How to Get Into Project Management? (For Beginners)
As I write this post, there are over 200K job openings for project managers worldwide. This is during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. Good project managers are always in demand.
So how do you become one? Can anybody do it? How important is the academic background? And what about those PM certifications? It’s natural to have these questions if you’re thinking about becoming a project manager. We will discuss them in this post.
Traditionally, project management as a discipline focused mainly on industries such as construction, manufacturing, and consultancy. It focused on big projects and teams. Although it continues to do so, smaller teams are also increasingly adopting different PM methodologies. Now there is a wide spectrum of project management methodologies and every team can find a framework that works well for them. The cloud revolution has made PM tools affordable and further expanded the reach of project management as a discipline.
In short, it’s an exciting time to be a project manager. So how can you get into it?
1. Volunteer to manage a project at work
If you already have a job and are working with a team, tell your manager that you wish to gain project management experience. Ask them if you can shadow a project manager, participate in meetings, and simply observe their process. Most organizations would be receptive to such an idea.
The opportunity to manage a cross-functional project team, even on a small scale will introduce you to several important project management concepts – matrix authority, project planning, stakeholder management, feedback loops, status updates, etc. There is no better way to learn about them than actually being in the thick of things. That’s why most job openings for project managers prioritize actual experience over certifications.
Many organizations, especially in IT, fill project management roles internally. They are always on the lookout for talent within the organization that displays an interest in project management. By volunteering to manage projects, you’ll increase your chances of taking a more formal PM role in your organization.
2. Learn the basics of popular PM methodologies
Ever since Kanban became the adopted child of IT, PM methodologies have frequently crossed industry boundaries. There are now some popular project management methodologies such as Waterfall, Lean, Scrum, and PRINCE2 that are used by thousands of organizations across various industries.
Don’t worry about diving too deep into all of them at the same time. Certifications are helpful for enhancing your knowledge. But there is enough free content on the internet to get a good understanding of the basics of these methodologies. Explore project management blogs and subscribe to the ones you find helpful. Capterra’s PM blog, Workzone, and our own Taskworld blog are just a few examples to get you started.
Don’t worry too much remembering all the theoretical concepts. Instead focus, on understanding why these concepts were created and what problems were they intending to solve. For example, Agile methodologies were created to empower creatives and structure a process to meet changing requirements. Occasionally teams get so lost in its details that they compromise on its core tenets.
3. Learn how to use a project management tool
Compared to MS Projects, modern project management tools are much less complicated. Exploring the features of a project management tool is an interesting and engaging way to learn about project management. Because you will not only learn the different features but also how those features are applied to solve real-world problems.
For example, learning about task dependencies paves the way for understanding the application of Gantt charts. A good understanding of a project management tool is usually also a prerequisite for many project management related positions. A study by Capterra found out that organizations are completing their projects on time and with higher quality when using project management software.
You don’t have to learn multiple PM tools because once you get a hang of the important features, it becomes easier to figure out how to use them in other tools. Google about PM tools and try one that makes you curious. We suggest trying out Taskworld because it packs all the essential project management features such as Kanban, task points, checklists, messaging, reports, etc. in one easy tool.
4. Gain industry knowledge
Becoming a project manager isn’t a goal that’s focused enough. It’s important to understand in which industry you want to become a project manager. If you would like to become a project manager in an IT company, read about the industry and the typical organization structure of its players.
For example, if you wish to become a Scrum Master, then read about best practices around software development. This doesn’t mean that you have to be a full-stack engineer. However, read about the basics of the Software Development Lifecycle. Understand the fundamental differences across technical functions of a typical Scrum team – frontend, backend development, DevOps, UX, and UI. Learn more about Scum.
If you have a basic understanding of technical skills, you can empathize with your team members. You can also manage the stakeholders better. This gives you an edge when looking for opportunities in that industry.
5. Join relevant Slack groups
B2B forums and groups in traditional social channels like LinkedIn and Facebook are increasingly getting saturated with noise. They are filled with unrelated and promotional content. As a result, genuine B2B discourse has moved to Slack groups.
Many Slack groups connect industry experts in various domains, including project management. Such groups are an excellent platform for staying abreast of industry trends, learning new things, networking, and discovering job opportunities.
Join some interesting Slack groups about project management. Modern Agile and Agile Coaching are active communities to understand the practical implications of Agile methodologies. This will boost your chances of finding a project management role.
6. Practice listening
We talked about listening as a skill in our previous post – How to Become a Scrum Master. This also holds true for project management in general. Project managers need great communication and conflict resolution skills. Being a better listener lays the foundation for both of them.
Leslie Shore in her book Listen to Succeed writes, “When we begin working on a reply before the speaker is finished, we lose both the complete information being offered and an understanding of the kind of emotion present in the speaker’s delivery,”
When listening, the focus shouldn’t be on configuring a response but simply understanding what the speaker wants to say. This allows you to give unwavering attention and helps gain trust as a Project Manager.