Project Management

Microsoft opens new PM career path

A new PM career track with Microsoft could lead consultants into new opportunities. But be advised that a prerequisite is the challenging PMP certification from PMI.

This article originally published on our sister site, TechRepublic.

There’s a new IT career path at Microsoft Services for project management professionals, spelling potential for 150 new project management positions paying “in line with the industry,” according to Christian Jensen, worldwide PMO program manager at Microsoft.

The new role, available to both internal and non-Microsoft employees, also indicates that project management expertise within the consulting industry is in more demand than ever. That’s because those interested in the jobs (search on project management at Microsoft.com/careers), or consultants considering expanding client services to compete with Microsoft’s new service branch, will need to have the Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Consulting division prompted new role
Last January, Microsoft chose PMI’s PMP certification program as its certification choice for the consulting aspect of Microsoft Services.

The PMI program beat out notable competitors, such as the CompTIA IT Project + and the International Project Management Association’s Certificated Project Manager and Certificated International Project Manager.

Microsoft's consulting arm, where the new PM positions live, employs 4,000 of Microsoft’s nearly 55,000 employees.

In creating its PMI relationship, Microsoft joins the ranks of other corporations such as Unisys Corporation, KPMG, IBM, and AT&T that officially recognize the PMP as the official certification for project management professionals.

Microsoft said it went with the PMP because of its global distinction. The PMI has more than 100,000 members in 125 countries, 54,000-plus of whom have the PMP, according to a PMI spokesperson.

The new positions
Microsoft Services' project management title developed out of a need to meet the increasing demands of customers. Previously, product managers filled the PM role, but as more project teams required greater project management expertise, the company decided to create four new PM job grades, according to Jensen.

The job levels, Project Manager I to Project Manager IV, have specific responsibilities, roles, and training requirements, as outlined below.

Project Manager I
Responsibilities:
  • Manage teams of up to five people, or the equivalent of $500,000 in time and materials from project revenue
  • 65 percent of time spent on projects
  • 20 percent on proposal development
  • 15 percent on mentoring

Training/Experience:
  • Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF)
  • PMI Certified Associate Project Management
  • Project Management Basics for Team Leads (PMBTL)
  • Project Management for IT Professionals
  • Microsoft Project Fundamentals
  • Performance Xcellence/Problem Solving Methodologies (Six Sigma)
  • Up to 5 years managing projects

Project Manager II
Responsibilities:
  • Manage teams of up to 10 people, or the equivalent of $1 million in services revenue
  • 60 percent of time spent on projects
  • 20 percent on proposal development
  • 15 percent on mentoring
  • 5 percent on quality improvement

Training/Experience:
  • PMI Certified Project Management Professional
  • Advanced Areas of Knowledge in Project Management
  • Fundamentals of Six Sigma
  • Up to 10 years managing projects

Project Manager III
Responsibilities:
  • Manage teams of up to 20 people or the equivalent of $2 million in services revenue
  • 55 percent of time spent on projects
  • 25 percent on proposal development
  • 15 percent on mentoring
  • 5 percent on quality improvement

Training/Experience:
  • PMI Certified Project Management Professional
  • Six Sigma and Project Improvement
  • Up to 15 years managing projects

Project Manager IV
Responsibilities:
  • Manage teams of up to 40 people or the equivalent of more than $2 million in services revenue
  • 50 percent of time spent on projects
  • 15 percent on proposal development
  • 15 percent on mentoring
  • 20 percent on quality improvement

Training/Experience:
  • PMI Certified Project Management Professional
  • Enterprise Programs for Project Management
  • More than 15 years managing projects

Jumping on the career track
To get on the project management career track, candidates need to be extremely technical and have obtained at least a senior consultant designation at Microsoft Services. The senior consultant has three distinct career paths—management, technical, or project management.

Microsoft employees are able to get on the PM career path by working with their manager and Microsoft’s Global Skills Profiler, a tool in its Microsoft Professional Development Framework. The framework is used by full-time, part-time, or temporary Microsoft employees.

The Global Skills Profiler assesses people across nine project knowledge areas with zero to four ratings. First, the worker does a self-assessment, and then the manager evaluates the employee. The two scores are compared and contrasted to arrive at an agreement that helps the worker identify strengths and weaknesses and lay out a career development path, including the steps necessary to achieve it.

Going for the PMP
One of those steps for getting hired as a PM grade II to IV is achieving the PMP—described as “an arduous process” by manager of professional development programs at PMI, John Roecker, E.D.D.

First, PMP candidates have to verify, via essay questions, the number of years of experience they have in nine knowledge areas and five process areas of the PMBOK, the PMI’s tome of project management knowledge. Each year, a set of applications is randomly selected and audited to keep applicants on the straight and narrow.

Then the applicant must study for a four-hour test. Classes offered through local, independently incorporated PMI chapters can cost $1,000 for 40 hours of classroom time, said Roecker. Applicants are also given extensive homework and advised to study the PMBOK guide.

Finally, the applicants sit for the PMP certification test, which costs $405 for PMI members, $555 for nonmembers. (A membership to the PMI is $119 annually.)

Project management pay
While Microsoft's Jensen declined to reveal the pay scale for the four project management employment grades, he said, “Each package would be really tailored to the individual” and includes a base salary, performance rewards, equity investment/stock perks, and even an automobile, in some countries.

According to a PMI 2000 survey, professionals who obtained the PMP made a mean total of $5,000 or six percent more on average than those without the certification on a global basis. In the United States, the mean differential in wages for those with and without the PMP was $9,000, or 10 percent.

Pros and cons of the Microsoft PM career
The time and labor commitment to the PM career path shouldn't be taken lightly, and the new PM job role at Microsoft should also be given serious consideration. Microsoft’s Jensen is quick to share both the up and downsides of a career as a PM at Microsoft.

Along with the potential for extra earning power, a PM at Microsoft can enjoy the support of colleagues in ways not offered at other companies. Microsoft has a Services Business Management Process portal where all consultants can go to access records on consistent and repeatable processes.

“Wherever you are in the [project development] process, the consultant can go there and grab the tools and resources they need to support the place that they’re at in the process at that time,” said Jensen.

Two sets of frameworks are available to support the consultants: the Microsoft Solutions Framework, used in the development and delivery of a solution, and the Microsoft Operations Framework, used after a solution is delivered to provide service-level and operational agreements to sustain the version of the project that Microsoft has rolled out to the customer.

While all that support is certainly helpful in an employee’s day-to-day work, there are inevitable, unpredictable hiccups of doing business on a global level.

The difficult parts of the job happen when unexpected organizational changes arise, such as an executive project sponsor leaving. Bankruptcies and political upheavals also add to a project's uncertainties and a PM’s stress level.

“That’s a challenge, and sometimes we don’t know that those will be coming,” said Jensen. “I don’t think a lot of us expected Enron or Kmart. But we have a continuous risk management process, so some of those things we can see in the near future.” That’s definitely more than a lot of companies offer—an early warning shot about potential trouble spots with clients.

From an outsider’s perspective, working with Microsoft on establishing its project management career path has been exciting and rewarding for Roecker.

“I have really enjoyed working with Microsoft as we have developed the professional development program, being rolled out internally to all their project managers,” said Roecker. “To go beyond that…we will be growing the relationship with Microsoft.”
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