The Best of Project Career Development A selection of professional insights from the Blog archive
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Since 2008 our project management professionals have been sharing knowledge, experience and learning with online readers via the Project Manager Blog. Their collective wisdom provides a wealth of how to, top tips and best practice advice, for project managers, teams and businesses. To make their writings more accessible we’ve created a series of “Best of” project management topics available free to download and share. Here is a collection of excerpts and insights from blog posts that discuss building a career in project management Enjoy
Jason Westland CEO ProjectManager.com
A Project Management Plan for Your Career .............................................................................................. 3 How to Make a Project Manager Portfolio ................................................................................................. 5 4 Ways to Reenergize Ourselves as Project Managers ............................................................................... 8 Why Project Management Training is Hard (and Important) ................................................................... 11 What is Professional Development Without Some Pain? ......................................................................... 13 Thinking of Taking an Online Project Management Course? Read this first… .......................................... 17 3 Ways to Chart Your Project Management Course ................................................................................. 20 7 Steps to Getting the Most Out Of a Project Management Course ........................................................ 23 The Project Manager Program for Instant Learning ................................................................................. 26 What Makes a Project Manager…Senior? ................................................................................................. 28 5 Reasons Why You Need a Mentor.......................................................................................................... 31 30 Day Free Software Trial ........................................................................................................................ 35
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A Project Management Plan for Your Career The following are some guidelines you can use when it comes to putting together a project management plan for your career. This view of the world can be implemented at just one company or multiple companies as you start off on your project management journey.
Career Project Management Plan #1: Focus on the Details When you first start out on your project management career you are like the astronaut sitting in the space shuttle tethered to the launch pad. Albeit the astronaut in space is not much akin to you entry-level project management job, still your heart is racing as you don’t want to make any mistakes. Everything seems to move in extraordinarily slow motion. Every sense is acutely aware of the minutest details are going on around you as you stay laser-focused on making sure this launch is successful. What are some of the things you can do to implement this type of behavior in a project management plan that is focused on your career? The following are some guidelines:
Know the Details – This is the point in time in your career when you are expected to know the details about everything. You need to know how many resources are assigned to your project. You need to know their utilization rate. You need to know the status of all risks and issues and what is being done to mitigate any problems that have the potential of derailing a project management plan you have put together. In the early days of your project management career it is important on building credibility. Nothing builds credibility more than specificity. Know the ins and outs of your project management plan to be able to clearly explain it to anyone that needs to know this information. Over-Communicate – One thing you can’t do enough of when you are first starting out in a project manager job is to communicate. While a project management plan will undoubtedly have a communications plan as one of its components, communicating information about the project is something that should come as second nature to you. It should be an intrinsic part of who you are and how you manage projects. Communicate up, down, sideways and any and every conceivable
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way possible. Make sure all stakeholders know of the status of the project, next steps, obstacles, accomplishments, and whatever else is important for them to know. Work on Efficiencies and Processes – In the early days of your project management career it is also a good time to improve efficiencies and work on improving processes that will make yours and everyone’s jobs that much easier. The efficiencies and processes you develop in one position will last throughout your career in project management. For example, you may create a generic template for a project management plan as a starter for all the projects you manage. The amount of time this saves over your project management is priceless.
Career Project Management Plan #2: Focus on the Big Picture Now that you have a solid foundation for your career to take-off, the next step is to start focusing on the big picture. This is a tricky transition to move through. The detailoriented nature of your project management style that has taken your career to this point now begins to change. Going back to the analogy of the space shuttle, the rockets are beginning to break free from the Earth’s gravity and the pilot can see his target of outer space in front of him. Behind him he can also see a clear path of where he started. What should your project management career development look like at this point? Below are some recommendations that you can implement for this stage of your career:
Focus on the Business Value – You will now be moving beyond the painstaking detail that was necessary to start your career and start looking at the bigger picture. This is when you start understanding that every project that is being worked on must contain a certain ROI in order for it to be justified. This may be that the project is a revenue generation opportunity or it could be that it saves time and allows something to be done that much quicker. Always make sure you have a grasp of how the projects you are working on fit into the economics of your company. Consultative Approach – At this point the project management career advice you will have amassed consists of a substantial amount of knowledge that can be used to help others make good business decisions. Facilitate and expedite the success of others (both internal teams and clients) to help them make the best decisions for their projects and steward them through process. This can range anywhere from helping them understand a project management plan you have developed to how to optimize the implementation of the project. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
Career Project Management Plan #3: Focus on Moving Mountains The final stage of your project management career is similar to the space shuttle floating above the Earth seemingly effortlessly. Sure, there are a lot of forces, pressures, and power necessary to keep the shuttle orbiting around the Earth, but from the untrained eye it almost looks effortless. That’s what your project management career should look like at this point. Gone are the days of putting a project management plan together. You should now be focused on the strategic direction of the company. You should be finely tuned into revenue generation opportunities that present themselves by either expanding existing projects or looking how to further offer your services within existing clients. You should be considered a trusted advisor to upper management which gives you the opportunity to provide your opinion on what works and what doesn’t. Is it effortless at this point? Absolutely not! There is still a lot of effort, thought, and time involved to accomplish these goals. However, the experience, wisdom, insight, and relationships you have nurtured throughout the years will almost make it look easy! What stage of this project management career profile are you? Details, Big Picture, or Mountain Mover? Focus on the tips for each stage above and you’ll quickly find that your project management career will take off.
How to Make a Project Manager Portfolio The following will provide some guidelines you can use on how to make a project manager portfolio and display your work for all to see.
What a Project Manager Portfolio Looks Like If you want to know how to make a project manager portfolio, you need to begin with what it looks like. It is a wire coiled book (ideally at least 3” thick, but this will depend upon the amount of experience and examples you have) that include the best of your best work. You want to take this extra step of doing a wire coil and not just GBC Binding or 3-Ring Binder because it takes the perception and professionalism up a notch that shows you are serious about the work that you do as a project manager.
