How to get into Project Management—and how we can help you

In this article we talk briefly about what it takes to become a project manager, from scratch—and how we can support you in your journey.

Introduction

Perhaps you’ve reard this somewhere: “Take a short course with us and earn a recognised certificate to launch your career!”

This is not something which we say at ProjectManagement.co.za, even though we do offer training towards internationally recognised certificates. We know that the reality is a lot more complex. We’d like to help you succeed, and that means being realistic about what it really takes to break into the field of Project Management and to keep growing. We have some unique offerings to help you do that.

Why getting into professional Project Management is different

Unlike becoming a doctor or a qualified schoolteacher, becoming a project manager doesn’t have a straightforward one-size fits-all study path. If you don’t have prior exposure to formal Project Management and you’d like to enter the field, it will take you several months to get skilled up to a point where you can confidently say that you know what you are doing and have enough evidence to back it up—and several more years before you’re an expert. After more than 20 years in this industry, we can say with confidence that nobody goes from zero to hero simply by doing a short course in Project Management and getting a certificate.

Becoming a project manager

Bear in mind that the job of ‘project manager’ isn’t the only specialised role in the realm of formal Project Management. A large, mature Project Management Office (PMO) also has people in other roles, such as project schedulers or planners, project administrators and project accountants. Some people are better suited to these roles than to the role of project manager. Others use these as a stepping stone to becoming a project manager, PMO manager or programme manager.

In this article, we focus mainly on becoming a project manager. We recognise that many project managers don’t get into the job via those roles, and that many project managers don’t work for organisations which have a PMO. We’re going to assume that you’re part of this latter group, i.e. that you’re starting from scratch, on your own.

The myth of ‘getting in as a junior project manager’

Newcomers to the field sometimes imagine that there must be many PMOs in the world that run like clockwork, where they could get a job as a ‘junior project manager’ after doing some certificate course and then learning the ropes from experienced senior people while on the job. In reality, such opportunities are rare, and a certificate alone wouldn’t usually get you in. Where such jobs do exist, they are usually offered to existing employees who have shown promise in other areas of work and who already know the organisation’s culture and line of business. 

The mindset needed to become a project manager

Now, just because it’s difficult to get in doesn’t mean that project managers aren’t needed, or that the profession is flooded. There are many opportunities for people who can manage projects; you just need to take responsibility for making things happen.

If this sounds vague, don’t worry: we can help you with precise, personalised guidance and examples of how to ‘make things happen’. Your mindset in preparation for these steps should be: “I can’t wait for someone to teach me everything before I start running projects.” In other words, take initiative not only with your learning, but also by starting your own projects or by working on volunteer projects around you. (Once you’ve gained some distance in your studies, it will be easier to advise you on the steps.)

Overall journey to becoming a project manager

To most people, we recommend that their learning journey should include:

  • online study and other forms of study (not only in Project Management);
  • managing a real project;
  • developing a reputation (by building an online presence and through networking); and
  • personalised training in project scheduling, communication and configuration management while working on your project.

In a some cases, an international credential could also come in handy, but it should not your first or only step, because it requires some context to make this work well for you. 

Some of these steps should run concurrently. As part of this journey, you’ll need to focus on developing your existing skills to work effectively with people, money, risk and other aspects of Project Management. For many people who study with us, the journey is also one of self-discovery and growth and change in relationships with family and friends.

Where to start

We recommend that you begin with our online Project Management Concepts course—an inexpensive part-time online course which can be completed in approx. 10 weeks, and which comes with a Money-Back Guarantee. The goal of the course is to develop gateway skills towards the Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCDF) of the Project Management Institute (PMI)—in other words, capabilities that you need to grow in the world of projects. There are also many experienced project managers, programme managers and business owners who do the course as part of a process of formalising their approach or credentials. (Watch our video How do you study to become a Project Manager? to learn why we don’t recommend jumping from home-grown approaches straight into PMP certification.)

Although there are no specific prerequisites for enrolment in the Project Management Concepts course, we do occasionally recommend other training first if we think you’d struggle to cope.

Some of our participants have described the course as life-changing. You can read their stories here.

After Project Management Concepts, what comes next?

Getting personal and practical

Your learning journey should include real project work. You don’t have to wait until you’re finished with the course before you begin this step. Once you’ve gained a bit of distance in the Project Management Concepts course, schedule a call with us if you need guidance in this, and towards developing your professional reputation. The latter may turn into several self-marketing projects for you, and you may incur some costs, depending on your personal marketing strategy (something which we’ll talk through with you). You do not pay us for this guidance or for the services which you may engage to support these steps.

Experience and tutoring in professional Project Schedule Management and Configuration Management

Your next steps depend on the field in which you intend to manage projects, the size and nature of those projects, and several other factors. For working in most industries, you’d need to budget for leasing (or buying) Microsoft Project, and for personalised, one-to-one Consultative Tutoring on your project to help you develop professional templates and protocols for your specific line of work. (There are reasons why we recommend using this software at this stage in your journey, even if you choose something else later.)

Consultative Tutoring is a professional service, not a course. You can expect to pay professional fees, just as you will later charge professional fees to your own clients. To save money, you may want to take one or two inexpensive Microsoft Project courses with other organisations before you take this step with us. We will also tell you how to prepare your project information to make the most of your Consultative Tutoring sessions.

While there are also other things you should be doing to set yourself up professionally, it is usually possible to initiate these using free software before investing in a more integrated solution.

International accreditation in Project Management

The Project Management Concepts course which we recommend as a first step references a variety of internationally recognised methods, frameworks and techniques. Later in your journey you may consider formal international accreditation in one or more of these standards if your clients or prospective employers require it. Which credentials to get (e.g. Certified Scrum Master, PRINCE2 Practitioner, etc.) will depend on considerations which you’ll be better equipped to work through once you’ve taken the steps described above. Depending on the nature of your projects and your industry, you may not need such formal credentials to work on a project, but learning the standards and methods can be helpful if you’ll be working in an environment where they have been implemented.

Note that some credentials have prerequisites which include prior qualifications and several years of experience leading projects (not just working in projects). We can help you prepare to meet all these criteria and enrol you in exam preparation training.

Studying for an international certificate exam is not a substitute for building the skills described in the other steps listed above. If you skip the prior steps and just study for an exam, you’ll have a piece of paper, and not much else. Many people who have international certificates in Project Management are not capable of managing projects according to the requirements of the PMCDF.

Getting started

Now that you have reached the end of the page, you can see that becoming a project manager takes a lot more than “a recognised certificate to launch your career”. We trust that we’ve reassured you of our support for a realistic journey, one that is unique to you. We look forward to playing a part in your growth.

Tania Melnyczuk

Tania is the Director of Programme Design at ProjectManagement.co.za and the Collaboration Director of the Autistic Strategies Network. She also works as a project specialist at Marius Cloete Moulds, and as a professional artist specialising in ballpoint and multimedia.

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