Becoming a Master Project Manager

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

The average project manager has a challenge, and a large one at that. Most of us don’t have a career development plan. In fact, most of us didn’t necessarily pick this is as a career--it picked us. But now that we’re here, the challenge is to figure out exactly where we go with it.

If one takes a simplistic view, of course, there is a career plan: keep managing progressively larger and larger projects until you explode, expire or retire. Vague as this is, it counts for what many would define as the essence of their career arc. It isn’t a plan, exactly, but it does describe what happens to many of us.

To understand how our careers progress, it helps to have a model with which we can associate. A colleague of mine, Dr. Janice Thomas, suggested one that has already been relevant in other disciplines: that of Apprentice, Journeyman and Master.

The original constructs that make up this hierarchy were intended to describe a progression of stages that someone learning a craft would progress through over a relatively extended period of time. While the terms may seem outmoded and archaic to some, the ideas that they represent still have a fair amount of value:

  • Apprentice. To be an apprentice is to be learning. Apprenticeship was once a formally defined construct where a person committed themselves to the learning of a craft for a period of …

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"Impartial observers from other planets would consider ours an utterly bizarre enclave if it were populated by birds, defined as flying animals, that nevertheless rarely or never actually flew. They would also be perplexed if they encountered in our seas, lakes, rivers and ponds, creatures defined as swimmers that never did any swimming. But they would be even more surprised to encounter a species defined as a thinking animal if, in fact, the creature very rarely indulged in actual thinking."

- Steve Allen