternoon breaks, but late nights — you may be able to catch someone in the office at 8pm in their time zone. In Japan, silence is usually not consensus, but disagreement or deferment to a higher authority. I don’t want to “generalize” anyone, but this should give you a few things to think about and explore.
Larger environments tend to have more support systems in place. Find out how you can leverage these to your advantage. Very small companies, for example, are usually difficult to introduce to change control and earned value management. Larger companies may have the basics in place and you will be able to contribute to their continuous improvement.
Now let’s take a look at the three specific questions this reader had:
1. Does the IT PM need to have a programming knowledge?
In general, to be a strong project leader, you should strive to become a subject matter expert. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write code in a specific programming language, but you should develop general skills such as understanding the software project life cycle, how to evaluate and select programmers and programming environments, and other business and industry-related skills. You will be called upon to lead the discussions of estimates and plans, so it would help to have a general knowledge of how the pieces fit and how the estimates are derived.
2. None of us starts his/her career as a PM, so what are the previous positions I need to have before I become a PM at a multinational company?
There is no one path — any path that helps you acquire the management and people skills to be a project manager will do. Large companies have management training programs, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend some classes at GE’s famous Crotonville management training facility. Find out if such a program is available to you, or investigate PM training or degrees at your local university. PMI members also have access to the PMI Career Framework.
3. What kind of skill do I need to get into that previous position?
Again, no one set answer, however I’ve always found a strong desire, development of personal goals, and continued demonstration of mastery of related skills to be a good path.
Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP is the Director of the Project Support Office at EDmin as well as a consultant, speaker, writer, educator, and mentor on Project Management. Ray is also the Component Mentor for PMI Region 7 (Southwest North America), a Past President of PMI, San Diego Chapter, Inc., and an adjunct faculty member at three San Diego universities. You can find out more about his professional roles at http://www.edmin.com/company/index.cfm?function=showBioDetail&id=80 and through his blog, Tales from the Project Notebook, at http://projectnotebook.blogspot.com.