Last updated: December 2019
Are you preparing to become a project manager but you don’t know where to start?
We’ve put together an extensive guide for you to serve as a beginning point and reference for your future career as a project manager. You can now start being part of this line of work right away by reading the basics of each aspect of a project manager’s career growth.
Here are the things that you should consider before starting a project management career:
- What does being a project manager actually mean? – the basic personality traits of a good project manager
- A project manager’s skills – find out if you have the skills needed to be a part of the project management field
- What does a project manager actually do? – an analysis of the most common project management responsibilities on the current job market
- What’s the secret of a project management career? – tips on becoming better in the project management profession
- How to become a project manager– education and the most important PM certificates you can get out there
- Project manager salary – know how much to ask for according to your experience level
- Project manager career problems – find out how project management experts dealt with problems when they were beginners and prepare to successfully face any issues you might encounter
- Ways of managing projects and product development – Agile, Waterfall, PRINCE2, PRiSM, Six Sigma, Critical Path, and many more
- Tools for project managers – collaboration tools, video chat systems, project management software, and all the apps that project managers need to start a project
If you're looking for a tool to help you plan and manage your projects, try Paymo.
What does being a project manager actually mean?
Are you always the leader of your group who likes to keep everything and everyone organized and with a goal in mind?
If your answer is yes, you could be on your way to a career in project management.
Project management is one of the most complex fields of work out there. Be prepared for a true adventure you’ll never get bored of. There is no space for dullness in this profession. A project manager (PM) is responsible for leading an entire project through initiation, planning, execution, control, and completion.
Project managers always work in a team. They are most often sociable and great team players. As a PM, you will need to adapt to different people, cultures, environments, and situations. Being flexible is key to team communication since you’ll be the builder and controller of the team.
To be a great PM, you have to be a team leader, co-worker, and supervisor at the same time. This is one of the most challenging careers as no day will be the same and you will need all of your project management skills to solve every problem. Also, you’ll be the first person your team goes to when a problem occurs. They might expect you to hold the answers to any inquiry. But, this is what makes the project management career path interesting.
You’ll deal with both formal and informal interactions. If you believe that you’re a person that knows people well from the second you meet them, this might be the right career path for you. Essentially, project managers are similar to psychologists. They know exactly what problems, desires, and expectations employees and clients have. However, despite being a people person, a PM won’t get emotionally involved in their projects.
Some of your duties in your career as a project manager will include: taking part in the creation process, executing the project, preparing communication methods, finding solutions to recurring issues, monitoring the project’s progress from start to finish, ensure your team is actually getting things done, and many more. To put it briefly, you’ll be responsible for connecting each project to the business world and to its clients.
You must be aware that the entire responsibility of the project’s success will fall on your shoulders. You will be held accountable for any mistakes that your team makes or for any client complaints. In this position, you’ll focus both on the accuracy of your work and that of your team.
This profession is always changing and facing new demands. If you’re the kind of person who prefers diversity, this is the type of career you’ll never get bored of. You can always switch the project you’re working on, the team you interact with, the industry you’re involved in, and even the processes and tools to ease your work. No project is the same. Yet, your expertise in this field will prove helpful whenever you’ll come across similar situations and issues in the future. Similarly, your past experience will be essential to solving problems quickly.
A project manager’s skills
Knowledge of project management is sometimes just not enough for you to become a great PM. As discussed above, you need soft skills as well. Being a good communicator and an open leader is not enough. Tackling daily project management challenges also requires accountability, adaptability, analytical and strategic thinking, decisiveness, a stress-resistant personality, and even a bit of love for risk-taking. Being a multitasker with great written and oral communication skills can place you among the top project managers in your sector.
When it comes to hard skills, you should be aware that there is no specific project management skill. In fact, depending on the project, you’ll have to know a bit of everything. General business knowledge is highly desired. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to be an expert in technical skills such as coding. However, being able to give accurate and detailed tasks to your developers is important. Leading a project is all about making sure that your team members lack no information that’s crucial to successfully finish a task and delivering the final project.
You should have an adequate level of knowledge to spot an issue and suggest possible solutions. At the same time, you should know that many project managers have had previous other jobs such as software developers, marketing managers, accountants, designers, and so on. This means that they hold the required solid knowledge for projects related to their previous fields of interest.
