Getting Started in Project Management

13 Oct 2008 - 07:17 PM under Career | Posted by PMStudent

I get many questions from people who want to enter into project management as a profession.? After all, this is pmStudent.? One of the most common questions is “how do I get started”?? I received an email from a reader today with this question, and so I would like to share some thoughts with everyone else, too.

Let me start off by saying that there are many, many ways that very successful project managers got their start.? There could be plenty of PMs out there who began by earning a business degree online and others who earned better degrees. I can tell you about my personal experiences and share some pointers.? This is all just my opinion, (just like the rest of everything I write!) so take it with some skepticism.

Experience First, Education Second

If you have to choose between formal project management education or real-world experience, go with the experience.? In reality, this is not an either-or choice however.? Go with both but always emphasize your opportunities to gain real-world experience.? The optimal in my humble opinion is if you can be in a position where your projects are small enough that you have the flexibility to try out new concepts you are learning in real time. Volunteer efforts are wonderful for this type of flexibility.

  • Volunteer at work, school, and non-profit organizations you may not even belong to yet
  • As you learn, apply the concepts
  • Seek a project management mentor by asking questions of project managers.? Take them out to coffee or lunch as a way to tap into their experience and build professional relationships.
  • If you are already part of a project team, start paying attention to what the project manager does.? Offer to assist them in any way, even if you find it menial, and ask lots of questions.

That said,

Education is Very Important

  • Read books and blogs (see links in the lower-right corner of the home page)
  • Listen to podcasts (PM Podcast, PM411, Controlling Chaos-archives only, PM Prepcast)
  • In particular you may find Episode 62 “How can I become a Project Manager” and Episode 65 “BS and MBA in Project Management” helpful podcasts.? I’m interviewed in episode 65.? Since that was recorded, I’ve decided to NOT pursue an MBA in project management.? I’ve earned my BS in Project Management and am focusing on gaining experience and getting my PMP very soon.? An advanced degree just didn’t pan out in the cost-benefit analysis for me at this point in my career.
  • Know the tools: there are tons of computer resources that go hand-in-hand with being a project manager. One such example is workforce management software, which lets you keep track of every tiny detail and stay on top of things during any project. Do some research online and find out what?s being used in the industry today.
  • Join PM organizations.? My experience so far is with the PMI.? Join your local chapter, and some SIGs that look interesting.? I can recommend the ISSIG in particular, they have a monthly webinar that is usually on topics that apply broadly to all project managers.
  • PMP Prep material can be very valuable even if you’re no where near ready to take the exam (as long as the material is geared to you understanding it, not memorizing it).? The best one I’ve found for this is the PM PrepCast? where I feel I learned a ton even if you set aside the PMP aspect of it.
  • Ask your management at work about helping you with a project management career track in the way of project management training, special assignments, etc.? It never hurts to ask!


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