Helping an Aspiring New Project Manager
Recently, I received an inquiry from an aspiring PM. He was in his mid-20’s, thinking about getting a bachelor’s degree in project management and was asking questions about getting into the field and what to expect.
I have no idea what the rest of his work background looks like. He had just read one of my articles and liked it and decided to start asking questions.
I thought they were pretty good questions so I’d like to post a bit of a summary of his questions and my responses here. Anything readers here can add or discuss would be great – I’d be happy to pass more information along to him.
I am thinking about getting into project management. I wanted to ask you about the first few years after school and what to expect. I guess I’m just looking for some advice. I am really interested in the field. Here are a few questions I have…
- What to expect after I acquire my bachelors in project management?
- What is the day to day life like as a project manager?
- Any advice to the extreme novice? (Perhaps things you might have done differently scenario.)
I thanked him for contacting me and said I thought I could help. First, I directed him to a couple of articles I had previously written on the subject.
I told him that I’m not sure I can help you on that first question. You’ll need to search and without relevant experience (again, I wasn’t sure what his background experience was like) cracking right into project management will be difficult. You’ll need to start at the ground floor and get involved in projects – probably mentor with an existing PM if you get hired in a PM role.
As for day to day….usually – depending on the type of project and the organization – I said you could be managing several projects at once. You will be having weekly project meetings with your team, a formal weekly meeting with your project customer, putting together project schedules and revising them weekly for each project, assigning tasks to you team, preparing and producing weekly status reports, running through and running down issues on projects, etc. A PMs job is a lot about communication – that’s probably the most important thing you bring to the table. The better you are at communicating, the easier it will be and the better you’ll be at it because your team will understand you and understand what’s expected of them and your customer will have more confidence in your ability to successfully deliver as the PM because you are thoroughly communicating with them. Leadership is a key skill to have – it helps get your team to follow you and your customer to stand alongside you through the good and bad times.
As for advice for the PM novice….charge ahead. “Fake it till you make it” is a line I like to use. The one thing about project managers is this – no matter what level you might be at in terms of experience, training or mentoring, you have to come across as confident. A needy customer or high tech team or difficult solution will eat you alive before you ever really have a chance to fail or succeed. Make bold decisions when you have to and be ready to back them up. Bold failure is not as bad as it sounds and it’s better than meek failure and possibly even meek success. L
Learning from your failures as a PM – and you will have them as more than 50% of all projects are consider failures to some degree (missed too many dates, went too far over budget, customer not happy, etc.) – is critical. You will likely learn more from your failures than you successes. Learn and you’ll do better next time. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Trust me – we all do from time to time. And the novice PM who asks for info (like you’re doing now) gets noticed and finds a mentor.
Real world project management
The bottom line is experience in the real world of project management is the number one key to success as a project manager. Nothing can replace actual hands on experience. You’ll have successes and failures, but you learn a lot from both. In fact, as I stated above, you probably learn more from the failures and poor decisions than the good ones. And nothing replaces actually working face to face with a customer and team members – or if you’re remote just working with a real team and customers not something in text book.
But, you have to start somewhere. And since you can’t really start with certification. So a bachelors degree in project management is the next best thing for the new project manager to have in their pocket as they head out on the job search. But once the proper training and job related hours are satisfied, get your project management professional certification (PMP) through the Project Management Institute (PMI). Because if you don’t have 10 years or 15 years of good project management experience, then being certified is one good way to stand out early on from others with similar levels of project management knowledge and experience.
Summary / call for input
Anything to add? This individual – with no prior project experience – certainly has a long way to go before he’s successfully leading projects on an ongoing basis. Being new, without experience, getting a more general business degree and then focusing on acquiring PM certification may be a better route than a bachelor’s degree in PM. I’m not sure on that one – do any readers here have experience with the PM bachelor’s degree and if it helps in the project management world? I know he’ll be reading this so any advice you can give will be helpful. Let’s be supportive and see if we can give him some good advice.