If you’re one of these people, you might be one step ahead of the others; but you must keep in mind that you’ll also need to develop your own knowledge of project management processes, frameworks, and people management. You might be used to working individually, but project management is all about teamwork. Don’t panic if you end up realizing that working in a project manager position is not a right fit for you. This profession creates many new opportunities and pathways for other future careers.
Take a look at the skills of the most successful project managers and find out if you have what it takes to become like them and what you have to improve:
- solid understanding of business cases and risk management processes
- expert knowledge to meet specific circumstances
- proven project management and self-management skills
- strong leadership skills
- ability to monitor and control budgets
- critical thinking
- good communication and negotiation skills
- capability to make decisions under pressure
- strong interpersonal skills necessary to lead a team
- ability to define situations, document data, and draw conclusions
- strong business acumen
- ability to interpret instructions regardless of their form
- strong organizational and multitasking skills
- creative mindset
- analytical skills
- accuracy and attention to detail
- excellent time management skill
- capacity to maintain schedules and meet deadlines
- problem-solving skills
- work ethic
- working knowledge of project management tools
If you’d like to see what other skills you’ll need for your next project manager job, check out our complete analysis of 200+ project management job descriptions.
What does a project manager actually do?
Depending on the industry you work in, your duties might differ.
We have analyzed over 200 LinkedIn worldwide job postings and compiled this list of the most common project manager responsibilities:
- direct all project management phases
- set and manage project expectations with external and internal stakeholders
- coordinate and track various projects through an entire project lifecycle
- develop a detailed project management plan to track project progress
- mentor, motivate, and supervise project team members
- develop professional business relationships
- define the overall scope of the project
- prioritize the tasks of the project
- create and continuously update the project documentation
- create accurate forecasts for revenue and resource requirements
- partner with all departments to ensure work is done according to demands
- establish effective communication
- ensure team members have all the necessary information
- track work times and maintain accurate daily time sheets
- ensure project tasks are executed and reviewed within the predefined scope
- align various teams to maintain the quality of deliverables
- report and escalate issues to management when necessary
- conduct project status meetings, daily stand-ups, and retrospective meetings
- continuously follow up on the progress, risks, and opportunities of the project
- focus on customer satisfaction
- manage projects through KPIs
- manage budgets and billings
- act as the main customer contact for project activities
- make recommendations for project improvements
- conduct workshops and trainings
- obtain customer input
- measure project performance using appropriate systems, tools, and techniques
- evaluate team performance
What’s the secret of a project management career path?
There is no definite secret. Project managers are good at their job for various reasons. Thinking that you hold the secrets of this job can make you believe that you’re prepared for any situation. Nevertheless, there are many problems that could occur anytime, making it impossible for you to know how to solve them without too much struggle. For this reason, it’s better to focus on being a great professional rather than on hunting down the secrets of success. Doing what the best PMs are doing won’t guarantee that you’ll become successful like them. Being passionate and open to change whenever something is not working right though is more important. The project management world is one of the most dynamic business environments. You should be able to adapt to its changing nature and become comfortable in it.
Another tip that project managers might hesitate to share has to do with the use of project management tools. These can automate their tasks and help them manage projects with ease. Finding the perfect tools often takes a lot of time and testing. Also, the apps and techniques you’ll use can depend on you’re style of work.
More experienced project managers might even be able to tell you some secrets that you’ll find nowhere else. The true secrets of this profession come only with experience. Making mistakes and learning from them is a valid statement even in project management.
Meanwhile, some of the things that you can test are: making sure that you understand the client’s requirements, picking the right team members, being able to create tasks in detail, making sure you have the best tools and systems for finishing the project, focusing on the real issues, setting reasonable requirements, always taking failure into consideration, and creating backup plans.
Testing methods and tools is vital for the project success and for your development as a professional. By testing and experimenting, you’ll be able to learn the secrets of project management on your own. This is beneficial since the tips you’ll get from another project manager might not apply to your project. You must be aware that every PM is different and every project is peculiar in its own way.
How to become a project manager
Where should you actually start your education to become a project manager?
Before you begin your project management journey you have to see if this career is right for you. Read the stories of other project managers, reach out to them, ask questions, or try a project management internship. Additionally, you can take some introductory online courses to get your first look at this subject. Usually, these courses provide tasks and assignments designed to make you interact with this business branch and see if you can handle its responsibilities.
