Some Thoughts on Career Development

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.

On Credentials

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

Reading My KindleGood 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.

New PM Articles for the Week of July 24 – 30

New project management articles published on the web during the week of July 24 – 30. And this week’s video: Paul Brown provides a brief introduction to organizational change management. Just nine minutes, safe for work.

Must read!

  • NiMa Asghari lists some of the very real problems that drone delivery is going to solve. 4 minutes to read.
  • Connor Forrest summarizes a report from Accenture naming the top five cyber security threats seen this year and recommended countermeasures. 2 minutes to read.
  • Sean Gwaltney describes an interesting tool: the Purpose Breakdown Structure, which links strategic objectives, success criteria, and work packages. 6 minutes to read.

Established Methods

  • Brendan Toner begins a three-part series on using the Critical Path method to deliver a project on time. 10 minutes to read.
  • Elizabeth Harrin interviews Colin D. Ellis author of The Project Rots from the Head. Video with transcript, 4 minutes, safe for work.
  • Barry Hodge takes the traditional 2 by 2 power and interest stakeholder matrix and maps each quadrant to an anthropomorphic animal. Embrace the metaphor! 6 minutes to read.
  • Kerry Wills shares a model for how the share of a project manager’s four primary activities evolves over the life cycle of a project. 2 minutes to read.
  • Vivien Goldstrong points out a few examples where cognitive computing might be useful in project management. 4 minutes to read.
  • Craig Brown outlines twelve steps to project success. A minute or so to read.

Agile Methods

  • Stefan Wolpers curates his weekly list of Agile content, from why Spotify’s agile patterns work and why you shouldn’t copy them, to negotiation skills for product managers. 10 outbound links, 3 minutes to read.
  • John Goodpasture describes Agile methods as a series of nested planning cycles, each with a different horizon.
  • Leigh Espey explains the difference between a project manager role and a Scrum Master role. 5 minutes to read.
  • Regis Armel Asseman has compiled a few “diet tips” for a healthy software product. Yeah, it’s a gimmick, but a well-written gimmick. 6 minutes to read.
  • Ron Jeffries realizes that he wrote legacy code yesterday. And he probably will again, tomorrow. 2 minutes to read.
  • Valerie Senyk unpacks the implications of the Agile Manifesto’s fifth principle. 4 minutes to read.
  • Elyse Stevens interviews Jase Clamp on how a product manager handles stakeholder engagement. Audio only, 17 minutes, safe for work.

Applied Leadership

  • Dmitriy Nizhebetskiy explains Herzberg’s Two-Factor theory of motivation. 3 minutes to read. Includes a video—4 minutes, safe for work.
  • Lex Laufer and Jeff Russell make the case for managing by moving about: getting out and talking to the people, looking at the results. 2 minutes to read.
  • Lew Sauder describes the characteristics of the leadership personality. 3 minutes to read.

Technology, Techniques, and Human Behavior

  • Glen Alleman explains why merely having a data set is insufficient to support a position—you also need a model that explains why you should be seeing that data. 3 minutes to read.
  • Shuba Kathikeyan gives us a thumbnail of eleven programming languages suitable for DevOps. 4 minutes to read.
  • Stefan Groschupf ruminates on what comes after Hadoop. Video, just over one minutes, safe for work.

Working and the Workplace

  • Harry Hall lays out the critical steps to develop a successful buy – seller relationship. 3 minutes to read.
  • Suzanne Lucas reports that the Japanese government is promoting telecommuting for several good reasons, including the 202 Olympics. Note: it’s not an event. 3 minutes to read.
  • Jenny Blake provides guidelines on what tasks to delegate, illustrated with Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielson playing three guitars. 5 minutes to read.

Enjoy!

New PM Articles for the Week of July 17 – 23

New project management articles published on the web during the week of July 17 – 23. And this week’s video: in this TEDx talk, Allan Pease gets deep into the meaning, power, and history of the handshake. Just 14 minutes, safe for work.

Must read!

  • Lynda Bourne reports that the UK government is seeing significant improvements in the way they are delivering major projects, by improving governance. 4 minutes to read.
  • Michael Wood takes a mid-year look at seven technologies at or just beyond the tipping point, ready to disrupt the way we do business. 5 minutes to read.
  • Adam Shostack threat-models password managers in general, and cloud-stored 1Password in particular. 4 minutes to read.

Established Methods

  • Praful Saklani notes that “small data,” associated with a narrow set of terminology, can be the basis for very powerful AI applications. 4 minutes to read.
  • John Goodpasture reminds us that most of our projects only produce “small data,” which is better analyzed using Bayesian techniques. 2 minutes to read.
  • Mike Clayton tutors us on Moscow Analysis, as used for analyzing the proposed scope of a project. Video, 5 minutes, safe for work.
  • Elise Stevens checklists six questions that new project managers should ask when meeting stakeholders. 3 minutes to read.
  • Kamesh Gaeson points out the value of the PRINCE2 project management framework (and certifications), from a project manager’s point of view. 5 minutes to read.

Agile Methods

  • Stefan Wolpers curates his weekly list of Agile content, from getting Agile to work in your organization to making the C-suite more agile. 11 outbound links, 3 minutes to read.
  • Tamás Török polled ten leaders of tech startup companies, asking how they prioritize what their software teams are working on at any moment. One size does not fit all! 12 minutes to read.
  • The Clever PM asks the rhetorical question: why does Agility matter? 3 minutes to read.
  • Elizabeth Harrin applies Agile methods to meetings, to maximize the benefits of spending time together as a team. 4 minutes to read.
  • Mike Cohen explains the case for having the whole team participate when estimating. 7 minutes to read.
  • Jonathan Shariat, the co-author of “Tragic Design,” shows how bad design can cause physical and emotional harm. Webex, 40 minutes, safe for work.
  • Ben Longstaff tells a parable explaining the source of technical debt. Equal parts funny, painful, and true. 4 minutes to read.

Applied Leadership

  • Charles Hall explains how to create policies and procedures to prevent those with the power to purchase from taking kickbacks. 5 minutes to read.
  • Barry Hodge coaches us on getting our project proposal funded. 3 minutes to read.
  • Glen Alleman presents a detailed approach for developing leadership skills. 9 minutes to read.
  • Sanket Pai describes the role and behaviors of an effective mentor. 3 minutes to read.

Technology, Techniques, and Human Behavior

  • Alison DiNisco reports on a survey of US programmers, asking what are the easiest programming languages to learn. 3 minutes to read.
  • Pawel Halabuda explains what’s behind the growth in popularity of Chatbots. 5 minutes to read.
  • Ish Jindal explains why Chatbot message length matters: a call to act immediately. 5 minutes to read.

Working and the Workplace

  • Louise Penberthy shares strategies for surviving and thriving on a self-organizing team that isn’t good at it, yet. 7 minutes to read.
  • Jordan Gonen lists some job sites where you might be able to find a contract gig working remotely. 10 outbound links, 4 minutes to read.
  • Suzanne Lucas reports on a change at Deloitte: moving away from “affinity groups” originally created to increase diversity in favor of including white men as advocates of diversity. 2 minutes to read.

Enjoy!