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How to Get Into Project Management: 5 PMs Share Their Stories

How to Get Into Project Management

Project ManagerThere are lots of routes into project management, as I explored recently in an article on how to become a project manager.

But reading about what you should do to break into project management isn’t the same as hearing real stories of people who took that leap and got that project management job.

Below, I share 5 stories from my book, Project Manager. Each project manager talks about their career journey and how they got into project management.

I hope that by reading how other people made their opportunities, you’ll be more easily able to see how to get into project management from where you are.

Emma Seaton-Smith

Emma moved into IT project management from a clinical background working as a radiographer. She explains how she made the transition.

Emma Seaton Smith

After my first degree in jewellery design, I researched the possibility of doing Graduate Entry Medicine, but I was excited by radiography and the visual element of beautiful images really attracted me. I wanted to combine these interests and apply them in a very practical profession.

I was a radiographer for nearly a decade. I wouldn’t use the cliché of ‘I fell into IT project management,’ but there was a gap in the needs of a changing business where I picked up the slack. The medical imaging company I worked for was bought and as a radiography manager there, I took on a key role in integrating our radiology imaging IT systems into the parent company. I also worked through each of the hospitals in the parent company to get them live with our imaging service.

Project management is transferable across so many different industries, so even if you move on, the skills you learn will be invaluable to any job role you do in the future.

When my role was made redundant, the parent company took me on in a project manager’s role.  It was a job role I’d seen others doing and aspired to. I hadn’t realised how much my skills were valued, so I was thrilled when it was offered.

I completed the PRINCE2® qualification soon after I started my IT role. As a new project manager it helped me to become familiar with the elements of a project and formalise my processes and documentation. I learned the language of the profession, which is a fundamental tool in any career.

Project management is transferable across so many different industries, so even if you move on, the skills you learn will be invaluable to any job role you do in the future.

Mayte Mata-Sivera

Mayte ‘found’ IT project management after studying chemical engineering. She describes how she built her skills in a new area.

Mayte Mata Sivera

Mayte Mata Sivera

A lot of people ask me how I developed my career in IT after six hard years at Chemical Engineering School in Valencia, Spain. I’m one of those examples of coincidences in your life that help you to discover a career path that you really love.

A week before my graduation, one of the big 5 firms in the IT world reached out to me, offered me an internship plus a free tuition for SAP course. I struggled for days about accepting the offer, but I did take it in the end. I was not very tech savvy, but thanks to my mentors and coach in the company I learnt not only IT but also leadership skills that I continue to use and develop today.

After my experience in several IT organisations, I’ve realised that my passion is being a great project manager. There are some myths about project management. It’s not just spending the day in front of the computer sending emails with due dates! It is also engagement, communication, leadership…I want to be one of those who really inspire the team, one of those who creates more leaders.

For developing some of my skills as project manager, I used not only my personal and professional network, but also social media platforms like LinkedIn and projectmanagement.com. They gave me the availability to choose the project that I wanted to lead, the group of people that I love to work with and to create a team. Also, using social media, I developed mentorship and coaching relationships with people around the world that helped me learn something new every day.

quote from book

Donna Unitt

There are lots of different ways that people gain their certifications. Donna explains how she gained hers.

Donna Unitt

Donna Unitt

I was a super user at my company and then moved into an IT project management role. I took my APMP [now PMQ] qualification which definitely helped me manage projects. I also took the PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification which was good to have as it is widely recognised and has a solid methodology, but I use those concepts less in my day job today.

In IT project management, it’s not the technical side that’s most important. It might have been like that once, when people came into the role from a pure IT background, but it’s not the case any longer. Now it’s about being organised, driving the work forward, communication and engagement.

Part of my role is educating others about why we need to follow a methodology, how our processes set us apart from our competitors and how much customers value the repeatable and proven approaches we take to deliver consistently and minimise risk.

Once I was in an IT project management job and had gained my project management qualifications I then went on to do a Masters in Technology Management. Put like that, it sounds like I did them the wrong way round but that path made the most sense for my career! My degree helped me understand how systems and infrastructure fit together.

I’ve recently done a change management course as well.

Elise Stevens

IT project management is a truly flexible career. Elise, organisational change management coach and project management podcaster extraordinaire, explains her career

Elise Stevens

Elise Stevens

When I left university with a degree in electrical engineering I went to work for Qantas on business-type projects. I spent two years working in Germany and then worked for another airline as a senior analyst, then programmer, then team leader and then moved into project management. I was gradually getting more experience and I took a Microsoft Project course.

Then Y2K hit. I was able to move into IT project management roles, grow my skills and through a succession of jobs, became a programme manager. I took the Managing Successful Programmes course to support that. Much of it didn’t feel relevant but it did give me a framework for defining a programme as more than the sum of the component projects and other useful tools. I did get value out of it.

In this programme management role I had challenging stakeholders, which reflected what was going on in the organisation at the time. It was a complex political environment and I got to understand the drivers behind people’s actions. In particular, people didn’t want to collaborate and were happy to work in silos. I used my organisational change skills – everything from showing stakeholders how to use One Note to scheduling to organising testing and training.

Today I’m in an organisational change role and I coach project managers. Technology isn’t the answer in situations like that one, where the organisation was broken. I seep into the business and do what’s required to ensure projects are successful.

Frances Place

Frances is Account Director at digital agency White October. She explains how she’s learned new skills over her career.

Frances Place

Frances Place

I’ve worked on many projects with teams dutifully following lists of fixed requirements, only to discover we’re going off in different directions because we’ve misunderstood the vision, or we’ve missed a detail because the requirements aren’t exact enough.

Agile consultant Jeff Patton created user story mapping: a visual way to outline, sort, and prioritise what you need to do. It’s a dynamic way to capture changing requirements in the context of the vision that briefs and engages the whole team in the process.

I have been using this technique for over a year and I now can’t start a project without it – it is an invaluable tool for us.

After years working on project teams, there’s no doubt in my mind that a shared understanding and clear vision for the scope of a project, at the outset, is crucial.

These stories come from Elizabeth’s book, Project Manager (BCS Books, 2018). The book is packed with ideas for how to start and build a successful career as a project manager. Get your copy now. Read more about how IT project management fits into the bigger business context in this article.

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How to Get into Project Management

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