You should never start working as a project manager without having previously discovered the processes and tools commonly used in project management. You have to know if you’re capable of using those techniques and platforms before you take part in a real project.
Before you start looking for a project manager job, write down all of the aspects that your future workplace must have and make a list of what you never want to deal with in your following career. Don’t rush into getting a job just for the sake of working. If you’re an entry-level project manager, you should find a work environment that allows you to grow through all project manager levels and learn more from your coworkers.
This takes us to the importance of having a mentor at the beginning of your project manager career. We’ve previously talked about how you could research the activity of other project managers before deciding whether this path is right for you or not. A role model can shape your entire career. This is the reason why you should find a skilled project manager who’d be able to allocate part of his time to teach you what he already knows. By working close to their side, you’ll master project management methods, methodologies, frameworks, processes, and best practices. This will also ease your process of becoming a project manager. A mentor’s purpose is also to honestly highlight your mistakes so that you can use them to further develop yourself.
Know that finding compatible project managers who want to share their wisdom and knowledge can be rather difficult. Most, however, will be willing to do this in return for some help with their tasks. As a result, they’ll involve you in real projects and even supervise you while doing so. This is imperative for a project management novice because you wouldn’t otherwise be able to know if you’re using your theoretical knowledge correctly without someone analyzing your work. Trust is at the base of the trainee-mentor relationship. You believe they’ll share their tips with you and they allow you to work on projects with them.
Project management education
Your project management career can start with you getting a project manager or business administration degree. Not having a diploma in project management is, however, not a disadvantage; but, if you do study it on a daily basis in an academic environment, you’ll have a head start. It’s never too late to switch to a career that suits your interests. In fact, PM does not belong to only one industry. Usually, projects will belong to another line of business such as software, art, logistics, economics, linguistics, etc. In fact, a design agency might require you to hold a degree in Arts or Design for a better understanding of the field. In this case, project management education is entirely up to your own will and desire to improve yourself professionally.
Any college degree can prove helpful for a future project manager since the academic world teaches you how to study and acquire knowledge gradually. This is essential for a PM that could have to learn all about a new project’s main field in a short time. Self-development, self-learning, and a will to constantly develop oneself throughout a lifetime are vital for keeping your career at the top.
Before deciding on a degree, see how project management works in real life. College activities don’t allow you to see the actual consequences of your decisions. Working with a real project can teach you all about accountability and outcome management.
There are also numerous online project management degrees, learning resources, blogs, and programs that you can follow. This could be an option if you don’t live close to the college you’d like to attend or if you just don’t have enough time to attend university. These three examples are degrees that you can get through online project management education:
- Online Master’s Degree in Project Management from the Colorado State University – Global Campus
- Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from Purdue Global University
- Master of Business Administration in Project Management from the Liberty University.
For more learning opportunities like these ones, check out the best project management courses you can take or other training resources. Alternatively, you can take a look at some of the most commonly used project management terms.
Another way of educating yourself is getting a similar position. You don’t have to begin your career as a PM. You can start from managing smaller projects, products, or even teams. Alternatively, you can go for an internship in this field. Don’t get discouraged if the work you’ll be doing won’t seem like something you’ll love for the rest of your life. Sometimes all it takes is to find a different project to work on. All project managers dream of working in a field that is actually one of their hobbies. If your hobby is in the field of business, you’re lucky.
Project management certifications
Are project management certificates still worth it?
Of course! As you advance in your career as a project manager you’ll either feel the need to certify your project management knowledge or you’ll be asked by your employer to get a certificate. Although certificates might slowly start losing their importance for recruiters, the experience you’ll get during trainings and exams is indispensable.
Having a PM certificate is a plus, but extensive knowledge and experience in the field matter more for a project’s success. What you must remember is that certificates are not everything. You could have all the diplomas in the world and, yet, if you have no real knowledge or working experience in project management, no one will want to work with you.
Which are the most important PM certificates out there?
Don’t rush into studying for just any project management certification. Some employers don’t even accept them while online certifications are almost useless. Also, you should study for a certification that’s related to the projects you work on or industry you’re involved in.
