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How to become a project manager

  1. Jun 13, 2012 #1

    I am based in the UK. I am 24 and currently working for a company who manufacturer load cells for marine equipment. I am starting uni in september to do a foundation degree in electronic eng. and will go on to get a full degree.

    What I want to know is, in 5-7 years time when I have much more 'hands on' experience and a good qualification & knowledge under me belt. What is the best way to get into project management?

    Are there any steps I could start taking now, i.e. course to try and get on or particular standards I should be learning about? etc etc

    And I appreciate that "project management" is probably a very vague term!

    Any advise greatly recieved!

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 13, 2012 #2
    from what i've seen most Project Managers are promoted from within a company.

    Usually a engineer who has proven themselves worthy of the position.
  4. Jun 13, 2012 #3
    I am going to say something that may offend some. Project Management is basically Engineering Bureaucracy 101. You coordinate people, you hold meetings, you set goals, you set time-tables, you decide on the deliverable work products, and then after the whole thing is bid, you hand the mess off to construction to figure out.

    There is value to someone who can navigate a bureaucracy. However, that does not mitigate the fact that it is a bureaucracy.

    To me, bureaucracy is like chemo-therapy. It is painful. It has bad side effects. Nevertheless, just enough will kill cancer. Too much will maim or kill the patient.

    My advice to you: Do not get in to Project Management right away. Get some significant experience first. Become a Chartered Engineer. And if you still think Project Management is a worthy goal, go in to it. At least then you'll be a knowledgeable and experienced Project Manager.

    In some countries, such as the US, a project manager simply obtains a PMP certificate and they're then placed in charge of large projects that they often do not comprehend. Of the Project Managers I have known, I have respect for perhaps one in four (and I'm being generous here).

    I think a Project Manager should understand the project he or she is working on. Yet, there is a steady drum beat in schools and in the work place that "a good manager can manage anything." This is nonsense. A good manager takes the time to understand what he or she is managing. You wouldn't tell a figure-skating coach to take on an Ice-Hockey team. And likewise, you can't mumble platitudes in the vague hope of actually getting solid technical results.

    Leaders understand the business they're in. You should too. If you choose to go in to Project Management, do so from a position of experience and understanding.
  5. Jun 14, 2012 #4
    I think you are being *extremely* generous.

    I like to say that while I have known dozens if not hundreds of good engineers during my career, if you cut off one of my fingers for each good manager I've met, I could still bowl.
  6. Jun 14, 2012 #5


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    Personally, I spent about 8 years as a hand-on engineer and, 8 years as a hands-on team leader, 8 years as a Software Development Manager, and THEN went into Project Management. I agree w/ some of the comments above that PM's often don't get enough technical experience and then they are just bureaucrats. I don't agree that bureaucrats are, in and of themselves, bad because nothing gets done without them. What is unfortunately true, however, is that often you can only get things done DESPITE them and I find that when this happens it is ALWAYS the case that they don't understand the underlying technical aspects of the project they are supposed to be managing.

    Anyway, my advice is to spent more than 5-7 years in technology before becoming a PM. If you don't LIKE the technical side of things enough to do that, you are likely in the wrong job.

    Try to become a team leader fairly early on to see if you even LIKE management, even at a low level. I've known many tech types who don't. If you do, try to become more of a supervisor (but hands-on --- don't stop being a direct technical contributor).
  7. Jun 14, 2012 #6


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    Most of that is Engineering Adminstration 101 not Project Management, but I've known a few "project managers" who can't tell the difference between admin and management.

    My best "Project manager" story is about a guy that I worked for who was based at a different company site about 100 miles away. After one annual appraisal he asked the routine "is there anything you want to ask me about" and I replied "Yeah. How do you know I've even been coming in to the office for the past 12 months?" He started to laugh, then froze and said "You have been coming in, haven't you .... ???" to which I replied "Well, at least you admit you can't answer the question".
  8. Jun 14, 2012 #7
    Project Manager/Producent etc. is one of the most crucial person in team. It's not only about bureaucracy. Without good PM you won't get the job done. And bad PM will drag whole team down. It's strange that companies won't choose PM wisely and carefully.

