Project Management

A novice project manager seeks new skills and advancement

Are you a project manager even if you don't use Microsoft Project? Columnist Andy Weeks debunks some misconceptions about project management and offers tips on how to emphasize your management skills on your resume.

Question from a reader
I want to get into Project Management/Business Analysis in the tech arena. So how can I pursue this?

I presume that the projects I am involved in do involve some skills as a project manager, such as planning and coordinating deliverables. What projects can I create at work that I can mention in my resume, especially ones that can also incorporate Microsoft Project? How detailed and involved do my projects have to be in order to state that I led a project? How many people have to work with me or be under my leadership?

Andy’s answer: Describe your skills in detail
As I watch companies try to deal with an increasing number of projects with increasing complexity, I see the need for qualified and experienced project managers growing dramatically. Companies are beginning to recognize this need and are finally beginning to pay a premium for these skills. Too often, project managers have really been administrators who dealt primarily with resource scheduling and filling out paperwork, and are compensated accordingly.

As this demand increases, savvy employees are looking for opportunities to move into this field. Unfortunately, there is a certain ”chicken-and-egg” aspect to this—you can’t get a job as a project manager without experience, and you can’t get experience without the job. Fortunately, there is a way to leverage your existing experience to make the move successfully.

The reader’s question points to the fact that the daily work we do involves a certain level of project management skills to complete. For example, your own time management skills or coordinating the activities of your work team qualify as project management experience, if properly documented.

Let me state right now that I am not a fan of resume padding, nor do I condone stretching the truth. However, make sure that your resume accurately reflects the experience you do have. If you are looking to move into project management, then make sure you stress those skills.

How to rewrite your resume
If your current position requires that you work on several competing tasks simultaneously (whose doesn’t?) and that you periodically report your activities to your superior, then your resume might reflect this with statements like these:
  • Managed personal work time in deadline-oriented environment.
  • Generated weekly work plans and status reports of activities.

While not specifically project management, they are activities that are a part of the project management process, and can lend credence to your desire to move in that direction.

In addition, consider the definition of project management. A project is any activity that has:
  • A defined objective.
  • A plan for achieving that objective.
  • A process to ensure that the plan is followed.

This definition is independent of the duration of the project, the complexity of the project, or the number of resources involved. For instance, coordinating the move of old files to offsite storage is a project. So is implementing a huge application. Though they may differ in complexity, both meet the fundamental requirements described above.
To document projects, indicate exactly how you participated in the successful completion of the project and how you applied project management skills to the activity. You might not have been the project manager, but it’s likely you exercised project management skills in completing your portion of the assignment. The Project Management Institute has a good example of a PM resume that you may use for reference.
Is project management software a requirement?
Finally, the tenor of the reader’s question reflects a bias I have seen often. Many people believe that to be a “real” project, the plan must involve using some sort of project management software. Many people in the business world also believe that there must be a large staff involved in the implementation of an assignment in order for it to be considered a project. However, both of these statements are misconceptions.

I have probably done more project plans in Excel than I have in Microsoft Project. It’s more efficient to work in Excel when projects are fairly short in duration and when they don’t have a high level of detail. Microsoft Project can be overkill in those situations, and you should try to match the tool to the task. You wouldn’t use a chainsaw to cut a 2x4, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t for cutting wood.

Likewise, it is quite possible to be project manager of a one-person project team. Perhaps the project management is not quite as complicated, but the same basics apply. A good project management methodology is scalable and will work for project teams from one to 1,000.

Andy Weeks has worked in the Information Technology field for over a decade as an end-user support manager, network architect, and business process consultant. Currently, he's VP for business development for Henderson Electric Co., Inc., in Louisville, KY.

Every month in IT Manager Republic, Andy discusses timely issues that concern project managers. He also answers questions from TechRepublic members. You may send an e-mail to Andy or post a comment below.

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