How To Become A Project Manager
The Definitive Guide to understanding the Role and Responsibilities of a Project Manager.
Think about how many times you have heard people at work, or friends and family, talk about things they would like to do or want to get done but never do anything about it.
Ideas or opinions exchange on how things should be fixed but never any execution and implementation of those ideas.
What about things that have to get done. It could be something at home like cleaning out the garage or painting the trim. At work it could be a process that needs changing , a new mandate from senor leadership, or a new initiative to attract more customers.
Whatever the case may be, if you want to get things done, your best bet is to have a project manager develop a plan, execute the plan, and get results.
The purpose of this guide is to help you become a successful project manager.
Start at the top or feel free to jump to any section that interests you.
- Become a Project Manager
- Become an MVP
- How to get Certified
- Project Manager Characteristics
- Types of Meetings – Important Technique
- Traditional Project Hierarchy
- Be Organized – Folder Hierarchy
- Common Mistakes
How to Become a Project Manager
To become a project manager you need three things:
- An Opportunity to Lead a Project,
- Project Management Training
- Project Management Tools
The opportunity to lead a project will come easier than knowing what to do and how to project manage but, with training, the proper tools, and some practice you will become a successful project manager.
Let’s start with opportunities to lead a project. They do exist but need uncovering. This process is opportunity-discovery which has three parts.
- The first part of this process is to understand supply and demand for project managers. Most companies have initiatives and projects which need launching but have limited qualified people to lead the project. Sure in the IT Department there might be certified project managers also known as PMPs (Project Management Professionals) but, in most other departments there are occasional project managers who have managed a few projects or folks who have done none at all. Even in the IT Department there likely is a need for someone to lead or assist. Look at the many employment studies which state the growing demand for qualified project managers.
- Second part in the opportunity-discovery process is understanding the breakdown of how initiatives or projects get their start. Every division or department should have goals which evolve based on many factors like revenue, customers, outside influences, or resources. First the goals of the department need establishing. Goals are the things you want to do either short term, long term, or both. For example what do you want to do for the first quarter or for the whole year. Second, short or long term strategies need developing. At a high level, the strategies are how to achieve the goals. Third, the strategies need implementing. This step starts with setting high level priorities and deadlines. Developing project schedules and plans is next. In other words, make a business case then start and launch a project to achieve the goals. That is how a project can start.
- Third part in the opportunity-discovery process is to volunteer. Make sure your manager and other department leaders are aware of your willingness to lead a project. Even if there is no project announcement, let it be known that you would like to volunteer to manage the next project.
To recap, the three parts of the opportunity-discovery process is first understanding supply and demand for project managers. Second is knowing how projects start and third part is volunteering.
But before you volunteer to lead a project, you need to learn and master the fundamentals of project management in order for you and the project to have success. Project management training is the second thing you need to become a project manager.
- Understanding what is a project and what is a project manager is fundamental. Projects are temporary by nature and are not operational. Like a house, projects need a foundation and a structure. When you go to work, there are processes and workflows which you follow even if you don’t recognize it. You likely have a manager who expects certain things from you day to day and week by week. The job you do has certain responsibilities and expected outcomes. When it comes to a project, processes need to be “stood up” and established in order for completion of work. As a project manager this is your fundamental responsibility, to bring structure and a framework to the project and then ensure that structure stays in place until there is an outcome.
- Mastering the fundamentals also starts with awareness and understanding of project management terminology. For example, project charter, stakeholders, deliverables, project risks, scope, and so on. You don’t need to memorize a dictionary of terms but you will see benefit if you understand the basic concepts of project management terminology.
- Another part of mastering the fundamentals is being aware of different project management methodologies. Methodologies are the ways to conduct projects such as what techniques, procedures, practices, and rules. Being aware of different project methodologies is important because it provides you choices on how to approach your project in the most efficient way. There are always best practices but what methods work for your project is what you should consider. If you have a small project with only a few people involved then your approach and method would be different then a large complex project. On a small project you would not use every technique and practice available because it is not necessary. On a large complex project you might find benefit incorporating a more robust method.
- Also part of mastering the fundamentals is understanding project management principles. A principle is a fundamental law or doctrine. In other words a principle is a belief or a standard of how things should conduct or work. In project management there are many different principles which project managers follow. For example, a basic but important principle to remember, “projects are temporary” and will come to an end. Another principle is “change is constant” on projects and that change needs managing. Utilizing “project tools are essential” for any project is another principle. “Writing down clear project objectives” can make a big difference especially on projects which last for months and is a principle every project should consider. One of the most common beliefs on projects is “communication is vital”. Successful projects are hard to come by if certain principals are not followed or even established.
