Understanding the Steps to Developing Your Project Management Career

This is a very exciting time for Project Management with the APM Chartership elevating us to be a profession in our own right. So, whether you are starting out fresh in project management or looking to develop your career further, the question remains “How do practitioners develop their project management careers”?

At Project Challenge in October 2018 Novare Consulting co-founders and directors Sian Ferguson and Chris Ferguson provided us with a guide to:

  • The qualifications on offer and what you should consider when choosing them.
  • The skills and competencies required for moving from project to programme and then to portfolio roles.
  • Competencies and experience needed for different types of project.

Project Management Qualifications

Understanding what project management qualification is right for you can be a headache (especially if you’re only just starting out in your career). People ask us daily: What qualification should I start with? And it’s a question that has a different answer for each individual.

Before starting any qualifications you need to ask yourself these 3 questions to identify the ones that are best suited to you:

  1. What is your current role profile?
  2. What is your current competency level?
  3. What are your training options (intensive course, night/weekend college etc)?

Thinking about your career goals and what direction you want to go in will also help. Asking these questions means that you won’t waste any time and money on qualifications that are not relevant to the career you want.

So who provides the qualifications?

There are 4 main bodies who provide qualifications, they are:

  • APM – Have a number of certifications as well as releasing the professional charter ChPP earlier this year. They are mainly based in Europe and talk to professionals about what the professions needs and where it is going.
  • AXELOS – Uses the Best Management Practise toolkit qualifications and are the home of the famous PRINCE2.
  • APMG – Their certifications are based on tools and techniques such as: agile, change management and benefits management.
  • PMI – Are a not for profit organisation based in the USA. Qualifications based on the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PM BoK).

Starting out in Project Management

One of the hardest parts of developing your project management career is getting it started in the first place. For most, it is a second career that they will have accidentally fallen into (often from being asked to pick up a few jobs on a project in their current organisation). This is the kind of experience you will need to break into an entry-level role, just having a qualification often isn’t enough.

Therefore being in an organisation with a project management function is important. If you are struggling to land a role in project management then looking for a similar role to what you already have in a place that runs regular projects would be recommended. From that point, you can start to show interest in the project department and make yourself available to help out on any projects if needed. This is a good way of testing the waters and seeing if project management is a good fit for you.

If your organisation then starts to look for entry-level roles such as: Project Admin, Project Support etc you should be in a good position to get the role as you know the business and you will have helped out on their projects already. The qualifications you should be looking at for this level are: APM – Project Fundamentals Qualification (PFQ) and the PRINCE2 Foundation.

Once you have gotten experience at entry level and you have gained a good understanding for projects you should be looking to then take on your own smaller project. Before doing this make sure that the project is the right level for you (non-complex) and that you will be able to get the right training and support from your boss.

There are a few training courses to look at for this stage of your career including: APM – Project Management Qualification (PMQ) and Project Professional Qualification (PPQ), PRINCE2 Practitioner (if you have completed foundation) and PMI – PMO.

Moving from Project to Programme Management

Good project managers will look to take this step. However, not all good Project Managers make good Programme Managers. You need to make sure that you have experience in complex project environments as well as being comfortable in those situations.

The conversations you will be having as a Programme Manager will be more business focused rather than technical so having a good understanding of the environment you’re working in is vital as well as having a good business sense of the delivery.

The qualifications to look at for this level are the AXELOS Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) and PMI Programme Management Certification (PgMP). The more popular of the two is the MSP as it is the only qualification at programme level that actually teaches you how to run programmes.

Taking on Portfolio Management

For a Portfolio Manager, the main focus is on the organisation as a whole and where it is going. You need to be able to see the “bigger picture” as well as being analytical and strategic. The role will require communication with the most senior members of the organisation so having a good relationship with them and being able to communicate comfortably and confidently about strategy is important.

Leadership at a senior level such as: Function Head, Programme Manager or Senior Project Manager will be required to make the step into Portfolio Management as well as an understanding of the whole organisation.

The qualifications you should look to take at this level are: AXELOS Management of Portfolios (MoP) and PMI Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP). Again the AXELOS MoP is the only one that teaches you how to manage a portfolio. It is cut from the same cloth as PRINCE2 and MSP so it is a natural step up for anyone who has taken those accreditations.

Progress at Your Own Pace

When starting and progressing your project management career it is important that you move through the stages at your own pace. Feel confident to turn down work you don’t think you are ready for, and when you are ready, make sure you get the right development and training to guide you through it. If you move up too quickly and don’t get the right support behind you it will make you feel out of depth, potentially putting you off the profession.

Novare Consulting will help guide and consult you as a project manager through your career, offering training that is specifically right for your needs and environment. Helping you to take your career in the direction that you want it to go in.

Novare Consulting recently presented at Project Challenge 2018, you can watch Sian and Chris’ presentation below.




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