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Designing the Cover The cover can be as simple as your name and any credentials you have (PMP for example) and the word Project Portfolio elegantly placed beneath. Or, you can spend a little time and money and have the cover designed professionally. Stay away from putting dates or other words on the front cover that will allow the portfolio to become outdated quickly. For example, if you put a date on the cover and 18-24 months past, this will quickly call into question the relevancy and timeliness of the content inside the portfolio.
Keeping it Protected To make the portfolio that much sturdier, include a clear or semi-clear protective sheet on top of the cover. You can still read through this protective cover, but it will keep the cover from getting wrinkled and really adds a nice finishing touch.
Including a Table of Contents Finally, the inside should include a table of contents put together using the divider tabs that you can find at any office supply location. It can be as few as 6 tabs or as many as you would like depending upon your level of experience. Each tab should highlight a functional area where you can provide examples of your work. Let’s say you are an expert at Time Management, Communication, Project Planning, and Risk Management. Include these in your table of contents and then include examples that support each area of expertise.
It’s All About “YOU” By the way, when it comes to how to make a project manager portfolio, it doesn’t need to stick to any particular format or methodology of project management. This portfolio is a reflection of YOU and what makes you unique. You could include some elements of project management but then also include a section on Business Analysis, or Effective Meetings, or Problem Solving or any other skill set you would like to highlight.
What Should Be Included in Your Project Manager Portfolio
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What should you include in your project management portfolio? Stories. That’s right, stories. You need to begin compiling a list of deliverables, artifacts, and examples that will allow you to tell a story during an interview. Here’s an example. You may have compiled your own special version of a Lessons Learned spreadsheet. It is based upon your unique experience, history, and exposure to other lessons learned spreadsheets you have worked with over the years. You’ve tweaked, revised, updated and molded this spreadsheet so that it is nothing less than perfect. You now have a story to tell. Your story should include The Problem, How You Solved It, and The Results.
How to Present Your Project Portfolio Now that you know how to make a project manager portfolio, how do you present it at an interview? When the time is right and the interviewer asks you a question along the lines of “what type of experience do you have?” you drop this heavy volume of project management goodness on their desk and wait for the heavy thud. This is why you want it to be at least 3” thick! You then flip to the table of contents and ask them what area would they be particularly interested in hearing about. You have now accomplished two things. First, you know which area they are particularly interested in or where their company needs help. Second, you have taken control of the interview by bringing it into your domain of expertise. From this point out, you have minimized the one-off questions that may cause you to stumble by not knowing how to respond. The rest, as they say, is history as you entertain them with story after story of how effective you are as a project manager.
Stand Out from the Crowd By the way, if you go on an interview with just a resume’ and a couple of references…shame on you! Times have changed, the game has ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
changed, and the challenge of making you stand apart from the competition has changed as well. An awesome project portfolio can make all the difference when it comes to getting your next job.
4 Ways to Reenergize Ourselves as Project Managers What happened? It’s the same job, the same people, and the same place as the day you started, but something has happened. You may have even contemplated quitting your job to start somewhere else so you can experience the same excitement again. Before you take such drastic measures, consider four things you can do to plug yourself back in and get energized about your position again.
1. Meet with (Happy) Customers Let’s face it, a project managers day is typically filled with putting out fires, dealing with project stakeholders that may be frustrated, and fielding dissatisfied client’s issues and complaints. Day after day, week after week and year after year this type of activity will gradually wear you down. This results in sapping you of the energy and feeling of accomplishment that accompanies a job well done. The nature of our job as project managers is to deal with problems and escalations on a daily basis and this can bring you down, no matter how good you are. What can you do? Go visit some happy customers. Take a day and go out and visit customers that are using your product or have benefited from a successful project implementation. Hear what they like, listen to how it saved them money, made their jobs easier, or helps their customers. Reflect on their ideas and suggestions about making things better. You will come back with a renewed EXCITEMENT about the services you and your company provides. Think about it this way. When was the last time you called the electric company and said you really appreciate the fact that your electricity has stayed on for a long period of time without interruption? Probably never! They only hear from you when there’s a problem. As project managers, you are the electric company. It is the rare day when
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someone will let you know they appreciate their lights being on. Change your routine, take the initiative to visit some happy customers. You’ll feel better after you do.
2. Pursue a New Certification If you have things running like clockwork and have some time to spare, why not work towards another certification? If you are a Certified Associate of Project Management (CAPM), you can move toward your PMP. If you already a PMP, work on becoming a Program Management Professional (PgMP). You can even contemplate Six Sigma or ITIL Certifications. Most employers will pay for this additional project management training and certification for project managers that are doing a great job at their company. All you need to do is come up with a compelling value-add reason of how this will benefit your company. It doesn’t necessarily even need to be a new certification you pursue. Look into adopting a new project management methodology. Join an association of project managers that allow for NETWORKING opportunities and find new and exciting ways of doing things. Subscribe to project management JOURNALS and find great project management BLOGS to read and keep you inspired.
3. Unclutter Everything One thing that happens when you stay somewhere for a long period of time is that clutter accumulates. This clutter is made up of different things, both literal and figurative. For example, your office may be cluttered, you may not be able to see the top of your desk, or your computer is littered with unused files and shortcuts. There may be orphaned projects that are languishing and just need to be closed out, or broken relationships that need mending. All of these things need your attention so you can move forward gracefully and efficiently. If you come in each day with the weight of clutter bogging you down, you will find it hard to work on new and exciting things. Clean up your office, rediscover your desktop, close out projects that need to be closed and mend relationships that may be broken. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
You will feel a great weight lifted off your shoulders and begin to look at things in a new way. A great time to go through this exercise of UNCLUTTERING everything is the end of the year. Schedules slow down a bit, people are on vacation and you may find that you have a little “quiet time” to yourself. Take this opportunity to organize what you need and eliminate what you don’t.
