Nowadays, every job is framed into a project. Whatever we want to undertake professionally has a start and finish date, a scope or goal, a defined budget, and a detailed list of the necessary people to make it all happen. Many different types of teams are involved, and there's usually just one person to coordinate them all: a project manager.
Rarely you'll find such a role that requires mastering so many soft and hard skills at the same time. It's a relatively new job description, and their specific responsibilities are not set in stone. Also, no formal education will prepare you entirely for this role, as the universities haven't completely adapted to the trends yet. So, the question is inevitable:
How do you become a project manager?
First, let's see what they do and which skills are needed for each task, and then we'll analyze what you need to acquire those skills.
The 5 phases of project management include initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and project closure. While initiation is often not a project manager's realm, the second phase is where they really step in. This is when cost, scope, duration, quality, communication, risk, and resources are meticulously planned.
Costs are significant because they influence the budget needed for the completion of a project. The scope needs to be defined well, so the team's activities don't go astray. All these activities need to be defined and estimated. In other words, a project manager needs to put on paper how much money, time, and resources the project requires. Risk can never be determined precisely, but an assessment needs to be made, too.
Execution and monitoring are the essence of project management. It's about bringing phase two to life and making sure everyone's sticking to the plan.
A Project Manager's toolbox
Now, let's see the toolbox of knowledge necessary for all these responsibilities.
Cost and risk assessment are no joke. Everything gets more serious when it comes to money. You know what they say, "mo' money mo' problems." And they're right. If the costs end up being much higher than the estimated budget, no one will be happy. Basic knowledge in economics could be helpful here. Thorough research and analysis are even more useful. Why? Each industry and project are quite specific. An expert manager in house building doesn't necessarily excel at managing a digital agency. The same rule applies to resource planning.
And what about time estimates? The best time estimate comes from the person performing the task—the more experienced, the better the estimate. This is where some soft skills are crucial. You don't want people to estimate a task to five days when, in reality, it takes only one day to complete. Likewise, estimates shouldn't be too ambitious either; otherwise, you'll end up with red due dates. Creating an atmosphere where no one will take advantage of the given trust or feel pressed into rushing is a delicate matter.
Scope is one of the most discussed topics in the software business. Our blog already covers it exhaustively. Here are just a few picks:
- What Is a Scope Creep?
- Scope Creep - Linking Theory to Practice
- How to Manage Scope Creep and Keep Your Deadlines and Clients Under Control
The point is: define what needs to be a project's result and sticking to it. Sounds a lot easier than it is!
Let's move on to the third and fourth phases of project management.
Execution comes right after planning, and it's not as simple as shouting, "Ok, people, let's do this!" and sending them out to battle. Regular meetings and an established system for status updates need to be set up. Guiding meetings isn't everyone's cup of tea. You'll need to learn when to cut someone off, when to let the discussion flow, and how to cover every topic on the agenda while staying in the scheduled timebox.
Project Management Methodologies and Frameworks
All team members need to know their project manager will be there for them if problems arise, and inevitably they will. Meetings shouldn't be a burden for the team, cooperation should be seamless, conflicts solved rapidly and smoothly. All the while, costs need to be kept under a watchful eye, and deadlines met on time. Performance indicators and reports play the key role here, although one should beware—team members must focus on their tasks rather than on KPIs. These are only tools for the manager to help them intervene on time where necessary.
Monitoring and control include scrutinizing the project's scope and keeping all activities on the right track. Sometimes clients or stakeholders will demand additions or changes to the original project requirements. A project manager has to know when to accept these demands, when to negotiate, and when to say no.
Wrapping up the project is also a process. The final product needs to be delivered properly, along with an accurate budget report. Once again, economics and math should be part of your arsenal.
There should be an opportunity for the entire team to reflect upon what they learned and all the difficulties they encountered. It's a great moment to clear out any hostile relations so that the teams can venture into a new project with a fresh mind. As you might presume, inter-personal skills are of great value here. The meeting-facilitating skills we talked about earlier also come in handy.
A lot of paperwork will be involved in the final phase of the project. This means administrative skills and attention to detail are necessary as well.
Becoming a project manager without experience or a degree
Is it even possible? We can review once again all you need to become a project manager.
We mentioned reports and estimates and the fact you need to know how to put two and two together. An MBA or a bachelor's degree in economics is no guarantee you'll get these calculations right. However, there's more than maths in these courses. They offer comprehensive knowledge of the world of business, success stories from various industries, and many management tips.
If this is not an option and it's too broad for you, that's ok. Other, more specific courses will make you a certified project manager, but not without breaking a sweat. You won't get these certifications without studying and passing exams.
Maybe you could find an opportunity within the company you're currently in to lead a smaller project. Other managers could help you out and offer the chance to learn a lot from them. They might also provide some good reading material.
Whatever you choose, you'll have a lot of reading and listening to do.
Especially when it comes to all the necessary soft skills—some of them you probably already own, some you'll need to work on. Good communication is paramount. Building trust, facilitating meetings, organizing teams so they collaborate like clockwork, and managing conflicts can't be learned entirely from a book. However, in time, one can develop these skills nicely.