The phone call normally starts with, “I’m not sure you can help me but I’m trying to get into project management?”
In the last few weeks we’ve had phone calls from a police officer, a warrant officer, a doctor, a primary school teacher, a TV producer and a farmer!
All of these people are looking to get into a job as a project manager.
What makes them think they could do it?
They always cite ‘transferable skills’ like good organisational skills, good communication techniques and the ability to get things done.
My answer is, those sound like good skills for any job, so why specifically do these skills make you think you’ll make it as a project manager?
It’s an interesting development for project management that many people from different and diverse professions, from the outside looking in, think it’s easy to just drop an existing career and become a project manager.
Most of the callers have made the first step, they’ve invariably done the PRINCE2 Foundation accreditation. They’re now ready to apply for a job.
What does this say about project management? How has it come to this point that a 3 day course (in anything!) makes you ready to apply for a job in a completely new field?
The initial conversation that Arras People has with people looking to get into project management is to talk about the difference between informal and formal project management. We’ve written about that before. It’s important that anyone looking to get into project management recognises and acts on the differences.
We also highlight how PRINCE2 is not the right thing to pursue initially when you’re trying to build up your knowledge. We’ve also written about that too in What Can I Do After I’ve Got My PRINCE2 Foundation?
To illustrate the point about PRINCE2 we ask callers to imagine their first day on the job when someone asks them to produce a project schedule, with a work breakdown structure and highlighting the critical path. It is this that highlights just how formal project management differs from the ability to be ‘organised and just get stuff done’. It’s also when you ask a question like this that people suddenly realise there’s a hell of a lot more to project management than they’ve been led to believe.
It’s a worrying trend we’re seeing at the moment and one which the project management industry as a whole should be concerned about. How can we seriously have discussions about project management being a profession or being eligible for chartered status if people think it’s a job that anyone can do after three days methodology training?
I totally believe that anyone has what it takes to be a project manager, with the right training and development, with skills and experiences built up over time. What I can’t believe is how many people think this can be achieved in a week.
What’s the first step to a solution? There has to be a real concerted effort to have all parts of the project management industry to come together to provide a uniform and structured way to start working within project management. That means employing organisations; training providers; professional associations (that’s all of them, talking together rather than trying to compete!); academic institutes and of course people like us, Arras People, in recruitment.
There has to be an accepted standard which helps people to make the right initial steps in their education and training.We all know that learning the basic techniques in project management are way more important than learning about one methodology (PRINCE2). So what are the basic techniques? What options in learning about these techniques are the best for the individual and for organisations looking to recruit entry-level positions? What are the best options for the project management industry too? We want to promote project management as a serious business role, so what constitutes basic training? What does advanced training look like?
There also has to be better education of organisations that use project management. Too many organisations also think project management can be picked up by anyone within the business in addition to their day job, after all it’s just about being organised and getting stuff done isn’t it, how hard can that be?
The lack of clear direction from the collective project management industry on how to become a project manager has meant that people are trying to find their own way based on snippets of marketing, information and hearsay. We should be encouraging people who are interested to do so in a way that benefits everyone. It’s about time stronger guidance was available to ensure people can make an informed choice about realistically how long it can take and what levels of knowledge and experience are required. When the project management industry does this we might have the beginnings of a new business profession. Dare I even say we might have a better success rate on projects too.