By Wanda Curlee
Transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce can be difficult. If you’re interested in project management, however, you may find that you have valuable skills and experience. When I was introduced to project management years after I finished my service in the U.S. Navy, one of my first thoughts was: I’ve done this before.
Still, it can be hard to know how to start a civilian career as a project manager. Here’s some food for thought.
First, think about tasks you did in the military, whether it was organizing a 5K race or walk for the base, preparing for deployment, returning from deployment, or staging a change of command or retirement ceremony. Just like in project management, all these tasks had a definite beginning and end. Even if the event had been held before, each time was unique. For all of these tasks, a team helped you implement your project.
As you delve into project management as a possible career, I suggest reviewing Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). You may discover your military experience directly relates to the project management knowledge areas it details:
Integration management is making sure that processes and project management activities occur when they should. In other words, you would not finish the planning for the change of command ceremony when you are just starting the project. Tasks can happen in parallel and can jump from process to process, but need to occur in an orderly fashion.
Scope management is about making sure the project doesn’t expand beyond what was agreed upon with the project sponsor. For example, you are leading the team that ensures all heavy equipment arrives back at the base after deployment. Your scope is the heavy equipment, not the laptops and desktop computers. Scope change may not be bad, but it has to be monitored.
Cost management can be tricky for military personnel because some types of military projects—such as returning a unit home from overseas deployment—don’t always have clear budgets. But many, such as organizing a dinner or race, do. If you handled smaller projects such as these, you had a finite amount of money—and you knew it would not be fun to have to ask your superiors for more.
Quality management is straightforward in a military context. Anyone who has served as junior officer or senior enlisted officer has made sure the team followed the rules and made good judgment calls.
Human resource management is a no-brainer for officers and senior enlisted officers: they know how to lead teams. (By the way, one of my pet peeves is how PMI refers to human resource “management” rather than leadership.)
Communications management is another no-brainer. Without communication in the military, no one would survive. On a project, communication is formal and informal, and both types need to be documented.
Risk management is understanding what about the environment or team might derail the project. In my day, we commonly referred to this as “operational planning.”
Procurement management is what you need to buy for the project. You might not have had experience with this in the military, but if you have been given a budget, you may have dealt with various vendors to determine the best deal to implement your project.
Stakeholder management is the process of leading the individuals who have a stake in the project, and dealing with any concerns they may have. This is all about knowing people, including their likes, wants and agendas, and managing those.
If any of this piques your interest, consider pursuing a project management certification to develop your skills and signal them to potential employers. In the civilian world, the most globally known one is PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. (A list of PMI’s registered education providers is here.)
If you hope to work for the civilian side of the U.S. military, check out the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). Anyone with a current U.S. military affiliation is eligible for free DAU courses and certifications, which aim to develop the U.S. Department of Defense’s acquisition (aka procurement/contract) management workforce.
Beyond certifications, many universities and companies offer project management certificates and degrees. Not all of these programs are well respected, so make sure to examine their curricula closely before signing up and/or get to know their reputation through online research. (A directory of accredited university programs around the world is here.)
LinkedIn groups can also help you transition into civilian project management and deepen your project management knowledge. (I recommend the Gr8MilitaryPM group.)
Finally, keep in mind that as a transitioning service member, many free or low-cost training options may be available to you. For example, in the United States, funds for training and certification exam reimbursement are available to military veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the G.I. Bill.
By Wanda Curlee
As a project manager, you may have worked within a program or portfolio, or both. You may have seen what seemed to be a successful project slowed or canceled, and been confused or upset by this. Why would higher-ups end a project that’s proceeding within scope and budget and on schedule?
The answer, most likely, has to do with the project’s position relative to the organization’s strategy and the portfolio in which the project resided. While working in the for-profit world and consulting on U.S. government projects, programs and portfolios, I’ve learned that program and portfolio managers in all sectors have to make tough decisions about which projects to deprioritize or cancel.
Back when I was a project manager — I earned my Project Management Professional (PMP)® in 1993 — I found myself on the receiving end of bad news from program and portfolio managers. I responded by asking questions to learn as much as I could from the portfolio or program manager. My initial goal was to mature my project management skills, but I ultimately decided I wanted to work at the portfolio level.
Portfolio management is an area of growing interest within organizations and at PMI. The institute’s newest certification, the Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)®, is an expression of that. I had the opportunity to help define the PfMP® by serving on the core team that established the first iteration of the certificate, which launched in August 2014.
Some may think PMI mainly offers specialty certifications, such as risk (PMI-RMP)®, schedule (PMI-SP)® or agile (PMI-ACP)®. In fact, the PfMP offers a different kind of path, one that can help practitioners build a more strategic mindset and skill set within the world of project management.
Portfolio Management 101
So what do portfolio managers do?
First of all, a portfolio manager normally works for a C-level executive or a business unit head. While project/program management experience is not a requirement to be a portfolio manager, it can be a valuable entry point.
