Recently, as I'm looking for other (more) interesting jobs, I noticed that many of them require at least a bit of experience in project management and sometimes even in leadership. My question is problem the same in "How do I get a job without having experience as you need experience to get a job?".

I have to admit, one of the positions I applied for last year when I left university, I got offered a position that was mainly project management and leadership. At that time, I wasn't aware of how rare such an opportunity(?) is, so I chose a position that draw my attention in a technical way. Yeah, as you can suggest, I feel unchallenged meanwhile. Ah, and I didn't want the position because I thought someone shouldn't do something like that without any "real" experience in the industry.

However, my problem is: How can I build up some skills so I can at least say "Yep, I'm not really experienced in it but at least I know how it should or could work respectively I know the tools, the thinking and so on.."?

Finally, I also own a small business with 2-3 people working in it and, yep, we have a lot to do. It's like I spend about 75 % of my free-time there. On the other hand, as we are so small, it often feels like there is just no time to spend on project planing oder management or whatever. We have To-Do lists, that's it. So I thought I could kill two birds with a stone by getting into this topic systematically and applying stuff in my own business. Question is: What do I need? Is there any software which is useful, e.g., in the company where I am working, we use a lot Atlassian. Does that make sense? I only know Confluence and I guess Jira is used for project management. Is it worth to be used in a small business? Can you also give me some other advices? What do I need when looking for according positions? What do the recruiters wanna' hear respectively what should I know and what should I be capable of when I start in such a position?


It's funny how you say that you feel unchallanged on a technical position - those require a lot of efforts to learn while management is mostly about simply being smart and empathic :) Anyway, I think these are the most important things you need when it comes to the processes:

  1. Critical mindset. There are a lot of coaches and managers who like to tell you how you should or shouldn't do things. But in reality it's very likely that they don't know themselves. A lot of popular practices in management are ineffective, outdated, made-up. So don't forget to think.
  2. I'd advise reading The Goal and The Goal II about applying Theory of Constraints. Even though they are not about project management per se (more about manufacturing), they open eyes on what it's like for business/teams to be effective. And these ideas can (and should) be used in PM.
  3. You'll often hear about Lean, Just-in-time and Kanban in IT management circles. But it's usually hard to figure out what they are and how they came to life w/o reading the original work The Machine That Changed the World. It talks about history of car manufacturing so to me personally it was super boring. But it's better than reading 10 derivative books.
  4. One of the derivative books on Just-in-time is Kanban, by David Anderson. This is the original book about applying Just-in-time in software projects and many people would reference it. So it's worth reading. Just-in-time is very similar to Theory of Constraints especially in IT, so it's better to read it after you grasped ToC. BTW, don't trust that JIT is only for maintenance projects.
  5. And finally the most technical book in the list is Continuous Delivery. Very repetitive hence the most boring book ever, but you can't skip it (though maybe there are alternatives). Talks about how to branch, set up your pipelines and build servers, how to build, deploy and develop features, etc.
  6. Can't say it's super useful but it's super interesting for sure: The Phoenix Project. Talks about what DevOps is (many people think it's a role in the team), shows a good example of transformation from typical projects to Continuous Delivery. Of how bad things are when you work only on critical tasks and don't spend time improving the process itself. Many ideas are also based on ToC.

Try to make long pauses (at least several months) between the books, it takes time for the information to settle. But note that w/o applying these on practice you won't know which advice from these books work and which don't (or when they work and when they don't). So don't believe them blindly - check them.

And no matter how good you're in PM if your team, stakeholders or product suck - it's hard to succeed.

As for the tools - the easier the better. Atlassian stack is complicated, expensive and its focus has shifted from "being awesome company" to "earning as much as possible". So personally I'm skeptical about it. But yes - it's the most powerful stack.

You may try playing with Trello (which now is also Atlassian so who knows for how long it's going to stay awesome) & GitHub projects. Though they don't integrate Test documentation which means you'll have to find tools elsewhere (like testpad).

But if your goal is to be attractive on the job market, then JIRA & Confluence are the tools of choice.

  • Thanks a lot for the detailed answer and all the useful information! This is definitely what I was expecting as a comprehensive answer to get started in a reasonable way. Is it ok that I leave the question open nevertheless as I would like to get some more answers and I'm a bit afraid others won't answer when there is an accepted answer already? – Ben Aug 7 '20 at 13:59
  • 1
    @Ben, sure, I usually do the same :) – Stanislav Bashkyrtsev Aug 7 '20 at 14:34

I imagine that your experience goes at least some way into PM and leadership, especially if you are running a small company of your own. And if you are working successfully as a technical resource, there may be opportunities to move some aspects of that job into a planning / monitoring / leadership role. Now, that's all fine as far as it goes, however you need to be able to relate what you do to the role that you want. My advice is therefore to read a lot of job adverts, understand what the roles are looking for, and try to find examples in your own experience that show that you have the necessary skills. These don't have to be a 100% perfect match: I once was looking for someone to work with me, and that person had to have financial management experience amongst other more technical skills. One candidate was technically good enough, but had no financial experience in the business. She had, however, had successfully run her household finances and managed a small farming business for her family, so she knew how to look after the money, keep track of spend and budgets, and make good financial judgements. He ability to explain this to me was a great example of thinking outside the box, using her undoubted skills, and being able to communicate effectively. She got the job. I'm not saying that you should use that example, but critically examine what you CAN do and what your HAVE done, and try to build a coherent picture of your leadership and PM skills around that. After a few attempts at creating a profile for yourself around jobs that you won't apply for, you will hopefully be ready to submit some real job applications, and even then, if not successful, learn from the experience of being interviewed and thinking on your feet. Good luck!

On the topic of software etc, I ran a number of successful projects with only a to-do list in an Excel spreadsheet, and didn't really suffer because of it. Don't get too hung up on the tools, but learn what works for you, and then you can investigate which tools meet your requirements. Many organisations adopt tools to allow consistent project reporting where the PM has to provide certain information on a regular basis to the Project Management Office or other stakeholders, in a consistent format that is designed to meet departmental or corporate reporting models, or to allow PMs to move into and out of teams while using consistent tool-kits. You probably don't need these things in a small company. A flip-chart or a whiteboard and some sticky notes may be all that you need, at least to get you moving in the right direction.

  • Thanks a lot for the great answer. This is an interesting pov from a different pov :) – Ben Aug 12 '20 at 5:13

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.