Advice to New PM Entrants
PMWT: Max, you are widely considered one of the world's true project management experts. Your reputation is well deserved. You've experienced many projects, from various perspectives. You've studied project management for decades, made many important contributions, participated in numerous professional meetings, etc. Now, after all that, what would you say to a young person just getting started who is interested in making project management his or her career path?
Max: That's very nice of you to say so, but let's not get carried away, here. Interestingly, I frequently get asked for my advice about getting into project management, such as "How do I get started?", "Where can I find out more about it?", and so on. And that's not necessarily from "young" persons; I get the questions from all ages - especially from people considering a career switch. I would say that before getting into project management, you do need to answer an important question: "Are you suited to project management in the first place?"
So, for those in, or entertaining the idea of getting into, project management, it is very important to establish whether you are really cut out for it. By my reckoning, some 30% of the working population is not suited to project work of any kind and those people should seek careers elsewhere. For the rest, the work is exciting, satisfying, and full of opportunities.
But people must recognize that project management is stressful and the stress level varies throughout the project life span and as you move from one project to the next. You cannot always expect to have a steady stream of projects to keep you busy and handed to you on a plate and, equally important, you cannot expect projects to come to you. The world economy and its projects are simply not like that. Most often you have to go to the projects so that means you must be prepared for a flexible life style. It also means you have to take charge of your own career, a good idea anyway, and be quite clear on where you want to go. As in any project, it will not always work out the way you had hoped for, but having a good plan is a big help.
Getting into project management is not so easy either. Of course, you can take all kinds of project management courses, but that doesn't necessarily get you a job because most project manager jobs understandably require previous experience - so you're in a catch twenty-two situation. If you are serious about getting into project management, the first step is to get yourself into an organization where the probability of becoming associated with a project as a team member is quite high. If you are already employed in such an organization, then let management know that you want to progress in that direction. Management always likes to see enthusiasm amongst its employees.
If you are not in that fortunate situation and would therefore need to make a switch in employment, then before you do so, I suggest that you seek out some voluntary organization where you can get some experience on a project team and hopefully soon get experience in actually managing a project. If you are in an area where there is a local chapter of a project management organization, then you are in luck. Join it and roll up your sleeves, you will not only get a chance to "do projects" but also network with others with similar interests who can tell you what's going on in the market place.
Never mind whether or not you get paid for the project work, the experience becomes one of your permanent valuable assets. It resolves two issues: the first is whether or not you are cut out for project management, and the second, something positive to put on your resume. And so I would close by saying: If you are comfortable with all of that, then go for it. As I said, the work is exciting, satisfying, and full of opportunities!