The portfolio manager structures the portfolio to meet the strategic needs of an organization. She views projects and programs from a strategic perspective. Whereas the project manager is worried about doing things right, the portfolio manager is worried about doing the right things.
Each of these roles is very important to the success of the organization. Let’s go back to the scenario above, where a project manager is annoyed by the cancellation of a project that was tracking well.
Think about it from the portfolio perspective: The portfolio manager may have canceled your project because another business unit started implementing something similar. The portfolio manager has to decide which project should continue and which shouldn’t.
Ready for a Career Pivot?
Okay, perhaps you’re ready to move into portfolio management. What’s the best way to transition out of the project level?
In my case, I looked for projects that matched the strategic needs of the organization. I tried to work at companies that were growing or changing. I volunteered to take the helm of projects that seemed difficult. Eventually, I managed my first portfolio.
Above all, I recommend pushing yourself to maximize experiences that help you understand the business. Strive for positions that expose you to strategy.
Also, remember that your expertise in project management can help you stand out from other portfolio manager candidates. You know how to measure success, and you have the discipline to run governance for a portfolio.
Is it worth your while to strive for the PfMP credential at some point? In one word: yes. I believe it will come to be recognized as the mark of in-depth portfolio management skill and experience.
Why do I think that? Well, back in 1993, when I earned my PMP, there were fewer than 1,500 people with that credential. Today, of course, more than half a million people have a PMP.
The PfMP is just getting started, but we’ve already seen a 57 percent jump in certifications since its official launch last year. By definition, there will always be fewer portfolio managers than project managers in the world — but I see a bright future for this line of work.
By Conrado Morlan
About five years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution that I renew every year: become a SMARTer project practitioner. This annual resolution is how I strive for excellence in my professional life.
What is a SMART project practitioner? It’s a project professional — project manager, program manager or portfolio manager — who plays multiple roles within the organization and contributes to achieving goals emanating from the organization’s mission and strategy. It stands for strategic, mindful, agile, resilient and transparent.
The SMART project professional goes beyond just managing projects. He or she helps achieve business objectives by exploring new ways to lead, execute and deliver projects supported by dispersed and diverse teams. Technical expertise is not enough — SMART professionals must adopt a business-oriented approach.
Time has proved the concept of this more expansive definition of the project professional valuable. In the 2012 video “Are You Ready?” PMI President and CEO Mark Langley discusses the new skills and capabilities required by project professionals to fully support projects. Companies are struggling to attract qualified project professionals with strong leadership and strategic and business management skills, Langley notes.
Since technical expertise is no longer enough to drive high performance,the SMART concept includes a portfolio of skills the project professional must master to meet the needs of the organization in the coming years.
Being SMART means being:
• Strategic. Demonstrate an understanding of the organization’s business goals to help it get ahead of the competition.
• Mindful. Develop cultural awareness and leadership styles to influence and inspire multicultural and multigenerational project teams. Foster strong relationships across the organization’s business functions. Adhere to the organization’s values and culture as well as the professional codes of ethics.
• Agile. Business strategy is not static and is frequently impacted by internal and external factors. Projects will need to be adjusted to remain aligned with the business strategy, so embrace change.
• Resilient. Remain committed and optimistic, and demonstrate integrity, when realigning or repairing projects facing hardships because of miscommunication and problematic behaviors as well as cross-cultural issues and conflicts.
• Transparent. Whether the project is in good shape or facing challenges, the state of projects needs to be shared promptly with relevant parties.
In summary: To become SMARTer, you need to continually strive for excellence and master new skills to support professional growth and help your organization achieve its business strategy.
Did you make (or renew) New Year’s resolutions for your professional life in 2015? If so, share them with me.
As we move toward the end of the year and prepare our personal and professional goals for 2015, I’ve been thinking about how someone can go from being just a manager to being a leader.
Years ago, a big project I was working on with American Express and one of its partners ran into trouble. A lot of factors probably led to that, but one still stands out to me: I was succeeding as a manager but failing as a leader. And that was the project’s ultimate downfall.
Over the years, I’ve been able to reflect and grow from that experience. Here are three ways you can use my experience to help you become more of a leader in 2015.
1. Focus on the vision. Managers are, by their nature, implementers. We get tasked with projects that we may not have had a great deal of input into. But just because we’re helping our sponsors reach their goals doesn’t mean we can’t apply our vision as well. To focus on vision in your management and leadership, start by formulating what this project means to you, the organization, the team and the end users. Then, most importantly, personalize those aspects that are likely to inspire your team.
2. Focus on important conversations.I once read that a project manager spends 90 percent of his or her time communicating. To become a better leader, focus on the most important of these conversations: ones with your sponsor and your team. They are the people who are going to be able to inform you about changes in circumstances, troubles in a project or resource challenges. While there are lots of important people to talk with, the most important are the ones who have the most direct impact on the project’s success or failure — so prioritize those.
