Why and How to Develop Project Management Skills

"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." - Albert Einstein

This article will not recommend any specific methodology, software, or educational tools to develop your skills. However, we advise every person in the workforce to pursue a continuous learning journey. The “how” is context and individual based; we must find our way. The “why” comes from that age-old interview question: where do you see yourself in five years? Do you want to manage projects in the same dollar range presently? I’ve met a few who are comfortable and content staying where they are. Do you want to manage projects in a specific domain, for example, construction projects? Do you want to have ever-increasing responsibilities?

In this article we’ll discuss:

  1. Why continuing education is critical to developing project management skills.
  2. How to identify steps to develop project management skills.
  3. How to identify a system to develop project management skills.

Why should we continue to pursue learning and development?

Project management is a profession, and as with any profession, it is essential to keep developing your skills. Project Management is ever-evolving, as illustrated by the past decade or so – for example, the advent of Agile, Integrated, Lean, Kanban, and other methodologies. Further, we’ve seen technological developments (application of Artificial Intelligence), and more digital, online, and cloud applications. Staying current with changing technology and industry trends is a must.

This learning may not be limited to project management specifics. For example, a project manager that works in product development may explore product testing, and what they learn in this exploration produces better questions for the testing group. This broadening of knowledge can positively impact risk identification and project metrics determination.

"Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardour (sic) and attended with diligence." 
~ Abigail Adams

As contract project managers, we have had to do much self-paced education to stay current with project management and industry developments, knowing it is critical to have the skills required by the next potential client and project. This strategy is no less accurate for direct employees. The advantage of maintaining project management skills as a direct employee is ensuring the company’s project management uses the latest tools and techniques, reducing risk and more effectively delivering the objectives of our projects.

"Get the fundamentals down, and the level of everything you do will rise." 
~ Michael Jordan

Identifying Steps and Systems to Develop Project Management Skills

To develop project management skills, consider the following steps:

  1. Study the fundamentals: Learn the basics of project management, including methodologies, tools, and techniques. The key is not to limit the focus to one method, tool, or online tools. Learn the fundamentals about all.
  2. Gain hands-on experience: Practice managing projects using various techniques, no matter how small, to get real-world experience. This experience will help you understand the application of theory in practice. Try different industries as well. This exploration may mean accepting a junior or assistant project manager position.
  3. Network with other project managers: Connect with them to learn from their experiences and best (and perhaps worst) practices.

    Our book, “Continuous and Embedded Learning for Organizations” is about this learning through experience, including team learning and its benefits. You can join local and national professional organizations, attend industry events, or participate in online communities. The company can develop a community of project management personnel.

    I worked for an organization that employed 38 project engineers and project managers. Some of us would get together and discuss issues we were having with clients, tools, and team members and talk through strategies to resolve these issues. A strong example of this is developing a Community of Practice (CoP) to grow the company’s talent organically.
Book: Continuous and Embedded Learning for Organizations by Jon M. Quigley and Shawn P. Quigley

4. Develop organizational and leadership skills: Good project managers must also be good leaders with strong communication and organizational skills. Focusing on developing these skills to effectively and incrementally improve your ability to manage projects is not a waste. Reach out to department managers to learn about the processes of their department. Request a meeting with members of upper management to learn about their leadership styles. Find a mentor inside or outside the company to support your leadership and organizational skills development.

On the subject of mentors, before you approach a prospective mentor, have a plan. Identify a problem you want help solving or some area of project management in which you are interested. For example, a peer of mine has delivered projects in multiple industries, and I desired to do the same. So I approached him, stating just that, and asked if he would guide me. He loaded me with books on industry fundamentals, and we talked weekly to review what I had or had not learned. It worked out well, and the relationship continued for years.

5. Continuously evaluate and improve: Regularly reflect on your performance as a project manager and seek feedback from team members and stakeholders. Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement and continually hone your skills. In addition, feedback will help to develop a thick skin. It’s not necessarily a project management skill, but learning to take criticism is an asset all project managers can use.

 

How to Study Project Management

There are several ways to study project management:

  1. Online courses: There are numerous online courses on platforms like Coursera, Udemy, or LinkedIn Learning that cover the basics of project management and offer certifications. MPUG offers a membership that gives you access to webinars by industry experts, and opportunities to earn PDUs. You can also check local community colleges for evening classes. That is a great way to learn business and project management subjects and a great place to network. People who work day jobs attend evening classes from all levels in organizations and industries. I recommend taking two classes per week of two different courses if you can afford it and have time for the class and homework requirements. For example, I combined financial and Human Resource courses in the same week. I learned different topics and built a diverse network.
  2. Books: Reading books on project management can be a great way to learn about the concepts and methodologies. If you haven’t read it, consider starting with “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)” published by the Project Management Institute (PMI). In addition, dozens of excellent books written by actual project managers are available from several online book retailers.
  3. Workshops and training programs: Attend workshops or enroll in training programs to gain hands-on experience with the tools and techniques of project management.
  4. Earn a certification: Earning a certificate, such as the PMP (Project Management Professional) or CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) offered by PMI, is an objective third-party demonstration of your knowledge of project management fundamentals. PMP certification requires continually developing project management skills to maintain their certification.
  5. Join a professional organization: Consider joining a professional organization or PMI, where you can network with other project managers and have access to resources and training opportunities. In addition, these organizations have monthly activities, often with guest speakers on various topics.
 "If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it." ― Yogi Bhajan

6. Offer to teach a class: Offer to teach other departments in your company about project management or an area of leadership. Preparing for this activity requires developing a presentation. As a result, you might get questions you can’t answer during the class, providing a learning opportunity.

Conclusion

Regardless of your chosen method, being proactive and committed to continuously learning and growing as a project manager (and an individual) is key. A significant way to do that is through experience and taking on challenges. Take calculated risks, and know that failure is not terminal – it is educational. If your interest takes you outside of project management, study that also. Follow your curiosity. Make skill development a self-development project. Create goals, scope, milestones, and a schedule; you get the idea.

What areas of interest are you pursuing to develop your skills as a project manager? Let us know in the comments!


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Join MPUG to attend live training webinars, access 500+ hours of on-demand sessions, receive certificates of completion and earn the Project Management Institute (PMI)® Professional Development Units (PDUs) that you need. Watch an MPUG training webinar for free and improve your Microsoft Project skills in less than 1 hour.


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Transformation Corner is written by some members of Value Transformation all experienced project managers in a range of industries from government and construction to automotive product development, manufacturing, and IT. Our team members collectively have decades of experience. Experiences that we bring to this column. • Steve Lauck • Shawn P Quigley • Jon M Quigley • Rick Edwards • Ashley Taylor Womble Jon M. Quigley holds the PMP and CTFL certification with experience on a myriad of product development topics including process, quality and cost improvement techniques. He has nearly 30 years of product development experience, ranging from embedded hardware and software through verification and project management. Jon has won awards such as the Volvo-3P Technical Award in 2005 going on to win the 2006 Volvo Technology Award. Jon has secured seven US patents and a number of patents outside the US. Jon is co-authored more than 10 books on project management (including agile) and a variety of product development topics such testing and configuration management with CRC Press, Redwood Collaborative Media, as well as SAE International. See his LinkedIn profile for details. He has also contributed to numerous other works including the Encyclopedia of Software Engineering.
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