Are You New to Project Management?

by Josh

Becoming a project manager - via Flicker by Mads Boedker

Becoming a project manager - by Mads Boedker via Flicker

I received an email from someone the other day who is very interested in becoming a project manager. She doesn’t have any experience in the field yet, and wanted some advice on how to proceed. She assumed that the PMP exam is what she should be looking into getting.

She mentioned that she is saving up for a training camp that claims they can train her to pass the PMP exam without project experience. I want to thank her for writing to me and taking action towards her career goals!

Unfortunately, that training camp is engaging in unethical practices. If they are condoning that people take the PMP exam without any work experience as a project manager, that really burns me!

Becoming a Project Manager

For those who would like to get started in project management the RIGHT way, here are a few suggestions:

  1. I’ve said this before, but when it comes to project management, general management, and many other careers you just need to go get some experience.  Get on a project team somehow and find someone who is doing what you want to get into.  Ask them to mentor you.  Do odd jobs for them, things they find tedious but that you will learn from.  Go above and beyond and tap into the veterans.  You will be surprised how quickly a great attitude and passion can open doors for progressively greater levels of responsibility.
  2. If you have no experience yet, the PMP certification is NOT for you.  Neither are the IPMA certifications.  The lowest-level IMPA certification requires “2 FTE years working on projects or 6 months and BA/BS” experience.  The PMP requires 3 of experience with a BA/BS, or 5 without.  I interpret “leads and directs project teams” as experience as an actual project manager.
  3. A great way to get some formal education and an introductory certification is to go for the CAPM exam.  The minimum requirements for this exam are 23 contact hours of project management education OR 1,500 hours where you “contribute to a project team”.

If you do seek education in project management, I would like to add that it’s value is greatly diminished unless you are actively working in a project environment where you can implement the concepts you are learning, or at least use a real project environment as a means for comparing “book learning” to real life.

All that said, there’s one product I endorse for both the CAPM and PMP exams…if you don’t have the experience to qualify for the PMP exam, this training is still very useful and inexpensive.  It’s what I bought and used to study for the PMP exam, and I liked it because it focused on the concepts and leveraging stories of real-world examples instead of trying to get you to memorize the answers to questions.  I also like the fact that I could pop the MP3′s into my player and drive to and from work while studying.  It was excellent.

Get more advice for new project managers.

I hope that helps if you are wanting to break into project management.  Any more advice from veterans out there who are reading this?  (Besides “run away!  What are you thinking?!?  It’s hell in here!!!!)

Leave a Comment

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Leonardo Nogueira April 17, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Josh great post ! Practices like the cited “training camp” are one of the most damaging practices on the PM profession.

To get any credential without the proper experience can put the professional in very difficult situations that can certainly compromise her career.


Bill Duncan April 24, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Leonardo –

See my post below. You do NOT need experience as a project manager to sit for the PMP exam.



Josh Nankivel April 24, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Leonardo, I believe Bill is wrong. See my responses below. :-) ~


Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo April 18, 2009 at 6:38 am

Hi Josh and the “to be” project manager.

First, I would argue that, assuming we are alive, that none of us are “new” to project management. That is, project management is an integral part of our day to day lives.

Did you make it through High SChool? Project;

Did you get a degree at the University? Project;

Did you ever go on vacation? Project;

Did you ever get married? Project;

Need I go on…….

So the first questions I would ask Ms. Potential Project Manager is whether she ENJOYS initiating, planning, controlling, executing and closing projects and if she enjoys it, my next question would be is she GOOD at it. Does it come naturally to her.

If the answer to these two questions is no, then my advice would be to “run like hell” and get her MBA.

Assuming the answer is yes, then I would urge her to spend $35 and take the Harrison Assessment Behavioral Profile for Project Managers. Dr. Dan Harrison, John Suermondt and I have been working for 4 years on developing a behavioral profile for project managers. This has proven to be 90% plus RELIABLE in predicting those who not only will LIKE project management, but who will be successful at it.

IF she has fulfilled those three tasks, then I would agree that your advice would be appropriate as a starter.

But if she is serious about PM as a career path objective (“What she wants to be when she grows up”) then I would urge her to go for a Masters or PhD in Project Management.

Enough for now……. Any questions, please feel free to have her email me at

Dr. PDG, Jakarta


Josh Nankivel April 18, 2009 at 10:37 am

Great point Dr. Paul, and thanks for the helpful resource! Here’s a link to what Dr. Paul was referring to: It’s always best to be sure the goal is the RIGHT goal before you start heading down the path!


Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo April 18, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Hi Josh and Colleagues,
You may find it interesting that what our research found out was the following 7 behavioral attributes were proven to be reliable PREDICTORS of a project manager being SUCCESSFUL:

1) They take INITIATIVE- can do, make things happen kind of people;

2) They are ENTHUSIASTIC- upbeat, positive thinking people;

3) They have an understanding and GOOD SENSE of BUSINESS/FINANCE- able to make sound business decisions;

4) They want to lead- so much for the “accidental profession”;

5) They are ANALYTICAL- but not overly so. They do not succumb to paralysis by analysis;

6) They handle AUTONOMY- they are able to work and function with little or no direction;

7) They WANT CHALLENGE- they easily get bored doing the same things, day after day;

The original research was based on a population of 28 “successful” project managers selected from my commercial and graduate level university courses. They were considered “superior” project managers within their organizations AND they were judged to be “successful” by their peers in our experiential based blended learning courses. (We believe the only way to learn project management is by doing projects)

There were half men and half women, with 46% coming from South/Eastern Asia Pacific, 36% coming from the Middle East, Africa or Europe and 18% from North America.

Since the original pilot research (unpublished) the instrument has been validated using two larger studies, one of 140 people and the other with 100 people, both from the telecommunications sectors. Because of Non-Disclosure requirements, the results of these follow on studies cannot be published, but suffice it to say, they have validated the original research.

Dr. PDG, Jakarta


Josh Nankivel April 20, 2009 at 6:45 am

I agree Pawel. Both are important, but if you are not getting good experience and relying strictly on classes or other training it is going to be difficult to succeed.

If you get too indoctrinated without any experience to apply the concepts, you can reach a point where people insist on a particular methodology or process without understanding that the context of a situation prohibits its effectiveness.

I’ve seen similar scenarios where someone comes out of an organization that did things in a certain way, and they have trouble adjusting to a new environment.

The organizational maturity level is an important factor that some people ignore when they start trying to implement project management or other disciplines. They may be used to a mature environment, and so fail to transition appropriately when trying to implement in a less mature one. Real project experience gives you some change management skills you can use again and again. (I learned a lot about change management in college, and it is great to have both the theory and practice)


Pawel Brodzinski April 20, 2009 at 8:17 am


You’ve stressed one particular thing which is common reason for failures. When an individual comes from one environment where everything worked great it’s easy to assume the same approach would work everywhere.

Personally I learned that lesson hard when I’ve changed company several years ago. During first days in the new place I was full of ideas how things will look like when I’m finished with reorganization. A couple of years later when I was finally happy with what I’ve seen around the company looked like anything but what I’d imagined at the beginning. Different processes, different practices, different organization, different project management, different software development… Virtually every single thing was different.

That’s because I adjusted myself to the way the organization worked, not the other way around. From the perspective of time I see how wrong it would be to follow my initial ideas. I’d just fail.

And yes, that’s nothing you can learn on a university or during a course. That’s just how things look in the real life. And that’s why I value experience over certification and fully agree with your approach that certification without foundation of experience isn’t a good way to go.


Bill Duncan April 24, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Josh –

Nothing unethical in the training camp’s offer. PMI does NOT require experience as a project manager. It never has. Probably never will. The application form says you need experience “leading and directing project tasks.” That covers a whole lot of roles that are NOT the project manager. In fact, it isn’t too hard to argue that anyone working on a project, even as an individual contributor, is “leading and directing” their own work to some extent.



Josh Nankivel April 24, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Have we been here before? :-)

I do not condone anyone taking the PMP exam unless they have the requisite experience actually managing projects. That’s my interpretation of the requirements. I know others may have a different interpretation.


Bill Duncan April 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Actually, Josh, I just realized that you have violated the PMP Code of Ethics by misrepresenting your qualification. The PMP Handbook does NOT say “leading and directing project TEAMS.” It says “leading and directing project TASKS.”

Tsk. Tsk. Better hope no one brings you up on charges. :-)



Josh Nankivel April 24, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Is that slander or libel? :-) I’m always getting the two confused. (Just kidding!)

Bill, my interpretation of the requirements is what I personally held myself to before taking the exam. The guidelines require the stated amount of experience actually managing projects, in my [not so] humble opinion.


Bill Duncan April 25, 2009 at 3:28 am

You are welcome to interpret the requirements any way you want to. You are NOT welcome to misquote them. You are NOT welcome to suggest that any one other than yourself has applied your personal interpretation.

The requirements do NOT say “leading and directing project teams.” They say “leading and directing project TASKS.” While you may hold yourself to a higher standard, the fact of the matter is that many PMPs do NOT have experience as a project manager.

And more than a few of those who do have experience as a PM have not been successful in that role.

Please keep in mind that the PMP was originally designed as an ENTRY LEVEL certification. Even the requirement for “leading and directing tasks” was only added around 2000 or 2001, so anyone who obtained their PMP prior to that date only needed experience in “project management.”



Gsg April 26, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Please please please, get some experience before you do any training, PM is a very hands on field – work as an intern, do anything to get into a PMO and experiece PM from the trenches. Too many people come through with no experience but have qualifications. When the pressure is on, its the PM’s with experience that handle it best.



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