4. Bring in New Blood If you are in a position to hire people and you need to bring in someone new, bring someone on-board that is different than you. We are all drawn toward certain types of people and personalities. When you look at the team of project managers you have assembled, are they the same as you? Do they have the same background, same education, and same experience? Hire someone that is qualified, but also has a different background, different education and different experiences. Bringing in new blood adds excitement back to the mix. What if you are not in a position to bring someone new on board? You can still connect with people that are entirely different than you. If you are in IT, connect with someone in Marketing. If you are in Marketing, connect with someone in Finance. Break out of your comfort zone of hanging out with your team of project managers all the time. This can be either inside or outside your organization. You will find that they may have experienced similar issues as you, but approached it from an entirely different angle. You can bring this energy and different approach back to your routine and become more engaged. So, you may not be able to bring back the same excitement you had the day you started your new job, but you can come close. Meet with happy customers, pursue a new certification, unclutter EVERYTHING, and bring in new blood all for the purpose of bringing excitement back to your job!
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Why Project Management Training is Hard (and Important) It has been said that the day you stop learning is the day you start dying. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen. But, one thing you can be sure of is the day you stop learning as a project manager is the day your project management career begins to feel a little sick. In today’s fast paced environment technology, processes, equipment, and even people are in a steady state of churn. It seems that every 6-9 months there is a noticeable and material change in the way business is conducted. Hence the need for ongoing training. “But Project management training is hard…” you may say. True. It’s hard for a number of reasons:
It Takes Time – You are already strapped as a project manager. You have a full schedule that starts first thing in the morning and sometimes goes late into the night. You may find yourself traveling on a regular basis. You have family, friends, and other responsibilities outside of work. Now you are expected to find the time to keep up with project management training? That’s right. It does take time and you are already busy as a project manager. But, it’s up to you to prioritize and move things around so you don’t lose out on this most important aspect of your professional development. It Requires Change– What do you do after you’ve taken some great project management training courses? Do you go back and continue to do things the same way? No way! Hopefully have gleaned one or two things out of this training that you want to apply at your company. You go back and talk to others about the change you want to make and you may be met with some resistance. “But, we’ve always done it this way and it works just fine…” they may protest. Or, you may find yourself with too much on your plate already to deal with the shortterm upheaval that occurs when change is implemented. You’ll need to overcome both hurdles in order to really make a difference in your company with your newfound knowledge. It Costs Money – Project management training can cost next to nothing up to thousands of dollars depending upon which path you choose. It can be as inexpensive as learning on the job, attending project management association events, or reading some books about project management. The other side of the spectrum is full-day or even week long courses offered by professional training ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
companies. The middle of the road is courses you can take at anytime and anywhere by listening to them. Using the time you commute from one place to another is a great way to maximize this low-cost option for receiving project management training. Something else to keep in mind when it comes to cost…always ask your company to pay for this training. It’s easy to make the case that you will go out and get this project management training and then bring back what you learned to share with everyone else. This could be in the form of 1-on-1 meetings or perhaps a miniconference that you conduct based upon what you just learned. All they can say is No and they are more likely to say Yes once they see how passionate you are about learning and how this will benefit the company as a whole.
Why Project Management Training is Important Project management training is important because it allows you to keep up with the changes in technology, equipment, processes, and even people. The following are additional reasons why project management training is something that should be on the top of your list:
There are New People Joining the Company– People come and go in companies. The days of 30 year careers in one place are long gone. The average duration of someone at a company these days is 5-7 years with many staying just a few years at a time and then moving on to their next employment opportunity. This means there are people coming and going in your company as well. These new people come in with their ways of doing things and want to influence how the company does business, manages projects, and gets work out the door. If you have not availed yourself to project management training opportunities then you will be standing there like a bump on the log while changes occur around, and sometimes, in spite of you! Keep yourself constantly invigorated and energized by taking advantage of as many project management training opportunities that you can. There are Existing People Learning New Things – The second reason why project management training is important is because there are existing people that are learning new things. These are the people at your company who may have been there for some time but have chosen to reinvent themselves over and over again. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
They may have started as a project coordinator and worked their way up to Program Manager or PMO Director by constantly learning and applying new things. You will quickly find yourself outpaced by these people that have a thirst for knowledge and know how this can be implemented to bring greater value to the company. It Keeps you Effective – Could you imagine choosing not to learn how to use e-mail when it came out many years ago? “No thanks…I’ll stick with the post office and this fancy fax machine I have on my desk. It’s all I need”….you may have reasoned. Ludicrous! The benefits of using this new technology have been exponential and changed the way business is done and projects are managed. The same principle applies when it comes to project management training and learning new things that can make you more effective in your job as a project manager. Don’t turn your back on project management training opportunities that will allow you to implement a new technology or streamline a process. It is these types of things that will keep you effective and up to par, if not ahead, of the new person coming in or the existing person learning new things.
What is Professional Development Without Some Pain? In order to develop professionally as a project manager will require you to push the envelope, deal with some discomfort and ambiguity and immerse yourself in some painful situations in the short term. However, these uncomfortable situations can make you tougher and better equipped to deal with adversity that is thrown your way in the future.
What is Professional Development, Anyway? Professional Development can be defined as the skills and knowledge that are attained for both personal development and career advancement. This can range from degrees that may be earned in college to ongoing coursework and informal learning opportunities. There are many opportunities for professional development in the project management arena. There are scores of books written about various aspects and disciplines within project management.
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Classes that teach project management skills can vary from a 1-day refresher course, to a 1-week crash course, all the way to month long career transitioning classes. There’s also the opportunity for seminars, webinars, and other project management events that are designed to help you advance your career and hone your skills as a project manager. One of the most effective methods of professional development is to have a mentor. If you are fortunate enough to find someone that can help you navigate through your personal situations that you are encountering, then this will take you miles ahead in your career path. What do all of the above means of professional development have in common? For the most part, there’s no “pain” associated with each activity. Actually, the opposite is true. The above activities are almost, if not entirely, enjoyable. Who doesn’t like to take a day off every now and then and learn something new? Or, who would find it painful to catch up with your mentor over lunch and discuss how things are going in your world? Nobody! But the name of this article is “what is professional development without some pain”. Where does the discomfort come into play?