Here’s a list of project management certifications that you should consider:
Perhaps one of the most commonly known project management certifications, the Project Management Professional certification, provided by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), sets the standards for project management. The PMBOK Guide and Standards that contains the most important guidelines and characteristics needed for project management. The PMBOK® Guide is the main study resource but you’re free to use any other materials that focus on the PMP® exam.
Not just anybody can sit this test. The exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions and it requires three years of previous working experience as a project manager (or five if you don’t have a four-year degree in PM), at least 4,500 hours of experience working on directing a project (or 7,500 if you don’t have a four-year degree), and 35 hours of formal education on the project management process.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive course, the PMP® training offers widely accepted standards that can help you achieve project success. Keep in mind that this certificate expires as you have to renew it every 3 years due to the changing nature of project management standards.
Note: the PMBOK® Guide and the PMP® certification are mostly known in USA, Canada, and the Middle East. For Europe, you might want to look for a PRINCE2 certification.
Take a few minutes to find out some of the secrets of passing the PMP® exam:
If you’re not yet prepared to sit the PMP® exam, you can try going for a Certified Associate in Project Management examination. The CAPM® certification is perfect for less experienced people who have little project management experience but would like to pursue this career in the future. Earning this certificate helps you prove your dedication to project management despite not having enough work experience yet.
The PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is a project management method. The UK government developed PRINCE2, so if you’re planning on working in the UK, you might want to give this certificate a go.
This certification has two main learning paths you can choose to pursue:
This first level can confirm your basic knowledge of this method. There are no prerequisites to take this exam, but you should have previous experience with project management. Having this certificate doesn’t mean that you can be a project manager, but that you can work in a team that uses PRINCE2 as a PM method.
This level confirms whether the candidate can use the PRINCE2 method in real-life scenarios or not. It’s perhaps the most important one that you can get if you want to work with PRINCE2 in the future. The certification allows you to be employed as a project manager that can apply PRINCE2 principles to a project.
Scrum is an Agile framework that’s often used for product management or for software-industry projects. Scrum.org provides assignments that can certify your Scrum knowledge. You can choose between the following assessments:
- Professional Scrum Master™
- Professional Scrum Product Owner™
- Professional Scrum Developer™
- Scaled Professional Scrum™
- Professional Agile Leadership™
- Professional Scrum With Kanban™
If you’re not looking for a certification and you just want to test your command of Scrum, there are also a series of open assignments that are free to take.
The views expressed in all of the above project management training opportunities are different. It’s best that you look at all opinions since you’ll probably need all the information in the future. Don’t consider them opposites. In fact, they are complementary and you’ll need all of them for a successful project delivery.
Project manager salary
A project manager’s salary varies according to the country in which they’re working and to their previous experience. Considering this, a PM’s annual income can be anywhere between $51,000 to $111,000. According to Glassdoor, the average project manager salary in the United States is $75,474 while additional cash compensation can be anywhere between $1,541 and $19,755. However, depending on your skills, experience, and knowledge, this project lead salary can be even lower or higher. Project management careers are still in high-demand and annual wages are expected to grow for all project manager levels in the next ten years.
If you’re unsure whether project management will still be desired in the future, here’s a report on PM job growth. Companies are shifting their attention from typical routine actions to actual projects. More and more positions will be created and there aren’t yet enough people qualified to fill all of them.
Project manager career problems
Project management careers are not perfect. Just like any other job, it has its downsides. The reality is that it can be a difficult job and you have to be the right person to do it and handle all project management challenges. Some PMs can even work long stressful hours to make sure that a project’s on track and to deliver it before the deadline. More than this, as a project manager you can’t expect to just go home and disconnect entirely from your work. Many PMs keep track of their projects, answer emails, and stay connected with their team even after work or on holidays.
If you’re working for a smaller company where you’re the only project manager, you might be in charge of all duties. This means that you’ll need to juggle several different projects and allocate just enough daily time to manage and control all of them. If you’re barely at the start of your career, this could be impossible since you don’t yet have the necessary knowledge to manage your time accordingly.
On the other hand, you might not get to choose the project you’ll work on. This means you’ll get small projects that could waste your time. Similarly, you could come across a project related to a field you’re not interested in. This will make it difficult for you to want to learn more and grasp full control of that domain.