3. Look at the long-term.This advice ties into having a vision for your project and having conversations with your important team members and sponsors. But thinking long-term also means you need to infuse your vision and conversations with a future orientation. This might mean that you talk with your sponsor about how a project fits into a long-term strategic plan for the organization. Or, it might mean that you spend time during conversations with your team members asking about their goals and values. This can allow you to shift your actions and assignments in a way that delivers on the promise of the current project. At the same time, you will have built a stronger understanding and real relationship with your sponsors and teams that will transcend your current project and have lasting benefits for projects and years to come.
What are some of the ways you’ve helped make yourself a stronger leader, rather than solely a manager?
By Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP, PfMP
“Everyone can be my teacher.”
—Alfonso Bucero, PMI-RMP, PMP, PMI Fellow
2. Houston, we have a problem — but as project managers, we also have the solution. The news broke by noon Saturday: There was a fire at the hotel across the street from the congress, and all 800 guests (most of them congress attendees) had to be evacuated. Yet by early evening, all guests were relocated to other hotels in the area. The PMI Phoenix Chapter and congress organizers responded very quickly with a contingency plan: New hotels were identified, transportation arrangements and schedules to and from new hotels and the convention center were set, and attendees were notified via email and social media. This was a real life lesson on how project managers work under pressure and manage problems in projects.
3. Tips for being a team leader, from a sports legend. Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the first keynote speaker and walked us through his journey in basketball. He shared the brighter and darker moments of his career and related them to the project management profession. When Magic joined the Los Angeles Lakers, he brought a set of technical skills that, combined with those of his teammates, helped the team to succeed. Magic kept enhancing his skills working with other players and learning new techniques from them to improve his game. To improve our game as project managers, we need to acquire and master new skills as well — and nowadays, strategic and leadership skills are required to better execute projects and make our organization successful.
4. Think sideways. For those times when project practitioners put in all their efforts and do not get expected results, keynote speaker Tamara Kleinberg invited us to “think sideways.” That is, exit from the vicious cycle of trying to address issues by providing a lot of answers based on hypothesis, and enter a virtuous cycle in which you start asking questions that will give you hints on how to resolve issues. Great innovation is about asking the questions, not having the answers. She urged us to stop assuming and start asking more, and turn ourselves into conductors of innovation.
5. Learn from everyone. Mr. Bucero urged us to learn from each individual we interact with at congress: delegates, volunteers, presenters and keynote speakers. During breakfast and lunch, congress attendees took the opportunity to discuss their experiences and acquire knowledge from global peers. As many found out, sometimes the same issue is resolved in different ways around the world.
6. Multitasking isn’t the silver bullet. Keynote speaker Dr. Daniel J. Levitin’s scientific research proved the concept of multitasking does not exist. When you multitask, your brain shifts in rapid cycles among tasks, which leads it to consume a lot of glucose and produce cortisole, a substance that impairs decision-making. Dr. Levitin recommends focusing on one task at a time and partitioning your day into several productivity periods. Turning off electronics to maintain focus as well as taking breaks translates into efficiency.
7. Organizational project management (OPM) trends upward. Several Areas of Focus presentations touched on OPM, ranging from interpersonal skills for success as a portfolio manager to transforming from project to program manager and competencies for successfully driving strategic initiatives. Presenters pointed out the importance of building technical, leadership and strategic and business management skills to deliver excellence today and in the future to emerge as a new breed of project executives.
8. PfMPs are in demand. The Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)® credential ribbon was available for the first time at congress. Not many people knew about the new core certification and asked for more details. On hand were a few of the first 150 PfMPs® from around the world. These PfMP “ambassadors” showed how credential holders can help organizations to align projects and investments with organizational strategy, enable organizational agility, and consistently deliver better results and sustainable competitive advantage.
9. Leave your comfort zone. Inspiring closing keynote speaker Vince Poscente shared his four-year journey from recreational weekend skier to Olympian at the 1992 Winter Olympics. Mr. Poscente learned that to succeed, you need to, “Do what your competition is not willing to do.” If you wonder what those things are, they’re the ones we’re also not willing to do. Your homework now is to ask: What will I do to beat my competition?
10. Network, network, network. Having the chance to interact with 2,000-plus delegates from over 50 countries is a great opportunity to find the next challenge in your professional career. I met in person the recipient of the Kerzner Award and fellow Voices on Project Management blogger Mario Trentim and the vice president of the PMI Romania Chapter, Ana-Maria Dogaru, and discussed projects and collaboration opportunities that we may start in the near future.
After three wonderful days, congress came to a close. Now it’s time to put in practice all the acquired knowledge to emerge as a new breed of project executives — and save the date for next year’s North America congress in Orlando, Florida, USA.
Did you attend congress? What were your top lessons learned?