I get many questions from people who want to enter into project management as a profession. After all, my blog is pmStudent. One of the most common questions is “how do I get started”? I received an email from a reader recently 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. 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.
If you have to choose between formal project management education or real-world experience, go with the experience. In reality, this is not en 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 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.
Education is Very Important
- Read books and blogs
- 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, but it may be the best thing in the world for you.
- Write on pmStudent.com – You can write posts as you are learning. This is what I did when I moved from just plain experience into formally educating myself. It was wonderful to retain the concepts, think deeply about them and how I could implement them at work, etc.
Project Management Education
- See the Project Management Training links on the sidebar of this site.
- Join PM organizations. My experience so far is with the PMI, and you may want to look into IPMA too. For 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 PrepCastâ„¢ where I feel I learned a ton even if you set aside the PMP aspect of it. You may know that I’ve written about this audio product several times (1,2).
- Other quality education and training. It could be through a local university, PM organization, or company. Recently, I did some online training using PM Lectures that was very good.
- Ask your management at work about helping you with a project management career track in the way of training, special assignments, etc. It never hurts to ask!
About the author
Josh Nankivel is a Project Planning & Controls Control Account Manager and contractor for the ground system of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, a joint project between the USGS and NASA. His academic background includes a BS in Project Management, summa cum laude. He can be found writing and contributing in many places within the project management community, and his primary project management website is located at pmstudent.com.