Manage your career like a project—Finding a Project Manager mentor

Wow- thanks for the response to my post on “the accidental PM”!  I have received several inquiries about other job titles and how they should handle their career—I will definitely address this interesting topic again, soon. 

I know many lead developers, code jockeys, business analysts and other members of development teams that are often assigned to projects with little or no say in the process. A project manager needs your skill set and specifically requested you or you are assigned from resource management or the PMO. However, it is in your best interest to be proactive in the process by making your preferences known.

First things first. The time to think about your career is not after an assignment is made and you are stuck on a project –especially if you are being sent to a multi-year project. Rather, you need to look at where you want to be and what you want to be doing in three to five years. You may enjoy coding, QA, business analysis, architecture, or systems. Not everyone wants or needs to be a project manager or operational vice-president.

In the beginning of your career, your knowledge of the profession needs to mature. Even though you have academic training in the field and perhaps internships that added real world knowledge, the world of work is different from academic or intern assignments. So, in the initial stages of working for a living—say the first three years—you should focus on learning to work effectively on a team, meeting management expectations, and understanding the organization.

The first three years of work is the time to collect data. Beyond the project on which you are working, talk with people working on different projects about their tasks and management. It may be necessary for you to create opportunities to get to know people on other project teams. If you enjoy sports, think about joining the softball team or working out in the corporate exercise facilities. Alternatively, volunteer for an internal project that supports company community goals. File the bits of shared experiential information for future use.

After a couple years of working, conduct your own critical analysis of your skills and interests. Find capabilities that you want or need to improve. Look at tasks you enjoyed doing and excelled at and ones that were drudgery. Consider changes in your personal situation in terms of time you want to commit to your career and other obligations that may have occurred since you began work—like marriage and children. If you heard about individuals within your organization that others enjoyed working with, learning from, or just admired keep those individuals in mind when creating your career plan.

When your current assignment is within six months of completion, it is time to act for your future. Put together either formally or informally, a list of preferences for your next assignment. If there is a project you really want to work on or a manager or senior technical specialist you want to learn from, now is the time to make that preference known to the decision makers in your organization. Either schedule a meeting with those who decide your fate or as part of your annual performance review, state your preferences for future assignments and the reasons for them.

Let the decision makers know what you are doing in preparation for your preferred next assignment. Ask for their help and suggestions. Companies want happy, productive employees and it is in your best interest to tell them how to help you become the type of employee they need.

Practice patience. You may not get the ideal assignment the first time you try. However, managing your career is your job and sometimes—but not always—companies and managers remember those who stepped up for corporate priorities. However, do not give up if you do not get what you want at first. Continue to push in the direction you want your career to go.

What is PMBOK All About?

Do you know what PMBOK stands for?  Project Management Body of Knowledge—WOW, that much knowledge could send someone running for the door. However, the book that PMI sells is called “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fourth Edition”.  The operative word in the title is really the lead-in, “A Guide to …” that concept is what I think is important about the PMBoK. This book was not written on stone tablets nor is it a set of rigid rules that should be executed without deviation. It is a set of project management standards, suggestions and best practices based on the vast experience of many professionals in the field.

On and off over the next few months, I plan on walking through sections of the PMBOK on the blog and offering the advice and observations of some of my very knowledgeable colleagues on key subjects. The latest edition of the PMBOK is available from PMI for $65.95 and to PMI members and students for $49.50. (This link can change with new versions and is also available at Published in 2013, the fifth edition is over 500 pages (yes it is a big knowledge area!) and covers all aspects of project management. A digital PDF and ebook is also available.

The first chapter of the PMBOK introduces the terms, definitions, and core responsibilities of a project manager.  Terms and vocabulary are an important part of the PMBOK (Not to mention Project Management) because it is how we communicate with language that describes meaningful concepts.  For example:

“A project is a temporary endeavor to create a unique product, service, or result”


“Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and technique to project activities to meet the project requirements.”

Project managers are responsible for “initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, closing” a project. Whew! Take a deep breath; you already knew project management was a big job.

One example of a concept and definition that has now been documented in the PMBOK for some organizations is the Project Management Office (PMO). The PMO may have responsibility for acting as a surrogate for stakeholders and decision makers. It is expected to help in managing shared resources across projects, identifying, training, and coaching best practices, and monitoring compliance with standards. PMOs may also produce general project policies, procedures, and facilitate sharing knowledge across the organization.

I believe PMOs to be invaluable in large organizations with multiple projects and complex projects that last over several years. In the past, I wrote two blogs about my experience and recommendations on PMOs including Getting a PMO Right is Worth the Effort and Do you need a PMO?

An interesting take on PMOs was offered by Cornelius Fichtner on his PM Podcast , “7 Trends in PMO”,  summarized by Team Frame. He points out that today PMOs have different reporting structures based on the organization’s needs. For example:

  • Large companies tend to have a central entity
  • Medium-sized companies may also have a central PMO, but the PMs report to the line managers rather than the PMO
  • Small companies seem to focus more on Communities of Practice (you may check out “How to Grow Communities of Practice” if you want more information )

Future PMO trends according to Fichtner include companies requiring PMO experience and certification, hiring consultant PMO experts and services, and greater availability of project management tools and templates—many of which will be free or very low cost.

As with all predictions about the future, I guess we will see how many of these seven predictions come true for future PMOs. Next week, I hope to bring an interview with a senior strategist exploring his views on current PMO activities, challenges, and future trends.

So the first part of the PMBOK is targeted at concepts, language and understanding of the field.  If you are trying to understand a new area (accounting, law, sales, programming, etc) it is always important to first learn the terminology and understand the concepts of that area.

The PMBOK is not the only book that purports to document the body of knowledge called project management – but it is probably the most widely utilized.

I will be exploring other areas of the PMBOK in future posts – are there any areas that you would like to hear about?

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