The third aspect you need to become a project manager are project management tools. Learning and mastering fundamentals also includes understanding and using project management tools. To understand project tools, it is good to start with the basics. Projects are temporary and need project managers to develop structure and processes. In project management plans and documents (tools) are inputs or outputs of a process. Techniques such as meetings and/or expert judgement use the inputs to provide outputs. These are the basic elements of a process. For example a team meeting should start with an agenda, this is your input. The meeting itself is the technique to do all sorts of things such as plan, deliberate, inform, and many other activities. The results of the meeting are the outputs like meeting notes, a creation of a plan, or documents such as a project charter, status report, or lessons learned.
To become a project manager you need to start with training to understand the terminology and methodologies. You will also need access to and understand how to use project management tools as you work through the project management processes and principles.
Start with the fundamentals and practice with the best tools so when the opportunity comes for you to lead you will be ready and will be successful.
Become the MVP – Most Valuable Project Manager
One of the easiest ways to get recognized as the most valuable project manager in your department or your entire organization is to introduce project management standardization. This is low-hanging-fruit.
Most organizations or companies have limited project management maturity which means there is little to no process in place. Mark Mullaly conducted a study in 2017 and the results showed that less than 2% of organizations have any project management maturity.
The question to ask, does your organization have a project management office (PMO) outside the IT Department’s domain?. If the answer is no, then become the MVP who introduces project management standardization.
How do you introduce project management standardization? You will need three things:
- First you will need Step-by-Step Guides.
- Second you will need Standard Project Tools (Templates).
- Third you will need Training Videos.
By introducing project management standardization, you will be benefiting the company, the projects, and yourself.
How to get PMP Certified.
If you are interested in getting you PMP certification, watch this short video clip to understand the steps you must take to get certified.
Project Manager Characteristics
Leadership, having integrity, organized, understanding strategy, having resolve, and determination are a few of the characteristics of being a great project manager.
Teams will follow leaders who are honest and have a vision.
Teams won’t follow someone disorganized, without a clear direction, or a pathway to the objectives.
Project managers should be technical with processes and tools but you should also be a leader and a communicator with a focus on unifying and completing successful engagements.
These are a few of the characteristics which make a great project manager. There are many more.
Project Meetings are an Important Technique
Effective meeting management is when productive meetings occur with the right people, frequency, and purpose. As a project manager, it is your role to ensure proper meetings get scheduled and occur with meaningful attendance and output.
The project manager does not need to lead every meeting but does need to ensure someone is leading and following meeting protocol.
Proper and effective meetings will have an agenda delivered before the meeting and notes taken to capture ideas, decisions, and next steps. You don’t want to leave a meeting without documentation because information gets forgotten.
There are valuable types of meetings which should be a part of any project. Below is a list of the types of meetings you should consider incorporating into your projects.
Types of Meetings:
- Kick-Off Meetings
- The purpose is to discuss the project objectives, stakeholders, roles and responsibilities, and other project communication. This meeting occurs before the planning process for small projects and before executing process for large projects if all project team members are not part of planning, only execution.
- Status Meetings
- The purpose is to inform and create awareness of the progress of the project and to highlight any variances or risks.
- Working Meetings
- The purpose is to complete tasks or to plan activities. These meetings are to produce an output.
- Change Control Meetings
- The purpose is to discuss and decide on formal submitted changes to the project. This meeting is essential to control scope.
- Lessons Learned Meetings
- The purpose is review and discuss project lessons learned. This meeting can occur at different times of the project life cycle.
- Team Meetings
- The purpose is to communicate with the team. This could be announcements, or discuss high level issues, or the meeting could be an opportunity to build ongoing team unity.
Meetings can also be a good tool in resolving problems. One of the best methods to address a critical issue is to schedule an ad hoc meeting to define the problem, troubleshoot the issues by looking for the root cause, and then coming up with possible solutions. Project managers might not be the ones who can solve all the problems on a project but a project manager can create a platform, a meeting, to get the right parties together to search for solutions.
Keep in mind too many meetings can lead to unproductive days so there needs to be a balance but, meetings are a fundamental technique that every good project manager uses.
Traditional Project Hierarchy
A traditional project hierarchy starts with a sponsor or oversight committee such as a steering committee. Next is the project manager (you) who reports to the sponsor and stakeholders utilizing tools such as a status report with information about the project and possible variances. Also communicating risks and issues to the sponsor or steering committee to provide awareness or for direction on how to avoid problems. Next would be the project team who work on all aspects of the project from planning to executing the project activities. The project team will report progress to the project manager along with identified risks or issues.