Professional Development that is Painful (and HIGHLY Effective) The above activities are great. You can learn a lot from these classes, webinars, and conversations with friends. However, there is no better teacher than Personal Experience. And, there is no better teacher than Personal Experience when something has gone wrong that will be indelibly etched onto your mind as a project manager. Think about it this way. You can tell a child that the stove is hot. They can watch a show on TV where they learn that the stove is hot. They may even have one of their toddling friends tell them that the stove is hot. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
However, it’s not until they have reached up and touched that stove for themselves do they truly believe that the stove is hot. It’s at this painful point that they have learned that the stove is hot. They will NEVER do that again. How can you make the most of these painful situations as a project manager? Ironically, to get the most out of your professional development training you may have to put yourself in harm’s way. Below are three ways you can develop professionally and still live to tell the story.
1. Stretch Yourself Into Uncomfortable Situations If you’ve been at one place for a long time and you’ve done your job as a project manager, the opportunities for learning come farther and farther apart. You’ve reached your comfort zone. It’s not such a bad place to be. It means you’ve been at your company for a number of years, you know the technology, the people, and the processes for getting work done. Sure, there may be a situation that comes up from time to time that gets a little tricky, but you don’t stress about the situation. You methodically work through it and you ultimately know it will turn out just fine. Want to sign up for a professional development plan that will cause you to stretch a bit? Force yourself into uncomfortable situations. Maybe you could tackle a certain type of project you have never come across before. Or, start working your way to spending more time with the executive leaders of your company. Or, volunteer to take on an activity that is way outside what you are used to doing. Then, prepare to mess up. Not that you’re going to do it on purpose, but it will undoubtedly happen because it’s a new area to you. You’ll do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, or leave something out entirely. Good for you! You got 80% right and 20% wrong. That’s 4 out of 5 things right and only 1 out of 5 things wrong. Not too shabby. Learn from it and apply these lessons to adjusting your course immediately. If you’re a good resource and have brought value in other areas of the company, people will help you through this professional development learning curve. The key is to fail fast, learn, and then move forward. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
2. View Things That Go Wrong As Learning Experiences Project Managers have a tendency to want to be 100% right 100% of the time. It’s our nature and it’s why we are good at what we do. We like to have our facts straight, know where everything stands, and know what needs to be done next. We feel as if it reflects poorly on us if we don’t have the answer to everything that comes our way. Guess what? You won’t – and don’t – have the answer to everything that comes your way. Nobody does. Everything changes so fast in this turbulent economy that everyone is learning and making mistakes every day. It’s the person who figures things out the fastest that is going to get ahead of the pack. Rather than becoming downhearted that you made a mistake, simply chalk it up as a professional development learning experience and move on.
3. Willingly Go Through the Meat Grinder There are professional development learning “opportunities” that are less than desirable for anyone at any time to go through. These may consist of the 7:30 AM meeting every day with the CEO of the company to talk through the plan for the day to get things back on track. Or, it may be the meetings with lawyers and/or depositions you may have to be involved in to help defend your company against a disgruntled client. Are these painful experiences? Absolutely. Are they beneficial? More than you’ll know until you’ve gone through them. It is these types of “professional development” activities that put you in the category of really getting a backbone as a project manager. Until you see that chaos that can result because you let something go that should have been addressed – or a shortcut that was taken that should not have been – you may not speak with the same conviction. It is only until you’ve been through this meat grinder and survived that you can vow to yourself and others that “this will never happen again!” It is by means of these types of experiences that you become wise, experienced, and judicious with the decisions you make. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
What is professional development? Professional development is different things to different people. But, as a project manager there are no greater lessons learned than through personal experience and those things that have gone wrong. This type of professional development puts you squarely in the path of “been there, done that…and we’re not doing that again!”
Thinking of Taking an Online Project Management Course? Read this first… Now mainstream, an online project management courses is accessible to nearly anyone that has a computer and internet connection. What are some of the things you can do to get the most out of an online project management course? This is especially important if you have paid money for such a course or need the information that is presented to pass a certification exam.
Online Project Management Course Requirements There is one personal quality that is essential for anyone that is going to take an online project management course. That quality is discipline. That’s right discipline. Many teleworkers have found this to be an incredibly important part of being able to work from home successfully. We all have the mental image of the person that lazily rolled out of bed in the morning and then groggily walked over to their home office in their pajamas, fired up their computer, and started their work for the day. The reality for people that work successfully from home is very different. These people have a disciplined schedule that they adhere to each day. They get up at an early hour, exercise, take care of the children, get them off to school, get ready themselves and then begin working from home. They adhere to this schedule because it’s up to them to get the job done as effectively and efficiently as possible. This requires discipline. And it is discipline that is required if you are to make the most out of an online project management course.
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Why Discipline is Needed for an Online Project Management Course Discipline is needed for an online project management course because you are not in a classroom setting or surrounded by a roomful of your peers. Your online project management course will most likely be taken alone while you are sitting in front of your computer or other electronic device. This means you could be prone to distractions that could quickly take you off your goal of finishing the course. The following are some things you can do to make sure that you get the most out of your online project management course:
Check your Motives The foundation of taking any online project management course successfully is to check your motives. Why are you taking this course? Are you just cramming to get PDUs and don’t really care about the material? If that’s the case, you could quickly find yourself distracted and not getting the most from the course. On the other hand, if your motive is to help solve a problem that you and your team are experiencing at work, then you will be much more inclined to listen and follow along carefully.
Communicate, Engage and Interact There are two types of online project management courses. One is a live session and the other is a recorded session. Both have their benefits and advantages. A live session will allow you to engage and participate. Most online courses will allow you to ask questions. This may be by either voice or most likely by means of an instant message chat with the host. Take advantage of this ability to interact with the instructor by asking questions, making comments, and responding to the material that is being presented.