The responsibility a project manager has is not easy to handle just by anyone. The pressure of delivering a project on time can be too much if you’re not used to holding such authority. Likewise, if you’re not resistant to stress, keep away from hard to handle projects or even from this vocation. From the outside, being a project manager could seem like you’ll maintain full control of what goes on in the project development process.
However, the truth is that you are entirely dependent on what your clients want. Don’t get this wrong. You can make your own suggestions but you also have to be flexible to any last-minute changes your client might want to make without complaining. Top management often gets to make the final decisions. This is one of the reasons why a project management process is so hard to implement in a company where the main managers and the project managers hold similar powers.
Also, people don’t always like project managers. Employees like good project managers because they give detailed and accurate tasks, are considerate, and can lead by example. On the other hand, bad project managers are the ones that emphasize the necessity of a lot of meta-work: too many meetings, presentations, status reports, and less actual work and growth opportunities. In other words, project managers dedicate themselves to providing valuable output rather than to the development process.
There are also project managers that believe the project belongs to them. But it’s not just project managers. Product managers and program managers encounter the same issues and the truth is that any employee can be a supporter of meta-work. Not being able to open up to your employees and listen to their opinions can only push them away. You’ll come across some difficult employees during your career and it’ll be difficult to get them to understand your purpose.
To gain the respect of your team and to avoid unnecessary arguments, learn to actively listen to others, focus on team cooperation, communicate openly, and aim for real project results not just measurements and status documentation. Learn how you can become their mentor and make sure that the way in which you guide them is as helpful and detailed as possible. Nobody hates anyone more than a project manager that throws random tasks with no accurate descriptions or client requirements to guide them. This can show that you don’t know much about the subject or the client’s requirements.
Value individuals and treat them with respect. Never see your team members as simple resources or machines that can instantly execute any task. Listen, understand, and adapt to their own needs. If you don’t like working with people and you’re impatient when waiting for co-workers to finish their duties, you might not be a good match for this job.
Advice for beginners from experienced project managers
We asked expert project managers the following question:
What was the biggest problem you encountered when you started your PM career and how did you overcome it?
Here’s what they had to say:
Carmen Pop, Global Project Manager @Dropbox
“My story on my career project management is as follows – I was assigned a project back in 2016, which seemed like a regular project at the start. However, after a first round of initiating and planning, it turned out to be a large program with multiple cross functional stakeholders within Dropbox and external technical vendors. This experience definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone as a project manager and it was difficult managing ongoing changes on a continuous basis.
My best advice besides the general rules of project management (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, closing) is to remain compassionate and composed. People will get upset, things will not go the way you want them to, but as the project manager you are the glue that needs to keep everything together and moving forward. I believe I was able to achieve this in my project and as a result, we were able to launch as a team.”
Susanne Madsen, Project Leadership Coach, Facilitator, and Speaker @Susanne Madsen International
“When I first started out as a project manager my biggest problem was that I had no one to shadow, or learn from, within my company. For many many years I was the only project manager around. It would have probably fast-tracked my career had I had someone to ask for advice, but instead I learned to find my own answers, to rely on my intuition and to use common sense. I always tried to find the most simple and effective way to track and communicate something without the use of jargon. To learn about the project management process I researched the internet and studied the PRINCE2 manual at my own initiative. Furthermore, I often asked myself: “what would the head of department do right now?” That helped me to gain a different perspective and make sure that I was focusing on the right things.”
Glauco Paiva, Senior Delivery Project Manager @Microsoft
“In my career as a project manager my biggest problem was how to manage the anxiety to do the things done in a scenario which we cannot control the others. The experience through delivering projects, interacting (listening to) with other people as a customer, partner or the same company, studying techniques and the last but not the least thing, always keep pursuing to understand myself. When you recognize your limitations as respect yourself, you can achieve and leverage the best from the others, for me it is the nicest thing we can do. So, it is possible to work with a satisfied team and helping the business to grow. ”
Bert Heymans, Senior Project Manager @Journeyman PM
“The biggest problem I encountered when I started my PM career was deciding what not to do in order to get good at project management. I have a technical background and made the common mistake of dividing my time between project management and production related tasks while I should have been concentrating on project management only. It’s really hard to let go of something you know how to do very well because you’re used to doing it and feel like it’s expected of you.