The project hierarchy could be very simple. The project sponsor could be your boss who wants a new company policy implemented in your department. You will be the project manager. The project team could be one other person who will assist. Or the project could be large and complex and have you as the project manager, a steering committee of twenty members, and a project team of hundred plus.
An important item to consider, there will be times, and it could be the majority of the time, when the project team members are not your direct reports in the company. The team members might work on your project but they report to another department manager. Navigating how to manage people who don’t report to you is testing your soft skill, conflict management, and negotiation skills. The best project managers can get people to follow and work as a team.
Stakeholders are a big part of the project hierarchy because of their influence and affect on the project or how the project affects stakeholders. Communicate information to the stakeholders and information will come from the stakeholders.
All projects are different in size, scope, and complexity and the structure of the project will change depending on many variables. But whatever the type or scale of the project, it is important to know the underlining elements which make up the project hierarchy so that the right people stay inform and decision making is at the appropriate level.
Be Organized – Folder Hierarchy
Project tools, documents, and plans are important for any project large or small. Keeping track of every item can get overwhelming especially over time when meetings are taking place daily. Being organized will help you reduce confusion and enable you to access information on time.
Looking at the Folder Hierarchy Diagram, you should first create folders at the highest level or also referred to as the “parent-level”. For example, project documents and project management plans are parent-level folders. You should also consider having folders at the parent-level for items you know you will need access such as issues or steering committee.
Next you will have the “child-level” folders which fall under the parent folder. For example, in the project documents folder you will use individual child-level folders for the different tools on the project such as the risk register. The actual risk register will be in the risk register folder.
If you start off each project and create a folder hierarchy of parent- level and child-level then you will have a structure to keep the project organized. As the items start to accumulate, you will be ready to manage the volume.
Having tools, documents, and plans organized in simple folder hierarchy will allow you to find what you need fast. Time is one of your most important resources so don’t waste it looking for items which are not organized.
Communication is important on any project. Successful projects have well-managed communication. Communication comes in many forms such as status reports, meetings, emails, etc. It is important to utilize communication channels that work for the project size and complexity. If the project is small with only a handful of people involved, it is still useful to have status reports and written communication to avoid any confusion. Experienced project managers will say that communication is 80% to 90% of their job.
Common Mistakes by Project Managers
When you play the iconic ‘80s video game Pacman, you need to know where you are going and avoid the “ghosts”. In project management, setting objectives, planning, communication, and documentation are vital. Knowing what mistakes to avoid is as important as knowing what to do and where to go.
Not documenting objectives is one of the biggest mistakes any project manager can make. Projects can go on for weeks, months, or even for years. As time passes, the intent of the project can fade or forgotten if clear objectives were not documented. Developing a project charter at the start of any project is a recommendation. For smaller projects, the charter should be simple to describe the project’s goals and objectives.
No change control process in place can create issues, known as scope creep, which leads to big mistakes. When changes to the project happen without a formal approval process then risks and issues will occur and the project could be in jeopardy. Every project should have a change management process to deal with changes. As a project manager, when you become aware of scope creep, you should consider the changes might have major impact on the project and insist the item go through change control. The more the project team and stakeholders are aware of the importance of change control the more often everyone will comply.
Not enough communication is another common mistake by project managers. Projects will have to address issues or risks. When teams are working in silos then information is not shared. When decisions are being made by one group and those decision are not shared with others then communication is not flowing and people are not informed. If the project team is asking questions about information that should be well known, then something is wrong. Communication is one of the key ingredients for a successful project. As the project manager, if you are seeing communication breakdown then you should mitigate the issues immediately.
Not tracking variances is another common mistake. For instance, the project is not tracking towards a deadline and the gap is starting to get larger. This is problem but not uncommon. Variances will be a part of any project. But, if your project schedule and budget are both having many variances, then your project could be failing. This seems obvious but so often project schedules and budgets are not maintained and reviewed on a regular basis. Variances could be occurring, but nobody is aware because no one is tracking. Regular review of schedules and budgets should be a constant activity for project managers to avoid failure.
Poor planning is one mistake project managers want to avoid. During planning, determination and documentation of the when, where, how, what, and by who takes place. All documents used during the project get developed during the planning process. To ensure an optimal execution of the project, project managers need to put time and effort into planning. Plans are usually needed for each key area of the project and without them, the project is not going to be successful.