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I've just started my Master's program in MIS, but the program isn't the strongest. IT is the field I'll be going into, and I want to be as prepared as I can be when I complete my degree. We've covered the different methodologies, however not too in depth.

What should a student study/research in order to best prepare themselves for a career in PM?

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    Hello ini and welcome to PM.SE. As it currently stands, you question is open-ended, since many answers may be equally valid. Please edit your question to address your problem more specifically, otherwise you will hardly receive good answers. Don't forget to make a good, problem-specific topic name. – bytebuster Oct 2 '12 at 19:05
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    This question doesn't have an actual answer. – Andrew Clear Oct 2 '12 at 22:02
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  • Advice on how to make this a stellar contribution to the PMSE site meta.pm.stackexchange.com/questions/507/… – Mark Phillips Oct 3 '12 at 16:11
  • Alright, which way should we go to modify the question then? I'm open to editing it (or someone else editing it), as I understand the question doesn't strictly fit the guidelines. But it felt like an important question not only for me, but for other aspiring, or new, PMs looking for some help. – ini Oct 4 '12 at 15:18
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You asked what should you study/research to best prepare you for your career, not get a job.

The best way? Read as much as possible about it all, and more importantly, then talk to experienced PM's about what you're learning.

That's the crucial point. In school and reading you will learn the theory, but only by talking to those that have done it will you find how that theory can be applied, which works when, and the why's. There's simply no substitue for experience, even it it's someone else's. Take these boards for example. A large number of us have been doing this for years, sometimes decades, but I would imagine we're all learning from the answers we see here. So interact with as many PM's as possible.

I would argue against Doug B's advice on the certification to start, especially as the #1 on his list.

There are two problems with that -

  • some of them (P2 for example) are specific methods. So unless you're going to be working in a PRINCE2 shop you'll have no need for it.
  • The CAPM and PMP rely on the PMBoK Guide which addresses a number of topics, but doesn't really help as far as how to implement them. There's a danger in that of "too much information".

Certainly there's a learning aspect with that, but without the counterpoint of experience to temper it, it can be a problem. All too often I run into PM's that quote the PMBoK Guide or try to manage projects according to it. And that just speaks to the lack of understanding. To highlight this, the single most often used "input" in the PMBoK Guide is "expert judgement". Without experience or external references you don't have this.

So I would focus on learning the concepts from your program, but then bringing them to forums such as this and asking more questions.

