Project Management Institute

The Next Level

Sometimes the Next Career Step Isn't So Obvious; Also: How to Become an Agile Coach

By Lindsay Scott

After over 20 years managing people and projects in operational roles, I'm pursuing Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. What position should I target? I have enough experience to be above “project coordinator” and “project manager I” levels but am not sure where that puts me.

Your experience to date will be seen by hirers as informal project management. And your current lack of PMP® certification also will put you at a disadvantage in the competition for project manager roles demanding years of experience. But not all is lost.

The first thing you need to do is gain formal project management experience (as well as the PMP certification). If that means taking a project manager I level role first, do that, even if you feel overqualified. Get your foot in the door and start doing a great job.

For project managers, an obvious area is to deepen understanding of the bigger picture—the organizational and industry context in which your projects reside.

Also, be sure to build on your current experience. You might not want to pursue a project manager role in a similar environment to the one you're working in now, but your experience in the industry most likely will be the thing that opens the door to a new opportunity. Hirers are looking for formal project management and specific industry experience—without the former, I recommend leveraging your industry experience.

Finally, keep in mind that some opportunities aren't what they seem at first glance. A job posting might have a title like “project coordinator,” but the organization really might be seeking a project manager, or vice versa. Sometimes you have to just dive in—don't let anything hold you back. The best thing you can do is get out there, interview wherever you can and seek opportunities to learn which roles are suited to you as you advance toward becoming PMP-certified.


I have experience with scrum, Kanban and XP and am looking to become an agile coach. My goal is to coach project managers, CEOs and others on things like putting agile principles into practice with clients. How should I begin this journey?

A first step to consider would be obtaining an agile coaching-oriented certification from an organization like the Agile Coaching Institute. But given the current debate over whether agile coaches should gain certification in general coaching practices (rather than just agile coaching) to add credibility and stand out from the competition, you might want to consider that kind of formal training as well.

In terms of skills, working in the coaching role you describe involves four major areas—teaching, mentoring, facilitation and professional coaching. To be taken seriously, you should be able to demonstrate that you've done some coaching before and have experienced various agile approaches in a diversity of organizations—because you may want your coaching business to be active in various industries. Also, being an agile coach in a “top-down” role at the enterprise level requires more than just a technical understanding of agile—it requires expertise around organization design, change management and cultural change.

Once you have more training under your belt, the next step is to find that all-important first opportunity. It can be difficult when pursuing a new role, so you should be looking to your own network first—after all, the people in those networks know what you can deliver.

And given that the role you're seeking enters the realm of business development, and even lead generation, you need to carefully craft an elevator pitch for hooking your first piece of coaching business.

I'm a project manager thinking about my development for the coming year. How should I tackle the “strategic and business management” side of the PMI Talent Triangle®?

Strategic and business management skills are all about you helping the business succeed—so think about any kind of development that will help you achieve that. For project managers, an obvious area is to deepen understanding of the bigger picture— the organizational and industry context in which your projects reside.

Try reading some of the many reports PMI has published that highlight the links between an organization's strategic objectives and programs and projects. Strategy management and execution, and portfolio management, for example, are areas worth exploring. You also can choose to focus on areas closely related to your day job of managing projects—look at benefits management, change management and business analysis. PMI also recommends areas such as competitive analysis, market awareness, trend analysis, and business models and structures. All of these subjects can bring a different perspective or set of tools to help you deliver projects more strategically.

Then there are knowledge areas that you might not think of as strategic and business management skills—things like design thinking, data analytics and psychology. Also, many project professionals consider earning an MBA because of the degree's strategic and business management focus.

If you want your career to involve managing increasingly complex projects—or program or portfolio management—you can't afford to overlook bigger-picture knowledge and skills. PM


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image Lindsay Scott is the director of program and project management recruitment at Arras People in London, England.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.



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