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!

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