The right steps to a project management career

There are lots of people in the UK currently working in a job where project management forms a significant part of what they do – yet they don’t carry that job title nor are they really recognised within the organisation or trained.

A lot of these people are happy in the knowledge that their job is interesting and challenging, ‘it is what it is’ and have no desire to take it further.

For others, this taste of project management, often carried out in an ‘informal’ project setting, is enough to whet the appetite and seek out a change in their careers. In fact, it is this group of people who ask for advice in getting into project management more than any others.

There are four things to consider when making the change – and gaining a ‘proper’ project management job.

What is a ‘proper’ project management job?

First up, there is a need to understand the difference between what you already know – the ‘informal’ way you may have been delivering projects versus a more ‘formal’ prescribed way, using industry standards, methods, processes and tools.

This is not about jumping straight into a PRINCE2 course but about understanding the nuts and bolts of how projects are delivered.

Project management introduction courses that teach the core principles – reading the PM Body of Knowledge or getting ready to undertake certifications such as PMI’s CAPM and PMP are the first stages in increasing your project management knowledge.

Translate what you already have

Once you begin to understand the formal methods, it becomes much easier to translate your current experiences into the language and terminology of project management.

It’s crucial that you do this as you begin to pursue new opportunities. Why? If you want a new role as a project practitioner you have to be able to show and tell people that, “Yes, I do have experience in project environments and whilst I might have used the term “research” instead of “requirements gathering” in my previous role, I do know what that means and what I have to do.

Start making it formal now

Once you begin the journey of bolstering your knowledge through training and other professional development activities, it stands to reason that you will want to put some of this new found knowledge into practice. So start doing that. In your current role, start introducing new, more formal ways of project management delivery into your ‘informal’ role.

It doesn’t need to be everything you’ve learnt. Start with something small – perhaps take a look at how you’re currently scheduling, if you’re not using a Gantt chart, try that first. If you’re not currently performing risk management, start introducing some of the basic concepts.

If you start turning the knowledge you have gained into practical application, that is half the battle already won.

Stay or go

You have two choices in gaining a ‘proper’ project management position. It could happen in the current organisation you work for or you leave and find another opportunity.

Many organisations that have low maturity in project management – or ‘informal projects’ – do not always want to stay at that level.

If an organisation has ambition to instigate more projects and become an increasingly project-centric business, it stands to reason that success will not come from uneducated and untrained project managers. There will be a step change and that is something you could be part of.

Alternatively, if you know that your current business will not be changing anytime soon, then it is decision time.

Use a combination of education, training, hands on practical experience, writing a decent CV, being able to walk the talk and, of course, a dash of confidence. These are the things you need to gain that ‘proper’ project management job.