Work in progress
CAREERTRACKING >> BY SARAH FISTER GALE
Slightly more than 50 percent of companies have formal project management career paths, leaving career development largely in the hands of the employees. This is what 103 presidents, vice presidents, directors and division heads in large North American companies said in a PMI survey conducted at the end of 2003 by LHK Partners Inc., in conjunction with the PMI Research Department. “Business leaders say project management is vital, but in many instances have not created the systems that support the development of project managers,” says John Roecker, Ed.D., Career Framework manager. “That means you've got to keep your career development on track and your CV up-to-date; you can't expect others to do this for you.”
Fortunately, project managers have the skills to build their own career strategy by planning their professional development like a project, and the sooner they realize that, the better, says Joe Pelletier, PMP, project manager for Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. “Individuals who know where they are going and what they want are the ones who achieve their goals.”
Mr. Pelletier has been a project manager for more than two decades, but he still regularly assesses his skills and experiences and makes training and job choices that help him fill out his resume. When he took his current job, he had an eye-opening experience about his project management skills. “I realized that, while I had an enormous amount of knowledge and experience, I needed to better organize those skills. This is when I decided that additional project management courses would be of benefit.”
A Career Plan
Raj Makhijani, PMP, used this simple project plan to map his quest for project management credentials:
Initiate the idea that you want to go back to school or get certified, given you have gained some experience and decided that you are interested and enjoy being in this field. Set a goal and stay with it.
■ Cost: Is this coming out your pocket or is the company going to pay?
■ Benefit: Is it going to benefit me at my current place of employment or will I have to move on to bigger company that has a formal organizational structure?
■ Time: Prioritize your tasks (personal and professional) and then determine when to set aside time to prepare for the exam.
■ Risks: “I don't think there is any risk when you are trying to better yourself,” Mr. Makhijani says.
■ Quality: The quality of your work, your thought process and your overall outlook will improve.
Focus on your goal. Once you surpass the initial hurdles associated with learning, you will be fine. As you get to the end, you may lose interest, and things may slip, but stay determined.
Manage the direction you want to take. You have developed a mechanism that will pull you back, rather than allow you to drift toward unrelated goals.
Once you have achieved your goal, celebrate, reward yourself and set another goal to take you to the next level.
Begin by identifying the skills you need to move ahead, suggests Dick Billows, PMP, President of 4PM.com, a Denver, Colo., USA-based project management training and consulting organization. “Defining the scope of your career is good practice for a project manager. You can decompose the steps you need to take to get from where you are today to where you want to be.”
Using a project manager assessment tool (a number of training consultancies offer their own), you can track your existing skills and experience and define how to reach the next level. “Based on that assessment, you can set measured annual outcomes, such as salary expectations, training objectives and job rankings, so there is no ambiguity about what you intend to do,” Mr. Billows says. You also should establish deadlines to meet those goals, just as you would with any project.
Learn From Others
As you assess your current and future goals, don't work in a vacuum. Ask for guidance from more senior project managers, says Tamarra Causley, an IT specific regional infrastructure coordinator for PricewaterhouseCoopers, a global professional services firm. Ms. Causley is pursuing the PMP credential, and as part of her career planning strategy, she relies on regular input and suggestions from internal mentors to make career development choices. “You would never scope a project just based on your own views,” she says. “And you can't see what's best for you unless you involve other resources.”
To gain insight on her progress, she asks her superiors why they chose her for particular assignments and talks regularly with more seasoned peers about the choices they made in their careers. “If I hadn't asked for their guidance, I might be going in a very different direction right now.”
Like Ms. Causley, Mr. Billows believes formal training should rank high among every project managers’ goals, not only to advance their own careers but also so they can impact how their companies approach project management. “It's hard to get executives on board with doing risk analysis if you don't have the training or skills to sell an idea,” he says. “Learning how to negotiate with people above you in rank is a key skill for project managers.”
Raj Makhijani, PMP, senior project engineer for Vyteris, a pharmaceutical company in Fair Lawn, N.J., USA, agrees. Like many in the field, he spent years managing projects as part of his job as an electrical engineer, but received little formal training. Along the way, he learned to recognize the skills and experiences he was lacking, such how to lead team members. To fill the gaps, after eight years as an informal project manager, he went back to school and got his Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification in 2001. “I knew I was weak in certain areas and there were things I didn't understand,” he says. “Everyone around me was 10 years younger and I wanted to stay on top.”
Career Tracking Tools to Debut
PMI’s new Career Framework Initiative is developing two tools to assist corporations in the professional development and career advancement of its project managers. Among these are a Learning Management System (LMS) and Learning Content Management System (LCMS) to help companies assess project managers' skills and competencies, identify gaps and establish career development goals.
The Learning Content Management System (LCMS) will act as a portal to vast learning resources, including hundreds of journal and magazine articles from the PMI® James R. Snyder Center for Project Management Knowledge and Wisdom, book excerpts and courses provided by PMI and its registered education providers around the world.
Additional PMI resources are:
■ 11 project management job definitions
■ Project management, interpersonal and leadership competencies
■ PMI standards including A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Third Edition and the Project Manager Competency Development Framework
■ PMP® and CAPM® credentials
■ PMI's Basic Knowledge Assessment
■ Educational offerings from both PMI and PMI's
Registered Education Provider (REP) program.
As envisioned by the Career Framework Initiative, companies would institute the LMS to help employees guide their own careers and define their own professional development needs. The LCMS would be the tool employees use to help point them to specific professional development courses or materials. These tools are being designed to help companies better define the role of project managers in the corporate structure, says Dr. John Roecker, Career Framework manager. Because there are so many variables in defining project management for different companies and industries, the tools can be used as a template for companies to define the competencies, experience, skills and necessary educational background the corporation requires for its project managers. “It's a whole set of tools that the human resources organization can use to build a career ladder,” Dr. Roecker says.
PMI aims to spread the use of these tools to smaller organizations, thus helping them mature and furthering the project management profession as a whole. The tools will be released in 2006.
His PMP training further helped him evaluate his career and set a path for his professional future. “The same tools apply,” he says. “I use the nine knowledge areas of project management to set goals, do planning and risk analysis and manage my time.”
He continues to set formal goals for his career that include salary increases and more senior job titles, as well as plans for continued education. “There is no risk associated with knowledge gain,” he says. “The quality of your work always will be better with training.”
Sarah Fister Gale, a Minneapolis, Minn., USA-based freelance writer, has written for Workforce Magazine, Training Magazine, Cleanrooms and Food Safety.
CAREERTRACK www.pmi.org MAY 2005