Friday, February 9, 2007

February 9, 2007 – How Do I Become a PM? Part 1

Note: This series builds on the conversation I had with Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, of The Project Management Podcast. To hear the interview visit and select Episode 062: How can I become a Project Manager?

Do you have what it takes?
Project management is not for the faint of heart. You may currently be in a techie, analyst or other non-management role and are looking at project management as the next logical step in your career. I remember thinking that it was all about telling people what to do and taking the credit. I was also young and naïve.

The first step in the direction of becoming a PM is to decide if it is really something you want to do. Not everyone is cut out for it. The role of a project manager is much like that of a lightning rod. You take the heat from management protecting your team and allowing them to do their jobs. Then you get the jolt from your project team pushing back against time lines and direction.

To be a good project manager you need to be a great communicator, a good motivator and have thick skin. Nearly 90% of project management is communication, including creating reports, presenting status, getting information from your technical staff and giving direction to the team. Certainly those traits can be learned, but if you have no interest or inclination toward them it will be difficult for you to make it in the management world.

Technical people tend to think that moving to management is the only logical progression for advancement. That isn’t as true as it used to be. With the number of different skills and technical areas of expertise available people can specialize and advance technically while have a very rewarding career. I recently had an applicant for a Telematics position who’s normal consulting fee is about $200 / hour. So if your passion is technical, management probably isn’t the direction you want.

How did I become a PM?
I grew up in the technical ranks from programmer to business analyst and then on to PM. I’ve even done a couple of stints back on the technical side along the way when needed.

There were two types of PMs that influenced my desire to sign up as one. The first group made it look easy. They knew how to plan, direct and manage the business. It was work, but they almost made it look easy. The other kind were those that struggled the whole way. They barely pulled things together and just managed to squeak by in the end, over budget and out of time. The first group encouraged me by proving it was possible. The second group made me think I could do a better job than they did.

I was fortunate enough to work for a large consulting company that valued project management and encouraged me along the way. They trained me, gave me an opportunity and mentored me through it. Timing had a little bit to do with it, too. My first PM assignment came during the Y2K adventure. There were a lot of projects and not enough managers.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Thomas Cutting,

I have found your podcast on project management extremely useful.

I am an Architect working in Asia for 5 years, and had been offered a role in project management in a property developing company.

Having gone through 7 years of academic studies, 5 years of working as an Architect and obtaining certification as a qualified practioner, I find it a little difficult to leave the technical expertise behind, and the progress that I can make.

However, it seems that in my role as an Architect, I am already assuming the role of management, i.e cordinating between the various consultants/ clients/ authorities, setting/ tracking deadlines, chairing meetings etc.

To be honest, the role of the PM is more finacially rewarding, and since it is similar to the role I am performing (of course subject to additional responsibilities and objectives that a PM role would assume), I am seriously considering the switch. Moreover as you have commented in your pod cast, the additional technical expertise can be picked up along the way, so I will not be losing out in that aspect.

What is your opinion? Thanks

Thomas Cutting said...

It sounds like you have what it takes: confidence, capability and curiosity. If you didn't have those three, a bigger salary wouldn't keep you from failing. I suggest you go for it. Let me know how it goes.

Thomas Cutting said...

Communication and the ability to motivate people are key ingredients to being a Project Manager. Within the remainder of this series I discuss ways to make that happen.

One key step you should take is to be part of a project. You could be an end user tester for customer service systems upgrades. Until you have been part of a project you won't truly know if leading one is right for you.

In your situation, another step may be education. Many colleges and universities in the USA offer certificates in Project Management. The same may be true in the UK.

In the end, it may just be that you need a change. Your communication and motivational skills may be useful as a line manager within your current company instead of making the move to project management. Depending on your situation, it may make sense to discuss your abilities and career options with your management.

Sarah said...

Hi Mr. Cutting,
My name is Sarah and I am currently researching Project Management for a school research paper. My reason in doing so i s because I am thinking about becoming a PM myself. Do you have any suggestions on a website or book that goes into details as to what a PM does. I listened to the Podcast, it was great. Have a great day
Possible future PM'er

sabith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Cutting said...

Thank you for the question. Unfortunately you did not leave an email address to contact you directly so I had to post your question to respond. If you would like it removed, please contact me.

The position as a Project Coordinator can certainly be a stepping stone to project management.

As you become more involved with the projects you are coordinating you can ask for and obtain additional responsibilities. Continue to grow and strengthen your abilities and you will be ready when an opportunity arises at your current employer...or other company.

sabith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zeeshan Ahmed said...

Hi Mr. Thomas

I listened your podcast titled 'How can I become a project manager' and found it very useful.

I am It professional , started my career as programmer and working as System Analyst currently. I have 6 years 7 months experience in S/w development. I have certification of PMP,ITIL,MCTS,MCPD.

I am trying for the position of project coordinator. But I am confused what to mention on my CV? Most of my experience is technical. How can i convince others about my project management skills?