In today’s quicksilver tech industry, companies are continuously investing in new projects in order to stay ahead of the competition.
No big surprise there.
But what does it mean to you as a tech professional looking to kick-start or accelerate your career in IT?
Well, the upshot is that project management skills are among the very hottest in the job market. Right up there with the tech smarts, today’s employers increasingly are looking for professionals who have the ability to lead projects.
And with no sign of this trend changing in the near future, now would be a good time for you to start thinking about the kinds of technical, business, and communications skills needed to be an effective project manager.
But first things first.
What is project management? And how do the different stages of a project break down?
Breaking Down Project Management
Well, to put it simply, project management is the application of a range of knowledge, tools, resources, and techniques needed to bring meet the objectives of a specific enterprise or program.
Projects can be broken down typically into five phases: project conception, project planning, project launch, project performance, and project close.
From the conception or initiation stage, where you examine the proposal for the value it will bring to a company or organization, you move through to a definition or planning stage. This is where you figure out the budget, resources and timing you’ll need to bring the project to its conclusion.
Next comes your launch followed by execution, where different tasks are apportioned and teams get to work. Over the course of the project, the project manager will monitor the progress according to the plan and make any necessary adjustments, to keep things on track.
The last phase is the project close and evaluation, when you take stock of how successful you have been in delivering what you set out to do and whether the outcome meets expectations. This is the part where you assess its success and identify things that can be learnt for future projects.
Sounds straightforward enough, right?
Well, one thing is understanding how successful projects should pan out. Another is building the skill set to manage the processes.
So what are the specific skills that you should be building, whether your job will involve you being part of a project team, or its leader?
Key Project Management Skills
Managing a project in IT calls for a solid mix of tech, business, and communication skills. You will need a cool head to develop and maintain schedules while ensuring you are meeting milestones.
And because project managers typically shoulder the burden of responsibility without necessarily having authority over members of the project team, you will also needs some pretty strong negotiating and team-building competencies to get things done.
First and foremost, though, you should be able to see the big picture – the scope of your project.
A good project manager will be able to see the desired outcome and build a plan that will get his or her team there. You will need a clear vision of all the aspects of your project, while being able to focus in on its specifics when you need to.
You will also need to keep your fingers on those purse-strings. Being able to budget well – preparing, writing, and monitoring your budget – is absolutely essential.
The essence of any good project manager is being a good team leader – or team player where necessary. While it might be your role to take decisions, you should be empowering others to contribute, offer input, and critically, feel a sense of purpose and commitment to the success of the project. This means building the communication and negotiation skills to engage other people.
Time waits for no one, right? Well, never were truer words spoke than in the world of project management.
Managing time is way more than just allocating a day, week, or month to certain jobs. You will need to define the critical path; those critical tasks you need to complete which, together, show the estimated life-cycle for your project.
You will need to analyze what exactly you are spending time on – and how key this is to the success of the project.
You will need to manage the floats – the time a task can be delayed without compromising your project. And you will need to manage the sprints – also known as “iteration,” or periods of time during which a certain part of the project is executed and shipped.
Building the Skills
If you are looking to get into a project manager role, you will need to ensure that you have got the sorts of skills mix to get you onto the recruiter’s radar.
On way of building up your resume is to volunteer for jobs or tasks in your current role (whether you are working or interning) that will bring you into a project team.
A good idea is to go for the kinds of positions and responsibilities that will expose you both to the technology and business sides. Look for roles that will give you experience in negotiating, collaborating, and multitasking. And if you can, try to shadow experienced project managers wherever you are.
Whether you are determined to master traditional project management or agile; whether the scrum is your thing, or you are more into six sigma, kanban or PRINCE 2 project management systems, remember: a good project manager is essentially a good problem solver.
And as a Cisco Networking Academy student, solving problems should be no problem at all.
NetAcad Advantage Reading Note: As our future heads toward becoming more digitized and connected, it is every important to be well versed in all career skills—technical and non-technical.