Dip in a Toe or Dive Head First – Four Tips to a Successful Beginning in Project Management

There is a strong attraction to a career in project management. Project management is a career that stretches across a number of different industries: construction, IT, even things like chemical processing or engineering. The possibilities are virtually endless. It can, with the right outlook and the following four things, become a lucrative and satisfying career.

  1. Understanding the Process

Fundamentally, project management is a process-driven career path. This may be understanding specific certification methods (we’ll come back to this), or the processes specific to an organization. Many companies live and breathe process. It’s the way many companies measure benchmarks and analytics, and achieve performance improvement. Project delivery, which is part and parcel of managing a project, has tasks and dependencies. Understanding those tasks and dependencies, what needs to happen in order to complete the next task, is integral to ensuring a project stays within scope, meets its timeline and stays within budget.

  1. Keeping Relevant Documentation

This is a skill that can be learned over time and, as we’ll see, links back into things like certification that can help you learn about the relevant tools and software that will help with this. But at the end of the day, it’s a key component, not only to ensure quality management of a project, but to facilitate a hand-off of the project to its key stakeholders and users.

Let’s pose a hypothetical: you’re the project manager for the implementation of a new payroll system. While you likely have input from stakeholders and users, the likelihood of having each of them with their hands on the project itself is slim; too many cooks in the kitchen. So, when the new system is ready for rollout, how do you communicate the process with the end user when the project goes live? How are you going to triage problems six months down the line? How are you going to train new people set to use the system?

The likely answer is: you’re not, and this is where things like process documentation becomes critical to project success. Often times, part of a project like this includes not only keeping record of your own plan to measure benchmarks (budget, time, resources, etc) but also to create all relevant documentation that the organization will then use going forward, and use to facilitate a smooth transition to the people who are actually going to use the system on a day-to-day basis. To that end, this is why documentation, specifically well written and thorough documentation is key in your success as a project manager.

  1. Tools and Certification

Project management, like all career paths, benefits from a certification process. Working towards a certificate exposes you to specialized project management tools and hands-on application of those tools in a collaborative environment. They often aren’t particularly expensive (somewhere in the $300.00 range on average) and can take as little as seven weeks (45 hours) to complete. Plenty of colleges offer project management diplomas, degrees and courses that can put you well on your way to being a certified project manager.

Of course, there are also a number of certifications to choose from that are directly applicable to a career in project management: PMP, CAPM, Prince II Practitioner, Agile Scrum Master… the list goes on. In Canada, a good place to start is the PMP. It’s an intense exam, but well worth the investment for the way it gets you noticed on job boards and increases the likelihood of being shortlisted for interviews.

  1. Interest and Investment

Project management isn’t a career path to consider lightly. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. So, make sure if you’re looking to go into project management, you have a keen interest in the industry you’re aiming for. Project management has a baseline process, yes, but if you’re not interested in the industry, keeping up with the intersection of constantly shifting project management principles and the industry application of those principles can seem like a real chore.

The same holds true from the specific project initiative standpoint. If the initiative isn’t something that “strikes your fancy”, or isn’t within your realm of business or technical expertise, starting off with this particular initiative probably isn’t for you. You may find another initiative further down the line that’s more your speed and that’s 100% okay. Not being interested, not giving all of your time and focus to an initiative, does your career, the client and the initiative a disservice.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but it’s a great starting point. So get out there, take your passion for construction, or software, or strategic planning and go make a difference in another organization. Or even in your own! The world is your oyster, so take a lesson from Nike and, “Just do it!”

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