Getting on the Project Management Ladder

16 December, 2013

For many of us, project management is something we were thrust into. We were happily carrying out our work in the context of projects, when it was decided to put us in charge. If we were lucky, we got some project management courses, but for the most part we were left to make it up as we went along. Eventually, having got good at managing projects, some of us decided to get the Project Management Professional (PMP®) accreditation to confirm, more to ourselves than to anyone else, that we actually were project managers.

In hindsight, what could we have done so make the journey a smoother one? The obvious answer would be to have put some effort into career planning. Our lives are made up of a series of stages and we move from one to the other. Careers also divide into stages and scholars seem to delight in coming up with career stage models that work for everyone. My favourite, mainly because it only has four stages in it, is Dalton, Thompson and Price’s model. They claim we all start out as apprentices, learning our trade. Then we reach the stage where we are expert in our work and can carry out day-to-day tasks without supervision.

Sadly, this second stage does not last for most people. We eventually have proved ourselves in the work and need to move onto a stage where we achieve through others’ efforts. In other words, we need to move into a supervising and mentoring role. Project management is often the role that fulfils this need. There is a final, fourth stage to the model, but not many of us get to it. This is when you find yourself directing an entire organization and, instead of mentoring your team, you are grooming individuals for high office.

If we had been clever enough to know that hands-on technical work would eventually come to an end, we could have prepared ourselves for a project management role by getting some sort of certificate in project management. That would have provided us with the theoretical knowledge to underlie an actual project management role. It could also serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy: someone who goes to the trouble of obtaining a certificate in project management is likely to appear more promising when a project management vacancy arises. Even if you are not the best hands-on worker on the team, it is possible that you will shine in a project management role, where the technical gurus might struggle.

But how can we get this project management certificate? The PMP® is only open to experienced project managers, so we face a chicken and egg situation. But the Project Management Institute (PMI) has thought of that and provides the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) qualification for those without any project management experience. CAPM® covers the same ground as the PMP®. So you will study the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK®), but your exam will have only 150 questions compared to the PMP®’s 200. There is also a noticeable difference in the sort of questions that are asked. If you remember your PMP® exam, you will still have fond memories (or sleepless nights) over the scenario-based questions – “You are the project manager. What will you do when ...” The CAPM® exam is much more a test of knowledge and, in a way, is more difficult because of it.

PMPs® reading this will probably wonder why go to all this trouble. Why learn the PMBoK® for the CAPM® exam and then, when you have clocked up the necessary experience, relearn the PMBoK® for the PMP® exam? The key point to remember is that the PMBoK® is not simply a collection of abstract facts. CAPM® students get the chance to learn the processes and tools that are used in project management. Even without any project management experience, CAPM® students are able to relate their experiences of being on project teams to the topics they encounter. Being aware of the project manager’s concerns can make them better team members.

As an example, suppose you are being asked regularly for estimates: How long will this take to do? Knowing something about scheduling, you can see that your project manager is trying to make up a schedule. So how can you help? Well recording how long activities take you to do is useful – analogous estimating being a legitimate technique. Another useful approach is to offer the project manager a range of estimates in the PERT style. You can also volunteer some additions to the risk register by explaining why your pessimistic estimates are greater than your optimistic ones. Assisting in this way will start people thinking of you as a potential project manager.

So a CAPM® certification is an effective way to get on the project management ladder. Velopi offers an excellent three-day CAPM® exam preparation course which includes unlimited simulator access, so there will be no surprises on the day of the CAPM® exam itself. For more information about CAPM® and our other project management certification courses, please visit our training page. For your convenience, we run our project management courses in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. For more details, please contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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