After a while I learned and discovered how deep the project management skill set runs and how many things you need to know and do to be good at it. Project management is 90% communication (at least) and learning how to do that as effective as possible takes time and practice. Even just getting the right people to listen to you requires leadership skills, tact and creating rapport. Those skills take time to develop, and you’ll never learn them from a book.
My advice for people in a similar situation who want to get good at project management would be to let go as soon as possible and focus on doing project management work. If you don’t know or if it’s just not clear what “doing project management work” means in your company, educate yourself or switch to another company or department.”
Ben Aston, Owner @The Digital PM
“I tend to be pretty optimistic and naturally, I’m a ‘just wing it’ kind of guy. So when I first started my career as a project manager and relied on my natural instincts to just take it easy, perhaps unsurprisingly, projects kept on going over budget, timelines slipped and clients got mad when they didn’t get what they thought they had paid for.
It was soon brought to my attention that the way I was managing projects wasn’t really managing at all – I was just letting projects happen around me – hoping for the best and that everything would work itself out in the end. The lesson I quickly learned is that if I wanted to succeed as a project manager, I needed to park my optimism and be more of a pragmatic realist.
I had to learn to lead projects more proactively and assertively. Not just hoping that the team knew what they were doing but making sure they were briefed properly. Not just hoping they were on track but making sure they knew the milestones and dependencies. Not just hoping we were on time and budget but tracking progress daily. Not just hoping the client knew what was going on but making sure everything was documented properly. You get the idea – it’s a lot more effort, but it’s what gets results.”
Elizabeth Harrin, Project Management Expert @Girl’s Guide to Project Management
“When I first started out, I think the biggest issue for me was being taken seriously at work. As a young woman in a project management position, I was trying to influence others more senior and older than myself. I was lucky to have the support of a good mentor and a supportive line manager as well, plus I was able to attend leadership training. Having confidence in my abilities and knowing what I was able to contribute made me feel more positive about the difference I was making.
For people in a similar situation, beginning their careers, I’d advise you to get a mentor, and also to be brave! Believe that you have the right to be taken seriously because of what you bring to the table.”
Ramiro Rodrigues, Owner @RR Project Consulting
“It´s known that a great PM professional has to have this triad of skills – technical, managerial, and behavioral. I knew that the first two could be acquired with study and that the most complex to develop would be the last one. So I plunged into two fronts: 1 – self-assessment and analysis to understand my behavior and seek to change my mindset of what I knew that needed to change; 2 – study of philosophy to better understand the nuances of human behavior. In short, if you want to succeed as PM, know that you need to understand yourself. This made and continues to make all the difference in my professional life (and personal).”
Alejandro Roman, Integrative Technology Projects Engineer – Project Management Office @Huenei IT Services
“It was the beginning of 2003 when I started my career in project management and led my first project: the MPLS network update of the Atento Global Holding Client (for ten countries). The problem appeared since the MPLS Service Upgrade had installed Cisco Router equipment and there was a significant delay from the manufacturer in the delivery of this equipment. This made it necessary for us to opt for a local supplier in Argentina to be able to comply in a timely manner with what was planned with the client. The chosen strategy was successful and the time and budget of the project were met.”
Stéphane Parent, CEO @Leader Maker
“The biggest problem I encountered when I started my project management career was that I was the only project manager at my office. There was nobody around me I could reach out to ask questions or get coaching.
What I had to do was build out my virtual network to provide the support I needed during my project management learning and growth. Through phone calls, emails and discussion boards, I was able to get the encouragement and answers that helped me with my first projects.”
Ways of managing projects and product development
There are several different approaches to the project management process and its methods, methodologies, or frameworks. These are always changing. New frameworks and PM trends appear all the time. If you think you can get away with knowing only Agile for the rest of your career, you are wrong. The framework you’ll use depends entirely on your company, project, and team. It is true that a company might want you to own a certain certificate or have experience with a specific one. However, you can’t solely rely on the use of a method. As a project manager, you’ll probably get to work with more than just one throughout your career.
We have simplified a list of eight ways in which you can manage a project to make them easy to understand. You’ll also be able to find out which are better for your manner of working.
