11 tips for your PM career

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11 Tips to Get your PM Career Up and Running
Article by Frank Turley, September 2017

Many people are thinking about a career in project management and how they can get into it. The objective of this article is to give you some tips and help you start your journey. It may be useful to think of your career as a card game where you can be rewarded more if you have better playing cards. These playing cards have the following categories:

  • Experience
  • Skills
  • Knowledge
  • Certifications

This short article will show you how to get more PM playing card and increase your chances of a successful career in project management.

Tip #1: Learn a PM methodology

Learning a number of PM techniques is not enough; project management is about having an effective, holistic perspective to the project, and it’s about having a methodology. The best generic PM methodology is PRINCE2, which makes it a good starting point for you.

You can find many videos about PRINCE2 on YouTube. You can also use the free part of this PRINCE2 Foundation course to get a good idea of what PRINCE2 is about.

Tip #2 See how a project can be managed properly

Are projects in your company managed properly? If so, start observing the project managers and learn from them. You can also take a look at case studies available on the web, or education sample projects such as this: PRINCE2 In Practice (Trello & PRINCE2)

Tip #3 Learn to use a simple Tool

Tools do not replace knowledge and people, but when you have knowledge, then having access to proper tools can help a lot. Pick a supporting application that you can use in environment and start trying it out. Note: It doesn’t have to be complicated; even maybe a simple plugin for Trello!

Tip #4 Find a place to volunteer: Project Support role

The Project Support role is where you support an existing Project Manager and you will learn from them. You will see first-hand, how they run a project and you can carry out administration tasks to support the Project Manager.

Most importantly, you have an opportunity to ask “Why” many times and they can explain why certain things are done in a particular way in the organization

The good news is that you can be choosy as lots of organizations are looking for volunteers, so contact a few of them and let them know:

  • how you would like to help out
  • that you are serious
  • term of your commitment
  • and you can provide a simple online platform to manage the project

Tip #5 Consider an in-house volunteer role as your work

Some of us think that we should get paid overtime for each extra minute that we spend at work, I would like you to think more selfish that. Forget overtime, think of what you can learn for FREE. Approach some project managers in your company and suggest the following:

  • I would like to donate 4 hours of time per week as a project support role
  • I can do this in the evenings / or weekends
  • I am doing this to improve my PM experience and to grow.

Most project managers will want you to sign up immediately, so you can choose the one that you think will give you the most feedback where you can learn the most.

Advantages of in-house volunteer:

  • You get access to real project data that you otherwise would not see
  • You see how projects work and you can count this as experience
  • You are showing the organisation that you want to grow (just imagine if a junior PM positions opens up)

Tip #6 Join Toastmasters

Toastmasters is a non-profit educational organization that teaches leadership skills and public speaking through a worldwide network of clubs. Click for Video: What is Toastmasters

Form a project management point of view, you get to learn and practice many PM related skills in Toastmasters such as all the PM skills listed here. There are one or more clubs in each city and some organisations have clubs in-house.

Tip #7 Get an awareness of other PM topics

A great way to expand your knowledge of other PM topics is to get an easy introduction to them and one of the best to do this is via awareness courses written by Nader K Rad. These courses take about 2-4 mins each days and they have they have for lowest dropout rate for any training that I am aware of.

Tip #8 Never stop learning!

PRINCE2 foundation is a good first program to study and use and I suggest to study another method and topics. They will give you a wider perspective. There are my 3 main suggestions:

1) EXIN Agile Scrum

  • This is basically a scrum course which will show you how teams work
  • It’s a good certification for your CV

2) AgilePM

  • This is for people who are serious about Agile and want an in-depth course
  • AgilePM is one of the most popular Agile certifications in Europe

3) PMP

  • PMP is the #1 PM certificate in the US and is very well known around the world
  • It is a big course and it will take some time
  • Only do this if it’s important for your current job or you want to work for a company that uses the PMBoK (or finds it important to have)

Tip #9 Find a mentor

It is a good idea to find a mentor and start by looking inside your company. You may feel a bit awkward in asking but this will come across as a compliment to the person you ask. To get you started, here is a good article to read on finding a mentor.

Tip #10 Create your own PM skill learning path

Look at the list of project management skills that you can practice at Toastmasters. You can also find short courses online to cover these skills. A good idea to take on a new skill each three months and focus on this and track what you do.

Each new skill PM can double your chance of success (Scot Adams)

This is based on a great quote by Scot Adams, it may not be a 100% true but it does give you a good idea on the value of learning new skills.

Where to look for skills trainings:

  • Use Coursera e.g. Finance course for non-finance people
  • Watch look for courses or presentation on YouTube
  • Use books and takes notes :
    • Using a kindle is great for this as you can highlight text and make notes
    • Then you export your notes to a document afterwards
  • Use training guides in Toastmasters
  • Tip: Good idea to share your own notes – present them to others.

Just to remind, take your time with learning a new skill, document what you learn (important for your CV and future interviews) and try to get an opportunity to practice it.

TIP #11 Join PMI and volunteer

PMI is worth joining if you attend the workshops and get involved. However the best part of PMI is the opportunity to volunteer in a local chapter, gain great experience and meet other PM people.

Each year, PMI looks for new people to help run the team for the next year and there also assistant roles to support each main role:

  • Marketing & Communication
  • Sponsoring
  • Academic and Educational Outreach
  • Main event Project Support
  • Other Events 

And each of these roles needs further help, so take contact with your local PMI chapter.

Good Luck

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