Career Planning Resources for Project Managers

People often think about where their project management career is going when they hit one of those “X0” birthday milestones (20, 30, 40, 50, and 60). Something about transitioning to the next decade in our life causes us to reflect on where we are and where we are going in the time we have left. David Pells, writing for PM World in August 2007 suggests that there are seven stages in a project management career that may loosely map to those milestone birthdays:

  • Learning
  • Contributing
  • Leading
  • Creating change
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Contributing to the professional
  • Advising and mentoring

His list reflects my thoughts and experience for those who enter and choose to remain in project management throughout their careers. As I mentioned last week, your life’s work has options that can apply your PM skills in creative ways such as teaching, working for non-profit organizations, and becoming an entrepreneur. All of which got me to thinking about resources that can help you reflect and plan your career in more effective ways.

Learn from the best:

  • Join PMI and take advantage of the extraordinary depth of written and presentation resources there. Attend their local and regional conferences. PMI’s credentials are recognized worldwide as a demonstration of commitment and professionalism. At the national and regional PMI sponsored meetings, you can make contacts useful to your career, learn from the best and most seasoned PMs, and perhaps forge some enduring friendships.
  • Review professional classified ads for project and program managers. I suggest this not as the first step in job hunting, but rather as a way to understand the expectations of hiring organizations in terms of skills, experience, and qualifications.
  • To get the 50,000ft view of management (as in project management), read biographies and autobiographies of significant business leaders and mangers. At the twilight of their careers, they often write about what they did, what worked and what did not, and share their insights. One of the more prolific writers is Jack Welsh, previously CEO of General Electric. Marcus Buckingham’s First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently is well-written and informative. Only the Paranoid Survive and High Output Management by Andy Grove are worth reading.
  • At a more practical level for project managers, I recommend Making Things Happen by Scott Berkun previously with Microsoft. And, Leading a Software Development Team: A developer’s guide to successfully leading people & projects by Richard Whitehead offers practical advice in a well-written package.
  • If you are primarily working in the software world, a couple classics that have withstood the test of time are Fred Brooks’, The Mythical Man-Month and Quality Software Management by Gerald Weinberg.

Get some help figuring out what you want to do
If reading about management and studying lessons has opened your mind to possibilities for your career, the next step is to look at yourself. There are several “what do you want to be when you grow up” tests on line. All I can say about this is BEWARE!

Read some books to get you thinking about your career.  What Color Is Your Parachute?  has been the best-selling job-hunting and career planning book in the world for more than three decades, in good times and bad, and it continues to be a fixture on best-seller lists. An interesting article, “Seven Rules about Taking Career Test” provides valid observations and thoughtful recommendations on this subject. Written by Richard Bolles, author of the classic “What Color is Your Parachute”, the summary points of the article are:

  • There is no one test that everyone loves.
  • There is no one test that always gives better results than others.
  • No test should necessarily be assumed to be accurate.
  • You should take several tests, rather than just one.
  • Always let your intuition be your guide.
  • Don’t let tests make you forget that you are absolutely unique on the face of the earth.
  • You are never finished with a test until you’ve done some good hard thinking about yourself.

And one last thought – one of the most useful resources for your career planning, in my experience, is having a coach—someone who has been there and done that. If you can find a coach or mentor interested in working with you as you consider your options and look for ways to make your dreams something more than pixie dust, that coach’s support and counsel is invaluable.  Relationships like this can be the best career guidance you have.  A good book on building relationships is “It’s Not Business, It’s Personal: The 9 Relationship Principles That Power Your Career” by Ronna Lichtenberg.  Many business authors speak from the perspective of their own experience in assessing human relationships. This excellent book expands that perspective to include the observations of many business, artistic, and athletic leaders into a series of nine principles.

I hope this post helps those of you who are looking at 2010 as a time to re-visit your career and make plans to take charge of it.  Please feel free to share thoughts, resources, experience, and advice with other project managers as they navigate the minefield of career planning by leaving a comment here.

Happy New Year 2010!

Calling Project Managers – Is Your Career on Track

I am not intending to provoke smart comments such as “track, what track? I thought that light was a train coming at me.” — even though that may be tempting. However, the train track is a good metaphor for your career, especially when you consider that there are many routes to a final destination. Therefore, as 2009 moves to close, I wanted to talk a bit about project management career planning to all of you project managers (I assume there are some reading this Blog!).

As busy as you may be keeping your project(s) on budget, schedule, and quality, it is important that you take some time—and the upcoming holidays provide that opportunity—to see how your career is doing. First, think about what you want to be doing in two, five, and ten years. Don’t think about job titles, but rather desired tasks and responsibilities (including salary goals).

If you get stuck on this step, reflect on what you like about your current job, what you do not like, what you find appealing in the responsibilities of others in your profession, and lines in the sand you might draw that prohibit taking advantage of certain opportunities. Here are some quick bullet points to consider:

  • Would you move to improve your career
  • How much travel are you willing to do—many senior management jobs require extensive travel
  • Do you enjoy getting new business for your company—a big part of a senior manager’s responsibility involves building the business including using personal time for business-related socializing
  • Are you willing to make less money initially or take greater risks to become an entrepreneur
  • Do you really enjoy managing people
  • Do you prefer the technology of your job more than the people management part

Next, think about your options. Do not limit yourself to positions in your current organizational structure, although that is a good place to begin (especially if you have a great role model or mentor). Be willing to think about other types of organizations and jobs that your skills and interests complement such as teaching, training, business start-ups, consulting, as well as ever-increasing management responsibility. Think about the skills, duties, and compensation of the people doing those jobs.

Steps one and two are about who you are, what you want, and how much you are willing to trade to achieve your goals. Once you have honestly thought about some desirable interim and end results, your practical career plan should identify the requisite skills and experience needed to get from where you are now to where you want to be. You may need additional education, certification, more responsibility, or experience in other aspects of the business such as marketing, finance, training, or research.

For next year, pick two things you need to do to move forward in your career and do them. One final thought: everyone does not always have to move up or out to be successful and happy.

In my next post I will give some of my favorite resources (Books, articles, web sites) that can help you with your career planning.

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