Remove Distractions There are so many things that can distract us in our multi-media world that our attention span has become non-existent. Think about how we interact with each other these days. Quick, short, sound-bites that we capture, process and then quickly on to the next quick, short, sound-bite. Our interaction with others has come down to a steady stream of 140 characters or less on Twitter. We look for and are mentally ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
engaged and stimulated by this type of interaction. To remain disciplined and succeed at your online project management course you will need to close out of your social media streams. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, gone. Turn off the TV, radio, podcast or other distraction. Ask the kids to go outside and play until the course is complete. Yes, take drastic measures to ensure you are not distracted otherwise ten minutes could pass before you realize you haven’t heard one thing that was uttered by the instructor.
Freely Rewind The other type of online project management course are those that are pre-recorded. This means that you can download and take the course whenever you want. It is completely dependent upon your schedule. When you take these courses be sure to take advantage of the ability to rewind and repeat any part that you may have missed or did not understand. Free rewind the material until you get what is being covered and thoroughly understand the material.
Play Along at Home Most online project management courses will come with some type of material you can print out and use to follow along. Be sure to take advantage of this feature. This is beneficial for a number of reasons. First, it is just one more sense engaged in the learning process. It makes the experience that much more tangible. Plus, it provides you something to focus on and prevents you from getting distracted. You’ll be able to see where the instructor is going and reference where he has been.
Review and Apply Take the time after the session to review and apply the material you just covered. Remember the importance of your motive in #1 above. Your motive needs to be more than just taking a course for the sake of earning PDUs. Rather, you need to take a course for the purpose of learning what you can apply in your workplace immediately. Write down and review what you learned and how you will be able to implement this within your organization. This will make the material come to life in a practical nature. Apply the principles above the next time you take an online project management course and you’ll be terribly pleased to find that a virtual online course can work as well (or better) for you as a real classroom!
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3 Ways to Chart Your Project Management Course Project Management is the right place for you if you love to learn. There are so many different opportunities for growth it is sometimes hard to keep up. You can learn about the soft skills necessary to manage people on your project and keep them motivated. Or, you can dig into the hard skills necessary to decompose a massive deliverable to its base components for the purpose of scoping, schedule, resource assignment, and estimating. Then there’s always the opportunity to get to know more about the specific area in which you manage projects. For example, you can learn more about the pharmaceutical, construction, or telecommunications industries. Then there’s the special education and learning requirement that comes from having a professional project manager certification. There are many certifications a project manager can take advantage of, but they all have at least one thing in common. All certifications require ongoing education and learning in order to meet the requirements of renewing a certification. Keeping your certification current takes time. So, what is the best use of your time when it comes to picking a project management course? The following are a couple of factors you should consider and the pros and cons of the different formats a project management course can be offered.
What is Your Motivation for Taking a Project Management Course? The first question you need to ask yourself is why you need to take this project management course. Is it strictly to meet the requirements to keep your certification current? Or, is there certain knowledge or skills you need to acquire in order to complete one of your projects? The answer to this question can help determine the type of project management course you should take. As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to choose a course that is going to help you in your current role and longer-term career as a project manager. Then, make sure you can receive credit toward your certification based upon the skills you have acquired. It’s a bit surprising how many Project Managers will focus just on the number of credits that are needed rather than the topics that are being covered. Credits toward your certification are important, but honing your craft in specific areas of project management is arguably more important. Specialization is what can differentiate you ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
from your peers and open the door to more positions, higher salaries, and future growth. Your motivation in taking a project management course should be to go for the best of both worlds. Earn the credits necessary for your professional certification, but also ensure it is a course that will help you excel in your project management career. This can be done by asking yourself what you like, or being honest with yourself and asking what areas you need may need to improve. Having a hard time answering the question about where you would need to improve? Ask those around you. Ask your manager, ask your project team, and if you have a real good relationship with your clients you may even ask them what you could do better. This will be a great place to start to shore up any weaknesses you may have and continue to grow both personally and professionally.
3 Ways to Take a Project Management Course There are a handful of different ways that you can take a project management course once you have answered the question about your motivation. The three most common methods are 1) in the classroom, 2) on the go (such as an MP3 recording or mobile course) or 3) at your desk. The following provides an outline for the pros and cons of each:
1. In the Classroom This common form of taking a project management course harkens back to school days. We sit in a classroom for a number of hours or days with other students and an instructor in front of the classing teaching a particular topic. The Pros? – Classroom training is a great way to fully immerse yourself in the learning experience. Having an instructor and other students around you means your cell phone is off, your email goes unchecked (it should, anyway), and you are not interrupted incessantly throughout the day. It’s also a great opportunity to network and collaborate with your peers who are going through the same project trials and tribulations as you. The Cons? – Classroom training is typically a bit more expensive than the other options of taking a course on the go or at your desk. Additionally, it is a large investment of your ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
time as it goes beyond just the time necessary to take the project management course. You will need to factor in travel time, dealing with traffic, and lunch or dinner plans.
2. On the Go The next option to take a project management course is “on the go”. Nearly everyone has a phone that is also an MP3 player. You can download these courses on your phone and listen to them while you are driving, in flight, waiting at an airport, or a host of other locations.
The Pros? – This is great for people that are always busy and on the go. Or, they may have a long commute to work. This allows you to turn time that may have been wasted in the past into an educational opportunity. These courses are also typically less expensive than classroom training and cover a very diverse set of project management topics and skills. The Cons? – If you find it hard to concentrate on more than one thing at a time, this may not be for you. Driving is undeniably important. If you can’t drive and listen at the same time without being distracted…then choose driving. Seriously, you know your most effective learning style. If you find it hard to stay focused, then classroom training may be a better option for you.
