Project Management Institute

A defined plan


Few things in life can prove as simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying as career planning. On one hand, a well-defined road map can help a project manager transform goals and dreams into reality. On the other hand, developing a focused strategy can seem like a journey into a netherworld of perplexing and sometimes frightening issues.

For project managers, career planning can be especially challenging. Not only is the work complex by nature, but the specific skills required to drive personal and organizational success fall somewhere between logic and intuition. There's no single approach for climbing the organizational ladder.

“It's essential to put thought and planning into the process,” says Roger D. Beatty, Ph.D., PMP, director of the security practice at CA Inc., Reston, Va., USA, and an alumnus of the PMI Leadership Institute Masters Class program.

It's not easy to determine the particular career milestones every project manager should meet. On top of that, project managers must position themselves to show they have continually advanced and have not missed important career steps.

“Seemingly small decisions can have an enormous impact on how a person develops and what course their career trajectory takes,” says David A. Link, managing consultant at Knowledge Infusion, a human resources consulting firm in Minneapolis, Minn., USA. “Those who take career planning seriously and engage in a personal management process increase their odds for success.”

Projecting Success

Effective career planning is more than a series of random decisions based on gut feelings. As the workplace becomes more complex, the need to manage the tangle of professional choices and decisions becomes more urgent. Moreover, there's a greater emphasis today on life-stage transitions and self-actualization. In many cases, project managers are seeking a breadth of knowledge rather than focusing entirely on upward mobility.

Make no mistake: It's a different working world than only a generation ago. Individuals must react more quickly and decisively—all while wading through complex issues. Mounir A. Ajam, PMP, believes that establishing a set of career milestones is easier said than done. The CEO at SUKAD FZ-LLC, a Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based project management consultancy and training firm, says an emerging challenge is the lack of a typical career path for any given position. Increasingly, different educational paths, knowledge and experience lead to the same position within a company.

Putting a Résumé to Work

At some point, climbing the career ladder means searching for a new job. And when the day of reckoning arrives, it is essential to have an outstanding résumé in place. To show you have successfully advanced and taken advantage of learning opportunities along the way, follow these tips:

  • Make sure your résumé has a clear objective, says David R. Link, Knowledge Infusion.
  • Emphasize your strongest skills and accomplishments, and focus on specific examples of how you saved your employer money or improved processes.
  • Be willing to acknowledge skill and employment gaps in an interview—and consider addressing a skill gap through a training course as a condition of employment.

As a result, a formalized career development process is essential. Mr. Ajam says the basis for success is a strategic plan that extends five to 10 years. Then, on at least an annual basis, the project manager must update the plan and “monitor whether you are on track,” he says. “It may be as simple as updating milestones, or it may lead to an entirely new career path.”

Indeed, keeping options open and looking for emerging opportunities can pay enormous dividends. It's also wise to view timeframes as somewhat flexible. “The idea is to move in a general direction toward a goal. Some variation from the original plan is inevitable,” Mr. Ajam says.

Skipping steps and moving quickly up the career ladder can prove alluring, but such an approach comes with risks. The most obvious is that it can lead to gaps in skills and knowledge—and these weaknesses sometimes become visible as a project manager gains authority and responsibility.

Making Analysis Count

One approach is to use SWOT analysis, a technique designed to help a person identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. For example, an individual might answer a series of questions about strengths and weaknesses focusing on knowledge, skills, experience, respect, relationships, organizational skills or leadership ability.

Throughout the process, project managers must address issues honestly, and if a skill or knowledge gap exists, target the required training or knowledge. The end result is a specific blueprint for exploiting strengths, addressing weaknesses, appraising opportunities and coping with threats.

In assessing career objectives, developing a strong road map can go a long way toward achieving success, says Michael Yinger, the principal at Customer Solutions Inc., a Parker, Colo., USA, consulting firm.

Building a Framework

Developing a focused career strategy can determine whether a project manager flourishes or flounders. Yet, achieving results is easier said than done—especially when many companies aren't offering a way up the corporate ladder.

“Only 30 percent of corporations worldwide have formal project management career paths,” says John Roecker, Ed.D., manager of PMI‘s new career framework. “This has forced many individuals to leave the project management profession and choose another, such as management or IT, in order to continue to advance their careers.”

To address the problem, PMI developed the career framework to guide project managers through career choices by providing a complete job ladder that covers the spectrum of project management positions.

Scheduled to be released in May 2007, PMI‘s career framework also provides assessments, information, templates and tools for project managers. Individuals can measure strengths and weaknesses, and create a strategy for developing the skills and competencies required for advancement. Possible milestones include Project Management Professional (PMP®), Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) and Program Management Professional (PgMPSM) credentials. Other parts of that strategy might include development programs such as training, seminars and e-learning initiatives offered by PMI, PMI chapters and PMI Registered Education Providers (R.E.P.s).

What makes the career framework so powerful is that it brings together a vast array of resources that helps both individuals looking to fulfill their potential and organizations wanting to develop project management career paths.

A career path should provide detailed criteria revolving around performance and personal competencies, including communication and leadership skills, cognitive abilities, effectiveness and professionalism. It should list specific qualities and traits, and provide specific examples of desirable behavior. Most importantly, it should provide an outline for professional development.

Those who fall short should consider attending workshops or classes—either on their own or as part of their company's training or continuing education program.

Ultimately, a career plan should be viewed in a similar light as continuous quality improvement initiatives within an organization, Dr. Beatty says. “The plan is subject to dynamic forces—even a person who is executing a plan perfectly can face unexpected challenges, redirection or total derailment,” he says. Dr. Beatty recommends developing a risk mitigation plan and nurturing a personal network to fall back on in the event of a layoff or an undesirable work situation.

Finally, pay close attention to the emotional aspects of career planning, such as stressing over whether a decision was right or wrong. “In many cases, it is impossible to return to a particular decision point in the past,” Dr. Beatty says. “The best approach is to honor your decision, learn lessons from it and proceed with confidence toward the next opportunity.”


Samuel Greengard is a West Linn, Ore., USA-based freelance writer whose articles have appeared in AARP, American Way, Business Finance, Industry Week and Workforce Management.

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.

<< << MAY 2007



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