'Career Focus' Series #2: Everything you’ve ever needed to know about project management in 5 minutes flat
Project managers and project management skills are in huge demand. According to a Financial Times report, a shortage of these skills is having a serious effect on the economy. What is also exciting is that according to a recent survey by Computer World on the fastest growing professions in IT, 40% of businesses will have to hire project managers this year.
If you’re now having a light-bulb moment telling you to investigate this exciting and, as our figures show here, lucrative career, then you’ll be glad to know that we’ve grilled our resident expert project manager Cyril Caulkin to tell you how you can progress your career in project management and take advantage of this market opportunity. So pull up a chair and use his 20 years’ experience in the business to guide you.'
THE BASICS ABOUT PROJECT MANAGEMENT
First things first, what is a project? Cyril: ‘Referring to the PRINCE2® project management methodology, the accompanying official manual has a good description: “A project is a temporary organisation that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case.”’
Yes, but how will I know that something is a project? Cyril: ‘Again the PRINCE2® manual explains: “There are a number of characteristics of project work that distinguish it from business as usual: Change. Projects are the means by which we introduce change... Temporary. Projects are temporary in nature… Cross-functional. Projects involve a team of people with different skills working together to introduce a change that will impact others outside the team...Unique. Every project is unique…Uncertainty. Clearly, the characteristics already listed will introduce additional threats and opportunities.
OK. Now I know what a project is, what’s project management? Cyril: ‘Project management is the management of the project by a project manager who acts as a catalyst, and brings the whole project together.’
Why do we need project management? Cyril: ‘In today’s world, businesses need to progress and in doing so need to implement change. Projects are the implementation of change. To be successful, a business cannot stagnate. It must change with the times, otherwise it gets out of date and competitors will overtake it, so projects need to be there’
Hmmm. It sounds complicated, I’m not sure I really get the link between a project and project management. Cyril: ‘To illustrate a simple project, we could use a shopping trip as an example. You say to your partner, I’ll go shopping, what do you want, how much do you want to spend and what time do I have to be back? So a project is a piece of work with a target output (the completed shopping basket), based on requirements (the shopping list), to the right level of quality (getting the right things) within the right cost (the budget that you’ve agreed) and within the right timescale (when you need to be back with the shopping).’
Has project management changed at all in recent years? Cyril: ‘It hasn’t. There might be different methods of documenting it but it’s still basically keeping control of everything.’
Where is project management headed in the future? Cyril: ‘Some people think it’s not going anywhere! The actual method will not change; it’s always a matter of controlling what you do within the cost, within the timescale and within the agreed quality.’
What about the current economic climate, isn’t that causing any changes? Cyril: ‘You’ve got tighter time constraints, tighter budgets and value-for-money and cost-effectiveness have to be better, that’s all. The point is without a project management method like PRINCE2 you cannot control the project now and you cannot see the figures so that next time you run a project you can build and improve on your practice. PRINCE2 is very practical for it lends itself to that kind of development.’
OUTSIDE OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Is project management useful in the wider world and in other sectors or professions? Cyril: ‘Yes. Retail, marketing, finance, engineering, research, IT and so on - I’ve done loads of work with all those sectors of industry and all need project management to implement change and ultimately become successful.’
Some schools are including some aspects of project management in their learning. What do you think about bringing project management more into education? Cyril: ‘Great! I believe that everyone should have done the PRINCE2 Practitioner course before they leave school then they’ll have a really focused view of what business is about before even starting out on their careers.’
Wow! You make project management sound really important! Cyril: ‘To me it’s as important as science, maths or biology or whatever… you need to know project management to be able to succeed in business and your future career.’
What about women, can they succeed in project management? Cyril: ‘There are lots of women project managers and they’re just as good as the men! There are as many female as male project managers; it’s a common misconception that project management favours the male population and that most project managers are men.’
GETTING INTO AND GETTING ON IN PROJECT MANAGEMENT
What do I do to get my first job in project management? Cyril: ‘Get PRINCE2 and the APM Introductory Certificate in Project Management (APMIC) – PRINCE2 will tell you what to do and when, whilst APMIC tells you how to do it. Then, use them to get a job in an organisation’s project office or as a project team member.’
How do I move up from a project team role to a project manager role? Cyril: ‘Get experience as a team member for a year or two, then put yourself about, get more involved until you’re ready to take on more responsibility and take on a team manager role and then you’re in a good position to become a project manager.’
What kind of experience do I need? Cyril: ‘Just get as much as you can, get more and more involved and ask for more responsibility.’
How will I know that I’ve got what it takes to become a project manager? What qualities and skills do I need? Cyril: ‘You’ll need to be able to demonstrate the following: you will have to communicate, plan, organise and deal with people; you are the catalyst that makes things happen. You’ve got to be able to solve problems as well as deal with risk and change, but that all becomes second nature once you’ve got the communication skills and you listen to people, you’ll be doing all those things subconsciously.’
Can project management be useful for people who have just come out of the armed services? Cyril: ‘Yes! Anyone in the armed forces will have their own particular skills in certain areas, if they then had PRINCE2 they would be sitting pretty for they’ve already got that project manager mind-set.'
What do titles like business analyst and change manager mean and are they considered a lower-level role compared to project managers? Cyril: ‘They’re not below or above project managers; they’re different. The business analyst is someone who knows the business. A change manager deals with changes to requirements. The project manager may use the business analyst to help define requirements for a business or might use a change manager to manage the changes in the project. They would only be working for you as the co-ordinator of all these activities which make up together what project management is about. One aspect of being a project manager is understanding how your organisation works.’
What’s the career progression path for project managers? Cyril: ‘It’s project manager, senior project manager, programme manager and then into the corporate level of senior management within an organisation.’
Which project management qualification should I get? Cyril: ‘The only project management qualifications you need are PRINCE2 and APMIC as already mentioned.’
If I have an MBA do I still need a project management qualification? Cyril: ‘Yes – although part of your MBA might include project management as a lot of MBA courses incorporate PRINCE2 to cover the project management element of their syllabus.’
People talk about soft skills in project management. Would it be worth doing a psychology course? Cyril: ‘The PRINCE2 method is a set of procedures that you follow; to be a successful project manager you also need soft skills such as communication, time management and organisation. They’re not explained in the PRINCE2 manual, but you need these supporting skills – a psychology course won’t teach these.’
There’s a lot of talk about Agile. How does it relate to PRINCE2? Are they complementary? Cyril: ‘Yes. Agile allows you to break down your projects into smaller, more manageable stages – you can still use PRINCE2 to run these stages.’
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Follow These Useful Links:
- For a complete picture of PRINCE2 and what it can do for your project management career make your way to the Cabinet Office where you can also find out about the links between its various processes.
- Utilise your social media profiles! LinkedIn has some fantastic user groups that offer a wealth of information and networking opportunities. Try:
- ILX Group to keep up to date with our project management articles and news
- The official group for Association for Project Management (APM)
- Check out these valuable sources of information on everything PRINCE2:
- The APMG provide a slew of useful information about PRINCE2 accredited training options.
- Navigate your way through PRINCE2 with a raft of useful downloads that include a glossary, quiz and templates.
- ILX Group deliver PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner digital learning, classroom and blended learning.
- Our learning experience is the perfect option for those with an eye for cost-effective, rich and collaborative training that includes a blog, a forum and social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook.
- Check out our FREE seminars that demystify PRINCE2 and digital learning.
PRINCE2® is a registered trade mark of the Cabinet Office.