3. At Your Desk This one has certainly been around for awhile. Remember when it was revolutionary to be able to see someone flip through a PowerPoint presentation on your screen? Now, we’re disappointed if we don’t have the ability to see the presenter, watch them mark up our screen, ask questions, and watch a homemade video production about the topic they are covering! Being trained at our desk has come a long way and something of which we can all benefit. The Pros? – It’s at your desk. This time saving way of learning means you don’t need to go anywhere. You just fire up your browser, call in, and start learning.
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The Cons? – It’s at your desk. This means you are still wide open for interruptions and phone calls and a multitude of other distractions that could occur at your desk. Plus, the first “screening” of a presentation at your desk is usually at a set time. So, if you wanted to engage with the presenters and audience live you need to be sure to be online at a particular time. There a number of ways to take a project management course. Just remember that it’s not just about a certain number of credits. More importantly, a project management course is about keeping you informed, motivated and engaged in this fast paced line of work!
7 Steps to Getting the Most Out Of a Project Management Course The following steps will allow you to get the most out of any project management course you take.
1. Pick something you want to know more about This seems obvious, but as mentioned at the outset there are many project managers that are just interested in the PDUs they will receive. To get the most out of any project management course you need to find one that is of great interest to you. This could be a course that answers a question that you may be struggling with in your day to day project management experience with your team. Or, it may be an area that you are wanting to transition your team to such as a new project management methodology or implementing a new process that will reduce the amount of time to complete projects. The goal here is that you really, really want to know about a topic and it is something that you will be able to take back to your job almost immediately.
2. Pick the format where you learn best There are many different formats available when it comes to picking a project management course. You may find that you learn best when you are in a classroom setting. You like the sharing of ideas, the instructor leading the class, and the camaraderie that is established as your work together through a project management challenge. Or, you may be the type of person that learns best in a private environment ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
where you download the course to your mobile device and learn at your own pace and in your own environment. Another option may be to take an online course that is set up as a webinar with real-time interaction and the ability to ask questions. The point is that you need to find the format where you learn the best and then choose a course that meets your needs.
3. Listen to learn not just to earn Earning PDUs is a very important part of keeping your certification current as a certified project manager. However, this should not cloud your approach toward taking a project management course. You’ll find that there are two very different learning experiences if you are focused on really learning as opposed to just earning PDUs. Those that are focused on learning will take their time, ask questions, rewind, re-listen, and challenge the statements that are being made. Those that are focused on earning PDUs will many times just ‘phone it in’, multi-task along the way, and then ask what they need to do to claim their PDUs at the end. If you want to get the most out of your project management course, come at it with the focus of learning. PDUs will follow.
4. Ask how you can apply this information Throughout the entire course always ask yourself how you can apply this information. This is why you picked the topic that you did in step 1 above. There’s a reason why you picked this course and this is where you address that reason. See how the information that is being presented can help with a problem that you may be experiencing. Or, ask yourself how the information that is being presented can make a process smoother, easier, or faster and how this can be implemented in your company.
5. Implement immediately How do you feel after you have attended an interesting project management course? Excited. Optimistic. Ready to Go. You need to immediately take this momentum back to your company before it goes away. Why does it go away? Because the pressures, routines, stress, and sheer volume of work that needs to get done will quickly cause this momentum to slow down. At this point you should have written down your plans for ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
applying the information from the project management course in your department or company. Now’s the time to go back and make some changes and improvements.
6. Share the project management course with others Not everyone on your project team will have been able to attend the project management course you just attended. Make sure to capture the highlights that you want to share with your team so they can see the benefit of applying what you learned in the company. This can be a great way to raise the bar for your entire department as everyone absorbs, understands, and applies what you learned from the project management course. Plus, it doesn’t need to stop with you. Your schedule will undoubtedly not allow you to attend all the project management courses you would like to attend, but your peers and colleagues can go in your place…on one condition. That they come back and share what they learned with the entire team as well. They’ll appreciate the change to their schedule, the ability to interact with others outside of their company, and feel a big part of making things better for their department.
7. Repeat Once you’ve gone through your first course, implemented the changes, and shared this knowledge with others you will want to do this time and time again. If you are a PMP Certified project manager you’ll find that you don’t even have to think about earning PDUs. PDUs will become a by-product of the educational experience that you have set out to expose yourself to and will add up by default. Does it take effort to get the most out of a project management course? Yes, it does. But the payoff for doing it this way will greatly outweigh the effort you have put into the course. Your job as a project manager will continue to get easier as more and more best practices make their way into your company.
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The Project Manager Program for Instant Learning What are some of the things that you can do as a project manager to learn incredibly fast? WARNING…it will require some time and effort to gain this instant learning, but the payoff is worth the time and effort.
Read Yes, I know you are saying, “Really? This is your secret to instant learning? Reading?” Sure, it’s obvious. But, what we’re talking about here is not the casual reading that occurs from reading a blog post here and there (good job reading this post, by the way), but an incessant and voracious appetite for reading. You should be reading multiple books at the same time. These books can and should be directly related to your field or help you solve a particular problem you have encountered. These books can and should be related to nothing about your field or area of expertise. It’s amazing the cross pollination that can occur from one discipline to the next if you open your mind to different influences from different bodies of knowledge.
Research The second part of the project manager program for instant learning is to become a good researcher. Here’s the scenario…You are sitting in a meeting and a new term or TLA (three letter acronym) is thrown out there. Everyone else in the room nods their head in agreement as if they know what the speaker is saying. You, on the other hand, have no idea what the speaker is saying. You have two choices. Nod your head in agreement as if you know exactly what the speaker is saying, or discretely write the term or TLA down for later research. Once you get back to your desk do a quick Google search and you’ll be all set. It doesn’t take long to dig deep about a subject, thanks to Google. Now, the next time you hear that expression or TLA, you too can nod your head in knowing agreement. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
Explain Another aspect of the project manager program for instant learning is to take what you have just learned and explain it to others. Start with your colleague over lunch. They can be your guinea pig. Explain to them what you just learned and see if your explanation is clear enough to understand. It’s one thing to think you’ve got it straight in your own mind and an entirely different thing to have to explain it to someone else and get it straight in their mind. This will allow you to shore up any gaps, answer any questions, and reinforce the information to yourself. Then, try it out with small groups and meetings, and the next thing you know you’ll be introduced as the expert at the next large conference you attend.