  • True in theory. However if you've got the cert, you'll get looked at for the job. If you're missing the cert, someone who has the cert will get the job. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 4 '12 at 16:57
  • True (even if it is sad). But I was going on the premise that the OP wanted to "study/research in order to prepare for a career in PM" (ie: become more competent), not simply 'get a job'. – Trevor K. Nelson Oct 4 '12 at 17:03
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  1. Get a certification. PRINCE2 and CAPM to start, when you get experience get PMP.
  2. Apply what you've learned. Maybe you start as a developer or tester, but think like a PM. Ask about the big picture (business case for the project, what the project product is, etc), ask about project requirements and constraints, ask for the project plan, participate in discussions about risks, document your lessons learned, etc. Think critically about these and ask yourself why things are done the way they are done and how the theory you've learned is being (or is not being) put into practice.
  3. Get a sensai. Find someone in your organization who knows PM and is willing to mentor you. Leverage their experience and take advantage of their lessons learned.
  4. Keep on learning. Participate in boards like this one. Go to local PMI chapter meetings. Take an online course. NEVER assume you know enough - you never will.
  5. Practice your leadership skills. Daily. Do this by seeking responsibility and insisting on being held accountable for your failures as well as your successes. Recognize good work and encourage team members that are falling short. Use please and thank-you.
  6. Read the PMI code of ethics and live by them. Things like honesty are universal goods that can't hurt you in the long run.
  7. Learn to say "Let me check with the team" before committing them to anything. Similarly, learn to say "We can do that, but let me check with the team to see what the impacts will be"
  8. Learn how to facilitate agreement among the right stakeholders. This can get messy but don't take the easy way out.
  9. Learn how to communicate effectively. Get experience communicating with different personality types. Get experience communicating in stressful situations without getting stressed. Get experience communicating to the right people at the right time.
  10. Leave your baggage at home. This is business and not personal. No sense in getting upset or angry or frustrated or tense.
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    Excellent list! Any input for methodologies to focus on or ignore? Are any 'on their way out', or gaining popularity? – ini Oct 2 '12 at 19:38
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    Nice list, but I would say that a student should learn the basics and then apply for a certification. – Zsolt Oct 3 '12 at 7:49
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    @Zsolt - Depends on what you mean by "learn". Really all certifications mean (whether it is a CAPM or an MD) is that you have some base level of knowledge on the subject, i.e. you have learned theory. True "learning" comes with experience, but to get the first job to get the experience you need to set yourself apart. – Doug B Oct 3 '12 at 13:08
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    @ini - Methodologies depend on where you are and what you want to do, and at the end of the day no company is going to apply any given methodology "by the book". That being said some examples could be: Business improvement projects in US/Canada? PMI's certifications (CAPM) and something like Prosci's ADKAR model may be the best for you. Software development in the UK, Europe or India? PRINCE2 and something like ITIL may give you the greatest value for money. – Doug B Oct 3 '12 at 13:16
  • I assumed that the OP is still a student. I think a valuable certification process is too early for a student. The process requires money and experience, plus it also assumes that the candidates have degrees - maybe it is a requirement, too. – Zsolt Oct 3 '12 at 15:53
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If you are new to project management there are several programs available in local colleges for 6-8 months that offers you certificate courses that you can use to get your CAPM/PMP from PMI. If you want to earn a master's degree in project management, then you could go for a MPM(Master's in Project Management) but this usually requires two years experience as a project manager.

Good luck with all your endeavors!

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This question will yield a ton of advice, all of them good and bad in their own way, and the one that you want to hear will be the one you think is "correct."

There are a plethora of drivers that influence a person's success in a career. School, experience, your intelligence level, your motivation, your personality characteristics, your network, a bit of luck are just a few of the many. Your school is just the entry-level requirement. Whether it is a good school or not, after about five years it won't matter.

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One curiosity I have - and I've discussed over and over with some fellow IT colleaguesm, without reaching a proper conclusion:

What's the purpose of getting a manager bypassing the early steps and activites?

I never found a proper reason for this... In the way you present your question, it seems you're still in the early days of your career, so why not taking some IT skills before moving on to the management role?

Ok, it might be nice to be a 'manager'... but thinking twice, will you be comfortable leading a team in a task you're not used to do? Besides, can you imagine yourself leading a big project with 50+ developers, documenters, architects, engineers, without know what are they doing? A minimal ground experience, in my opinion, is a must for every 'manager'.

It happens (at least, I have this impression) in every market: from Civil Engineering to Medicine.

Please correct if I'm wrong and I'll be more than happy deleting my own answer.

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    I know that starting out as a PM is pretty tough, and I do have a BS in IS, and I plan on getting my OCP before I leave school. I don't want to bypass the early steps for any reason other than PM feels like a great fit for me. – ini Oct 2 '12 at 19:34
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    I understand your point and I believe there are a lot of other students thinking like you out there. And that's the problem: Are you 100% sure that you'll do better as a PM 10y from now than a PM that works 5y as a programmer / analyst / engineer and then goes to PM? If you think so, go for it and don't look back! – Tiago Cardoso Oct 2 '12 at 20:02
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Put yourself in situations where you have to learn how to listen and communicate to get things done. These can be in group study sessions, volunteer activities or in a work setting. The better you are at listening and communicating, the more successful you'll be as a PM.

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Focus on learning how to deliver a project on time, on budget and with full scope.

Two best resources, IMHO, are the books:

Stay clear of PMI PMBOK, PRINCE2 and other 'standards', unless absolutely necessary.

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