One of my goals for this year is to do more professional networking in the project management community. You'll notice I didn't say New Year's resolution, as goals are actionable while resolutions are declarative statements that are often forgotten by the third week of the year.
I recently chatted with Elizabeth Harrin from The Otobos Group regarding the importance of developing your personal brand within the project management community and within your company. Our discussion made me reflect on how networking is usually an afterthought or a by-product of attending a lecture, a formal PMI dinner, or a business meeting. We risk forgetting to develop our professional relationships in favor of focusing too much on work or being "too busy." Unless we develop better relationships and learn what our peers are doing in the industry, we risk becoming narrow-minded and isolated within one corporate culture's way of doing things.
Professional networking and learning about new trends and project management tools and comparing processes across different companies can inject new ideas into your work. Below are actionable ideas for improving your professional networking this year.
1: Connect with other project managers in LinkedIn forums
I'll highlight my six favorite LinkedIn project management forums. For Microsoft Project users, MS Project User Group and MPUG Global (Microsoft Project Users Group) are excellent resources for practical application of Microsoft Project. PMO - Project Management Office is my source to debate PMO-related topics, including the role of a PMO in a project manager's career path. Project Manager Community - Best Group for Project Management has one of the best discussions on project management interview questions, and both Real World Project Management Practices and the ProjectManagement.com (formerly Gantthead's) group are growing.
You might choose to pick just one of these forums and then start providing advice, contributing your viewpoint, and asking questions of your fellow project management practitioners. LinkedIn emails you updates, and lets you respond using email so you don't have to spend all day in the browser.
Over time, you'll learn which project managers work for large corporations, are startup entrepreneurs, or provide training and consulting in a specific project management domain. Connect with them on LinkedIn and email them to get feedback on an idea or a specific tool and technique. Networking is more than trading opinions on a discussion forum -- it involves connecting and developing relationships with other project managers in your field.
2: Explore #PMOT and #PMChat on Twitter
If structured forums don't interest you, then try connecting with other project managers in the most unstructured and open forum of all the Internet: Twitter. You can access a variety of project managers using the hashtag #PMOT (Project Managers on Twitter) or get social with the project managers on #PMChat. I've seen a lot of benefit connecting with project managers and software industry leaders using Twitter, including free promotion for articles, conferences, software, and books. More importantly, I can get real-world feedback and advice quickly to specific project management questions.
3: Attend a conference
Online is useful for making connections, but I find relationships form even better when you meet face-to-face. This year I'll be attending the PMI Great Lakes Symposium and the next New Media Expo conference. If you can coordinate with your online colleagues to attend a conference together, it provides new opportunities for collaboration. I met and collaborated with several colleagues online, but it wasn't until there was an established conference that we interacted with each other in person.
4: Form an online community of practice
Small mentoring circles that actively meet every month to discuss project management topics will help your professional development and career growth. I attend the local PMI chapter every now and then, but recently I got involved with the PMI's Chapter Corporate Outreach program; these are smaller meetings with more interaction than the typical dinner meeting. The Corporate Outreach group also provides more insight into each company's use of project management techniques.
5: Ask your favorite blogger how you can help
With all the contacts found in the preceding activities and with the increase in blogging, you're sure to find several project managers who are sharing similar ideas in the blogosphere. If you read a blog post by a project management author that resonates with you, reach out to the author and find out what other projects they are working on for the project management community. Perhaps you can help them guest write an article, develop a presentation, or collaborate on communicating project management best practices.
When you work with fellow project managers on a specific project or task, it ideally helps improve those relationships. These peers become your "phone-a-friend" when you have a particularly tough yet confidential project management challenge, and they can even be your safety net when you experience unexpected job changes.
Happy networking in 2013!Also read on TechRepublic: The best way to network is to not think of it as networking