Question The project manager program for learning requires that you question many people as possible. There is a wealth of knowledge at your disposal with every person that you meet. Take advantage of the opportunity you have when you are with them to ask them what they do. One question I always like to ask is “in all of your years of education, what is the one most mind-blowing thing you learned?” The person will take a moment to reflect and then always come up with something that you will treasure for years to come. What most of us like to do is dominate the conversation with what we already know. What’s the value of that? We already know what we already know. Take the time to get to know what we don’t know.
Triangulate Just like a GPS uses 3 satellites to pinpoint your exact location, you can do the same when it comes to pinpointing precise information. The project manager program for instant learning is based upon the “trust but verify” credo. Take someone or something ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
at face value, but then try to find something else that backs up what they say for a fuller measure of confidence. As a matter of fact, it never hurts to “quadulate” or even “octagonulate” for that matter. The more people and sources you hear the same information from the more you can believe it to be true and present it that way.
7. Fail Yes, failure is of course the greatest project manager program for instant learning. Is failure painful? Yes. But, the lessons learned from small to catastrophic failures will flood back into your mind the next time you are presented with a similar situation. Volumes will be spoken in a split second which allows you to make the best decision possible to move forward. There is nothing like having done something the wrong way to afford you the conviction to speak about why you need to do it the right way! Feel bad for yourself for about one minute when you fail and then pick yourself up again and move forward. Make a conscious effort to apply the process of reading, researching, explaining, questioning, triangulating, and even failing and you’ll be on your way to become an expert (and not an idiot) in your field in no time at all!
What Makes a Project Manager…Senior? We all know what a senior citizen is. It’s generally someone who is above 60-65 and is qualified to receive retirement benefits. We refer to retirement as the golden years because of the freedom to work less, enjoy grandchildren more, and travel when you want. The definition is not quite as clear for Senior Project Manager. Most senior project managers aren’t on the verge of retirement. Often, our assumption is that seniority relates to how many projects someone has managed, or number of hours they’ve devoted to project management. Maybe it’s the number of positions they have held or the fact they are over 40. We could also look to PMI’s salary survey to see how they define certain project manager positions with respect to seniority:
Project Manager I- Under direct supervision of a more senior project manager, a Portfolio Manager, or a Program Manager, oversees a small project or phase(s) of a larger project. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
Project Manager II – Under general supervision of either a Portfolio Manager or a Program Manager, oversees multiple projects or one larger project…; may communicate with a Senior Project Manager, Functional Area Manager, or Program Manager regarding status of specific projects. Project Manager III – Under general direction of either a Portfolio Manager or in some cases a Program Manager, oversees high-priority projects, which often require considerable resources and high levels of functional integration…; may communicate with a company executive regarding the status of specific projects.
Notice how the level of responsibility and visibility increases through each project management tier. Understandably, someone new to project management needs a lot of hand-holding and nurturing. A veteran project manager can almost be set on auto-pilot and trusted to get the job done. By the way, if you are not familiar with PMI’s salary survey, it’s a pretty good tool that tells you whether or not your salary is in the ballpark of what you should be making based upon your level of experience.
What Does It Really Mean to be a Senior Project Manager? PMI’s definitions make sense, but how does this translate to daily activities of a senior project manager? Consider the following approaches to people, knowledge and perspective to see where you are on the spectrum of seniority, regardless of your age.
What You Know – Think back to the early days of your career as a project manager. You didn’t know a whole lot about the profession, but you certainly made up for it with your inexhaustible energy. You were like a bull in a china shop, thrashing yourself about between projects and people, not quite understanding why everybody didn’t see the world the way you did. Why couldn’t they see how critical it was for them to stay late—again—to finish up a piece of the project? Why were they complaining about the fifteen minutes it took to enter time spent on each task, every day, in your custom timesheet application? Didn’t they realize all the benefits that would come from tracking such details…including how many restroom breaks the team needed? You knew what was best for everybody and the company, so why did you have to bang your head against the wall until they did things your way? The years passed and you became seasoned in the nuances of project management, and have salt and pepper hair to prove it. You now understand what motivates people, ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
and think it’s perfectly okay for everyone to have their own view of the world. You work with people and not against them. Who You Know – Project Manager I feels they need to build the wheel themselves. They want to prove to themselves, their peers, and most importantly their bosses that they can take a project, process, or system and build it from scratch. Nobody needs to tell them what to do and they certainly don’t need to ask anyone for advice. They toil in anguish as they work through, and rework painstaking details to make sure that not the smallest thing has been missed. Project Manager III simply picks up the phone. They will give someone a call to say, “Hey Rick, I know you experienced this exact same problem three years ago. Can you remind me again what you did to get through it and what you learned from that experience?”Bam! Problem solved. The senior project manager just shaved weeks or even months off of figuring out a problem, probably adding years to his life in the process. Simply because he knew someone. How You Operate – senior project managers are as cool as cucumbers…and that’s pretty cool. They don’t stress out or overreact when a project gets a little (or even a lot) behind. They know that somehow everyone will catch up, a new date will be negotiated, a fee will be adjusted, or the project may just end up being late. They also know that life and employment still go on. Babies will be born, children will grow up, the world will keep turning, and the project will be delivered. A newer project manager may not have that reference point. They may not appreciate that executives do understand. Executives know that despite the best of intentions, something can and will go wrong on a project, and it doesn’t reflect on the project manager unless they never learn from the experience. What does reflect on the project manager is how they deal with adversity and keep the team rallied around the end goal. Newer project managers will run around like crazy, looking like a white water rapid that’s out of control. Conversely, seasoned project managers are more focused on influence rather than actual doing. They are like the rocks under the rapid’s surface, relishing the calm and stability they have created around them because of what and who they know and how they operate. Systems You’ve Developed and Implemented – A new project manager will have very few tools in their belt. They may have a spreadsheet or two, Microsoft Project, a couple of project plans and change request forms, and that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with that, as everybody has to start somewhere. A senior project manager has Batman’s utility belt wrapped around their waist. They have everything! ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
They have templates for each process area of project management. They’ve implemented enterprise wide project management programs, and developed systems for unobtrusively tracking people’s time. They know how to extract the truth from people and get real dates as well as how to deliver bad news to a client. All of these things take years to develop but save inordinate amounts of time later on. What’s exciting about having all of these tools is that a senior project manager can be thrown into almost any situation and within days, weeks, or months have everything under control!
