Prepare for a management career through project management

To move your IT career toward management, you may want to first consider project management. Here are a few steps to get you started.

Whether you're a support tech who wants to take on management responsibility or a developer wanting to take a step toward a management position, the best place to start is often in project management. Project management can build your organization and management skills to prepare you for a future role in managing people.

Former CIO Mike Sisco shares his advice for IT pros who have their eyes on a project management position. His advice on laying the groundwork for such a move includes:

  • Gaining experience while in your current position.
  • Sharing your goals with your manager.
  • Working with your manager to develop your skills.
  • Learning and using the proper project management tools and processes.

Show the desire before there's a need

Sisco advises that prospective project management candidates start collecting experience and learning the tools before the need arises.

He suggests looking for ways to incorporate project management skills into your current job. For example, if you're a developer, apply a project management approach to your assigned projects. This might include:

  • Creating a clear definition of your project or work objectives.
  • Defining the resources needed to accomplish a goal.
  • Defining a project's deliverables before starting it.
  • Gaining approval of the project's deliverables before beginning the project.
  • Providing realistic delivery dates and meeting or exceeding those projections.
  • Frequently and proactively communicating a project's status to your manager or the project's client.
  • Identifying a project's problems before being asked to.
  • Going out of your way to eliminate surprises.

Fulfilling tasks like these for every project you work on provides good project management practice, which will pay off when you apply for such a position.

"As your manager learns of your desire and starts seeing project management attributes being exhibited [in] how you approach your work, you are more likely to get their interest," said Sisco.

Share your goals with your manager

Sisco also recommends that you share your goals for becoming a project manager with your current manager. "He or she can be very helpful in assisting your efforts to achieve your objective and can ultimately be the person who facilitates a career move for you in your company," said Sisco. Your manager can point you in the right direction or even provide tips or experience in running and managing projects.

While working with your manager, discuss how you approach your everyday projects and compare that to the way your manager would approach them, suggested Sisco. From a project management perspective, focus on the impact the project will have on the business side of the organization, as well as how long the project will take and the resources needed to complete it. "Start thinking in terms of the business objective, costs, and return on investment rather than simply delivering a project," said Sisco.

Appropriate tools can help

Sisco also suggested that anyone with aspirations of being a project manager should start using project management tools to organize daily projects. Management tools such as schedulers and time trackers can help you define a project's steps, its responsibilities, and its dependencies. They can also help you monitor the project, Sisco said.

Also, there are many free project management tools available from CNET. For example, on CNET's, you can browse and download over 200 different types of project management tools.

To move into a project management position, it's important to gain experience, cultivate your own skills, and learn new ones so when an appropriate position opens in your organization, you'll be ready for the challenge.

"The fact that you develop these skills may open up other doors to you. Sound project management skills are an essential asset I look for in someone that I'm considering for a new manager position," said Sisco.