Your project management career is a journey, not a destination. If you treat it as such, you are more likely to succeed. So rather than rush to get a certification, take the time to learn and absorb the knowledge. Here are some reasons why you should look at it this way.
Project Management Takes a Lot of Knowledge
Just as human knowledge doubles daily, project management knowledge expands exponentially. The PMBOK® Guide started as a white paper of fewer than 100 pages. Today, to absorb these standards requires two editions (the Sixth and Seventh Editions) which consist of more than a thousand pages. And there are hundreds of books that elaborate on this knowledge. You cannot learn it overnight.
Cramming for the PMP® and taking it to get that (now virtual) piece of paper is self-destructive. The PMP intends to tell employers you have a basic knowledge and a minimum of three years of experience. However, if you cram, you are not very likely to retain that knowledge and certainly have not had time to practice it. So you are going to fail. And when you do, your employer will think less highly of the certification and move on to another candidate. I know because I've done this as an employer in the past.
Instead, prepare yourself for the journey. Read books like Accidental Project Manager and Accidental Agile Project Manager. Learn the basics. Look for opportunities to shadow or assist project managers and put the basics into practice. Take the time to learn and grow through experience.
Project Management Takes Many Skills
Project management as a discipline is a collection of skills. In recognition of this, the PMP is now divided into the major groups of leadership, business and strategic skills, and technical project management skills. Each of these areas has a dozen or more sub-skills. You cannot learn all these skills overnight.
Taking a journey and managing different projects with different circumstances will help you decide which skills are essential for the current stage of your trip. Focus on these and hone them - there will be opportunities to learn others with the next project. Once you have grown these skills, it will be time to consider certificates and certifications.
Practitioners Make Critical Decisions
The project management standards in the PMBOK Guide are non-prescriptive - there is no "thou shalt." The project management practitioner must decide what practices to use and when to use them. You will be making critical decisions. The critical thinking skills needed to make these decisions effectively will come from practice, training, and experience.
I started expressing an interest in project management in my career and was provided with some basic training. After that, I had an opportunity to assist a project manager. I didn't need to make the critical decisions - they did. I learned why certain practices worked and didn't, and at the same time, I learned about the norms of my organization. The next step was to have a small but essential project to lead. Management trusted me to make the right decisions. With each project, I built my skills, learned from the journey, and took a step into management in some years.
Projects Come in Many Forms
Projects can be big or small, complex or straightforward. Assignments can differ vastly by industry and organization. And even within an industry, there can be many different types of projects, each requiring further knowledge and skills. Just within our local power company, I've encountered many different kinds of projects and project managers:
- facilities projects to move people and equipment between buildings
- power infrastructure projects
- projects to manage nuclear facilities
- projects to create customer programs
- business projects to create growth
- IT projects
Think about the skills you want to gain and what projects will help you best gain them. For example, a new practitioner managing IT projects may not be helpful for a nuclear facility project. Still, at least in theory, a mature, experienced IT project manager may be considered roles in customer, infrastructure, or facilities projects. So spend time mapping out your journey, and don't be afraid to change destinations as you go.
Careers Have Ups and Downs
Every career has its ups and downs. For example, you may need to repeat some experiences to reprove yourself to a new employer or take a different position in a re-organization. In these cases, it's constructive to be on a journey rather than focusing on a destination.
Regardless of what challenge comes your way, be prepared for the next step of your journey, and you will never be disappointed. Regardless of my title or job description, I've always considered myself a project manager and always continue to learn and grow.
Want to learn more about a project management career? Check out our Careers in Project Management page. Want to help others on their journey? Share a story from your journey in the comments below!
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