Agile is a series of practices and principles that are best for products and initiatives that face various changes during their progress. This mindset is based on short delivery cycles (called sprints) and on a dynamic work culture that supports continuous team collaboration. “Just like its name, Agile means being adaptable – the ability to gracefully adapt to rapidly changing customer needs”, remarks Kamlesh Ravlani, an Agile Coach and Scrum Trainer at Agile For Growth.
Agile focuses on team members and on their regular feedback that can reshape the course of a project. Stakeholders will review each stage and recommend adjustments accordingly. This system allows the entire team to share a project’s responsibility by being in charge of specific individual or collaborative tasks. There is no clear predefined path or extensive control as projects are very flexible. Objectives are named from the very beginning but deliverables and outcomes can be changed.
Scrum is used predominantly in software or product development. Small cross-functional teams work with a Product Owner who is responsible for the direction of the product. “A Scrum Master then serves the entire team and ensures that all obstacles are cleared.”, says Kamlesh Ravlani. The Scrum process is divided into smaller cycles of 2 weeks (usually). Every day, the team members review what they’ve done and what they’ll work on for rest of the day during the daily stand-up meeting.
Kanban is a method that allows you to get a visual overview of your tasks. The method consists of a physical or digital board with three columns (To Do, In progress, Done). These include tasks written on cards that can be moved from one progress stage to another until they are completed. Kanban focuses on an entire team’s capacity to work collectively and it can help you manage your workflow and identify bottlenecks early on.
Extreme Programming’s purpose is to improve the quality of software (hence its name). Like Scrum, it relies on quick sprints, frequent releases, and constant stakeholder collaboration that can improve productivity. With this framework, project managers can avoid employee burnout and increase the quality of project deliverables.
This traditional approach breaks your workload into a series of related tasks that you must execute in a strict order. One has to complete each task before starting to work on another one. In a similar manner, one phase won’t start before you complete the previous one. Extensive planning sits at the base of this approach. It comes with clear timelines and set budgets that support success. Outlining all steps prior to development can eliminate risks and misunderstandings. The idea behind Waterfall implies investing more time in the early stages of project development to prevent errors and save maintenance time. Its downside is that it has not yet adapted to the requirements of modern software development. In fact, it works better for companies and industries that build physical products. There are 7 main phases/components to this method:
- Client Requirements
- Creation (Construction)
- Validation (Testing)
- Continuous Maintenance
PRINCE2 (Projects In Controlled Environments2)
In PRINCE2 control over the project is divided between a higher-authority project board and a project manager. While the board is responsible for providing resources and setting business justification, the project manager takes care of daily activities and team management. Compared to other methods, PRINCE2 can offer greater control of resources, increased management of risks, structured accountability allocation, focus on the final user, regular review cycles, and organized planning and execution. This project management method includes all of the essential themes, principles, and processes needed to conduct a project from start to finish.
PRiSM (Projects integrating Sustainable Methods)
If you’re a fan of sustainability, this is the method for you. PRiSM takes environmental factors into account during the project management process. This is why it is commonly used for construction, architecture, or landscape projects that impact the environment. It can help project managers reduce pollution levels, eliminate waste, and save energy.
Centered around quality control, the main focus of the Six Sigma approach is reducing defects, bugs, and errors. It is driven by data that has to be analyzed in order to discover nonconformities from the original specifications before an issue arises. All decisions are made based on existing data and statistics. The goal of this approach is to deliver efficient and uniform products. The six main steps of Six Sigma are: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control, and Synergize.
This method can help you prioritize tasks and identify a project’s shortest timeline. Project managers can investigate milestones, dependencies, and deadlines easier. A model of the project is first created using four elements: a list of the required tasks, the work hours needed for each task, dependencies, and milestones. A project manager has to decide which item is essential (critical activities) and which can be delayed without disturbing the project’s final date (non-critical activities). This method is usually used by scientists and manufacturers because of the heavy emphasis placed on a task’s length. Established on the theory that you can’t start working on a task until another one is finished, the Critical Path method allows for faster completion times, fair resource allocation, and bottleneck prevention.
Tired of waste? Lean supports the delivery of high-quality products with fewer people and resources in less time. A focus on customer value, bottlenecks removal, and repeated process improvement eliminate waste. Using this method can help a small team deliver great results in a short amount of time without spending a fortune on materials. Lean focuses on moving the main goal towards valuable product delivery with fewer resources. It also helps companies adapt rapidly to changing customer desires and behaviors.
