Sometime in the next few months, I’m going to transition from Practicing IT Project Manager to Retired IT Project Manager. After nearly 50 years in the work force, I’m getting too ornery to be left around energetic, ambitious young ‘uns. Better to sit on the sidelines and write, full-time, than be a cantankerous influence. But before I step away from the profession, I want to capture some thoughts on deliberately (as opposed to accidentally) managing projects for a living. I’ve had enough time over the years to see how careers develop and flounder, and this might be the first of several posts on the subject of career development.
When I got my PMP in early 2004, there were just over 80,000 of us and it was seen as a mid-career achievement. Now there are about ten times that many and it’s seen as something just past entry-level. If you want to pursue general IT project management work, from infrastructure and BPI to outsourcing and business systems, then PMP would be an excellent fit. If you’re in the UK or another country where it is dominant, then the PRINCE2 family of credentials is probably even better.
If you want to manage software development projects, as opposed to implementing ERP solutions, then PMI-ACP would likely be a good choice. If you are working in an organization interested in or using Scrum, then CSM is an easy win; it’s harder to get a driver’s license in many jurisdictions. Make of that what you will.
I’m an advocate of becoming a subject matter expert in some field and focusing on work in that area. My choice was HR, employee benefits, and payroll, and I maintain professional credentials in those areas as well as my PMP. Technologies come in and out of fashion, but gross-to-net ain’t goin’ anywhere.
On Knowledge Acquisition
Good project managers devote a certain amount of time to knowledge acquisition. Once upon a time, that meant reading books. Then it meant taking courses. Then it meant reading blogs and articles on line. Then it meant podcasts and TED talks. I think a mix of all four is useful, but be selective and don’t feel you need to be an expert on anything. A mile wide and an inch deep is actually not a bad thing in the Age of Google.
Still, there are some books you should read, simply because the background knowledge you’ll get from them will help you acquire additional knowledge more effectively and efficiently. Here’s a short list: Leading Geeks, by Paul Glen. Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister. Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott. You already have The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, right? Project managers write a lot, and the good ones write well. If you haven’t taken a course in business writing, The HBR Guide by Bryan Garner is excellent. Although EI doesn’t pass the sniff test among actual psychologists, it’s worth reading Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry. Finance for Nonfinancial Managers, by Gene Siciliano is also worth your time.
Remember: project management is a business function, not a technical function. You don’t need to know the difference between a procedure and a function, but you damned well better know the difference between OpEx and CapEx. If you want to do well, you have to be proficient in the language and practice of business.
On Justified Self-Confidence
Elizabeth Harrin and many others have written about dealing with imposter syndrome and other forms of self-doubt, and I won’t try to paraphrase their work. You don’t have to go to the extremes described by Jia Jing in Rejection Proof any more than you should just tell yourself that you’re a special snowflake. If you are among those within two standard deviations of psychological normalcy, your self-confidence will be a function of your relevant experience to date and your preparations for the future (Dunning-Kruger Effect notwithstanding). Self-mastery comes from being able to clinically look at both, make honest assessments, and take decisive actions to achieve your goals.
When George Lucas made Star Wars, he really only had two stars: Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. And he killed them off. Now, I’m not advocating violence here; just pointing out that the rest of the cast seems to have done a fine job without them. You need to be almost good enough, on an upward psychological trajectory, with the intent to learn. That is more than enough to separate you from the folks who really aren’t engaged, at whatever competence level.
Coming Soon, Maybe
I’ll compile and post a larger list of recommended books, although as Egon Spengler famously observed, “Print is dead.” Kindle is alive and well, however. In addition, I’m working on a new book, Notes from a Practicing IT Project Manager. It will consist of selected articles I’ve written over the years, updated and refined and grouped for ease of browsing. I’ll also write some new stuff to fill in the empty spaces. I’m just getting started, and I’ve learned not to predict publishing dates this early in the process. But expect a section on career development and another on IT management.