    I was forced to fill double role in small team - I did both "technical" stuff and team leader stuff.
    Being a leader sounds cool but reality is different (it's like theoretical particle physicists sounds great but in reality you debug a code whole day). If sth goes wrong (and it often does), you shoulder whole responsibility. Your teammates start to piss you off because they slack and your job is to make them stop it and start working. I did also my regular, "technical" job and yet my teammates were sure that my job as a leader is to lay on a bed and give orders. Being a leader is very stressful in negative way. My exp isn't in engineering but I think that it's the same regardless the field. So I strongly recommend you to think twice before you choose PM route. I was happy to go back to my original job.

    If you really want to be one then do minior or double major in bussines and choose courses connected with project management. Then you can get PMP or Prince2 or any other certificate and you are done. <- that's formal route but papers aren't that important

    Get experience. Say hi to your friends, gather a team :P (5 ppl for a start) and try to do sth with them (like I don't know - some EE project with small funding). It's enough for you to tell if you like this job.
  9. Jun 14, 2012 #8

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    It's not that bad, and it is a necessary function.

    A team of three, and maybe up to five, can operate as an anarchy. Everyone knows what needs to be done, the number of interactions isn't all that large. Beyond that, someone needs to be in charge. It's not quite at the project management level yet because that team leader is also contributing technically. By the time you get to twenty people or so (the number varies by industry) the task of keeping things on an even keel starts to demand a majority of the leader's time. Technical work is a second thought. By the time you get to sixty people or so, you start wondering who that person in the back row of the meeting is. You don't have time to know everyone on the team, and you certainly don't have time to do any real technical work. At one hundred, it's almost a certainty you don't know the details of what everyone is doing. You don't even know everyone on the team. Sixty to one hundred people is not a large project nowadays.

    Without project management even smallish projects would falter. There's no way a mega project with thousands of employees and many suppliers could function without project management. This scale of project requires multiple layers of project management.
  10. Jun 14, 2012 #9
    I do wish to remind everyone that I consider Project Management a necessary evil. As I pointed out, it is often not pleasant for those who are managed.

    However, that unpleasantness can be smoothed over by someone who knows enough to understand what is at stake. That was the point of my earlier post. There are too many who leap straight in to project management without ever having spent much time working on honest, technical problems or having seen some of the crazy things that can go wrong.

    I have been given the reigns of management before and I found I did not care much for it. So I speak from the experience of one who knows what being a manager at that level is like. Let that be some indication of where my biases lie...
  11. Jun 22, 2012 #10
    I guess I'm lucky. Most of my PM has been good to great.

    I would never want to be in a PM position. But I think it's a necessary position. You need someone to see the overall picture and make sure everyone is working toward that goal. Like everyone said, it's a tough position and some do know how to do it well. I see a PM job more as a people management. To set yourself up for that position, I would go out and find leadership opportunity, like leading a fundraiser for a charity. Or you can start small by organizing an event for your friends that require some leadership skill.
  12. Jun 27, 2012 #11
    Yup, and if you are good at it then the technical people will love you because you handle all of the bureaucratic non-sense so that they can get "real work" done.

    I've known a lot of excellent project managers. I think that great project management (like great barbeque) is something that central Texas specializes in. One reason central Texas has great project management is because of Dell. Dell has an extremely short product life cycle, and bad project management is something that would kill the company.

    I think that one reason why there is so much bad project management is that bad project management usually doesn't kill the company. You have huge schedule and cost overruns, everyone goes totally crazy, but the company doesn't go bankrupt, and life goes on. The thing about Dell is that it's one of the few companies in which bad project management could kill the company. If you release your new desktop system three months late, then you are hurting. Six months, and you are out of business.


    1) Do not get a certification until you are in the process of getting doing actual project management.
    2) Do not try to learn project management from someone that has never managed a project.

    PMP certification is somewhat useful for someone that has some project experience. Anyone that has just a certification and has never managed a project is not qualified as a project manager, IMHO. Also, anyone with *zero* technical experience is also unqualified.

    Yup. One of the jobs of a project manager is to serve as a buffer between the business/accounting people and the technical people. A good project manager needs to have both MBA skills and engineering skills.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2012
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