Can Seniority be Accelerated? A large part of becoming a senior project manager is having a track record of doing the right thing. You haven’t gotten complacent or squandered opportunities. Outside of that, the seniority curve can be accelerated by plugging into networking events to help you with who you know. Always, always, always ask if there are better ways to do something; never settle for “this is the just the way we’ve always done it.” Challenging the status quo will open incredible and unique learning opportunities that you would never have otherwise. Finally, just use common sense. Sometimes people become so wrapped around the axle with details and minutiae they forget that their real job is to get projects done on time, on budget, and in scope!
5 Reasons Why You Need a Mentor In Greek mythology, Mentor was a wise old man who stepped in to look after a young warrior while his father Odysseus went to war. Today, mentors aren’t old men with gray beards and flowing robes. The word has stuck though, and today we refer to a mentor as someone who has skills, knowledge and wisdom that he or she shares with a more junior colleague. Many companies have formal mentoring schemes. These work to pair up less experienced project managers with senior executives from other departments. The mentor and the mentee meet regularly and each discussion is an opportunity for some of that sharing of wisdom to happen. If your company has a scheme like this then you should definitely sign up. It can take a while for you to find someone who is a suitable match, so get your name on the list as soon as you can. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
If your company doesn’t have a scheme, you can still arrange your own mentor. Seek out a couple of suitable candidates who would be good to work with and ask them. They will probably be flattered, and if they can’t spare the time to help out and be your mentor they may well know someone who can. Whether you opt to join a corporate scheme or go your own way, mentoring can be a very valuable career opportunity. Here are five reasons why a project management mentor is a great asset.
1. They are Independent A mentor is not your line manager. They are not your project sponsor. A mentor is someone completely independent, who doesn’t work on your project and probably doesn’t even work in your department. To be even more independent you could find a mentor from another company – check out your industry press or project management groups in your area for anyone who could mentor you, and tap into your networks. The great thing about them being independent is that they have no axe to grind with your project or your colleagues. While sometimes it helps to talk to people who know the characters involved in your project, an independent person can give you a completely unbiased view of a situation. This is particularly useful if you find yourself dealing with a lot of office politics as it can be quite difficult to sort out what’s actually happening and how it is affecting people – talking it through with someone on the outside can be very helpful.
2. They Know People You Don’t A mentor is typically someone in a more senior position to you. That means that they probably have access to a wider network than you, and they know a lot more people in senior (i.e. influential) roles. If you have to give a presentation to an unfamiliar audience, or go to a meeting with an executive whom you have never met before, your mentor can give you some insider knowledge about what to expect. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
As they know people you don’t they can also help you find the right experts to ask if you have a difficult problem to solve. Get them to introduce you – use your mentor to open doors!
3. They Can Help You Explore Career Opportunities It can be awkward to talk honestly to your manager about career opportunities, especially if you are considering changing departments or leaving the company completely to move somewhere else. But it is still useful to talk to someone about those challenges, and your mentor is the perfect person. Mentoring arrangements often involve some kind of mentoring contract that spells out exactly what the terms of the engagement are to be. This should include something about keeping your discussions confidential unless you explicitly give permission for the conversation to be shared. If you have got that rule in place with your mentor, you can be honest with them about your career plans. It can be useful to have an impartial person to discuss your options with. As your mentor is likely to work in a different area to you they are also more likely to hear of other career opportunities. Ask them to keep an eye out for any jobs that are being advertised in their area, or any managers who are looking to replace people who are leaving or expand their teams. Many of the good jobs don’t get advertised, so having someone on the inside who can let you know of opportunities as they arise can mean you get an early chance at what could turn out to be a fabulous job.
4. They are a Sounding Board for Problems Let’s face it, sometimes our partners, family and friends don’t want another dinner interrupted with tales of woe from work. If you have problems on your project, family members can often give good advice, but they are likely to be on your side and they don’t have all the background about how projects work. ProjectManager.com © 2013 All Rights Reserved
A mentor, on the other hand, is there for exactly that. Part of the mentoring arrangement is for you to be able to freely discuss problems with them. Ideally, your mentor will have some project management experience so they will understand the logic behind the decisions you have made and the right way forward for resolving problems. It can also be useful to discuss the sticky project problems with them, like ethics or how to deal with someone who isn’t performing well on the project.
5. Last But Not Least, a Mentor Can Help You Learn New Things As your mentor has more years of experience than you, don’t forget that you can learn a lot of practical stuff from them as well. If you are new to project management or this particular company, get them to share the ways that they manage projects. For example, they may have templates that you can use. Instead of a chat over coffee one day, ask them to come to your desk and show you how to get the best out of the project management software that the team uses. A mentor is a valuable asset to any project manager, regardless of how long you have been doing your job. At different stages of your career you will find different types of mentor most appropriate. In the early days when you have just started out as a project manager, someone with lots of technical project experience will be very helpful. As you develop, you may want to spend some time with a mentor who can help you with some of the awkward people problems or the office politics on projects. Later in your career someone in a senior executive job could help you plan out your next move for a similar leadership role for yourself. At any stage in your professional development, a mentor should be someone that you can trust and work well with. Try out a couple of people and don’t be afraid to break off the mentoring relationship if you find it doesn’t work out for you.
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