With this guide, project managers can divide projects into the following five process groups selected by the Project Management Institute (PMI):
The PMI standards are used mostly in USA, Canada, and the Middle East and it contains the project management processes and techniques needed to complete projects. It’s more of a reference guide that outlines the standards of project management rather than an actual method.
Tools for project managers
Sometimes it takes more than just a great project manager to complete a project on time and on budget. Times have changed. Project management tools can now ease your work and eliminate the hassle of working with paperwork that can be lost forever.
Let’s start with the basic tools we recommend you use from the beginning of your career.
What your entire team will need is a complete system for creating project documentation. Your best free option, in this case, is the Google Suite. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, can all be used collaboratively. In this way, you’ll be able to work with your team members efficiently even when working remotely. Also, by using Google Drive you can ensure the safety of your data. Remember to always connect your files to cloud storage providers so that you don’t lose any of your documents. Other similar file-sharing systems include Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and Apple iCloud Drive.
Efficient collaboration is key to making sure that each task is completed according to the requirements of your client and that no mistakes are made in the process. For this, you’ll need a place to ask questions, share news, plan meetings, clarify tasks, and get feedback. In this sense, there are many collaboration tools, such as Slack, that you can connect your entire team to. If you prefer face-to-face interaction, you can also use services that provide video chat as well. In this case, Slack works as a video calling system too, but you can opt for other alternatives like Skype, Google Hangouts, or Viber.
You shouldn’t ignore the productivity aspect of the entire project development process. For this purpose, you can organize your articles, notes, and even documents using Evernote, Pocket, or Google Keep. And if you want to keep track of time you’ve spent on a task or project, there are always time tracking tools you can use for this. These can help you see exactly where you’re slacking through time reports and improve your work performance by fixing those time-related issues.
The tools we’ve mentioned above are merely “toys” compared to complex project management apps. Even if you’re a project management beginner you should get used to using one or more advanced tools. If you’re looking for a complete solution to do all of the above tasks in one single place, turn to project management software that can bring all of your required features together. This complete platform option will eliminate your need to switch between different apps. Some of the most comprehensive project management platforms that you can use include Paymo, Scoro, or Teamwork Projects. There are several platforms where you can search and find the best project management software for your specific needs.
Plan, schedule, and manage all your tasks from a single place with a free Paymo trial.
What are the benefits of using end-to-end project management tools?
- Schedule priorities
- Organize teams
- Assign tasks quickly and accurately
- Manage clients
- Keep track of work times
- Collaborate easily
- Oversee projects
- Improve team productivity
- Integrate with other tools
- Speed up project development
- Increase reliability
- Maintain full control of resources and finances
- Track project development
- Monitor team activity
- Keep all of your files in one safe database
- Access all data from anywhere
- Share documents
- Manage budgets, expenses, and invoices
- Create timesheet and budget reports
- Prevent and eliminate risks
- Detect bottlenecks and fix issues or errors
If your team often works on non-project activities besides project-related ones, you will have to use work management software. These provide more flexibility and can be used for projects too. The focus this time though will be on both projects and other types of work.
What’s next for you?
Your career path doesn’t have to stop at being a project manager. You can go on to become a program manager and handle multiple related projects. Another alternative is a portfolio manager position. They hold the responsibility of choosing and prioritizing future projects according to an organization’s rules and strategy. Finally, you can become a project management office manager. This job helps ensure the entire company’s project organization. If you have higher expectations from your career, you can always opt for an executive position or start your own company.
You can go on and use websites such as Glassdoor to find a project management job and see what the others are saying about the workplace you’re planning on applying to and what salary range to expect.
Also, try Paymo for free to start working with project management software yourself or use it to track your own learning process. Paymo’s also available for free for 1 year without limitations to schools, colleges, and universities.
If we’ve convinced you that project management is the perfect career for you, you can start your PM learning journey right now. Follow all of the above-given steps and begin preparing for a successful future in the world of project management.
Share your own tips and tricks of the trade. Beginner project managers could really use your past career experience for referral.
Bookmark this guide and come back to it whenever you need some more tips to help you become a project manager, and if you found it useful, please share it with your friends and teammates.