Now that you’ve decided that a career as a Technical Program Manager may be right for you, where do you start?
If you are in a technical role within your organization that has PgM or TPM career track, then making a transition to the role may be the most straight forward next step. But even if you are not in this position the following guide or action plan will help.
- Find a mentor
- If you have TPM within your organization or even outside who you admire, approach them and tell them about your goals and aspirations and your desire to seek their guidance and advice. You’d be surprised that these busy professionals will most likely have time to engage with you even if it’s a short meeting on bi-weekly or monthly basis.
- Join a group
- Even a short search under groups in Linkedin using a “project management” will reveal a lot of options. Engage, participate, ask questions, build relationships, be active.
- You should be well versed in foundational principles of project management as well as agile methodologies.
- Study for PMP certification which will give you great leg up, since it is without a doubt the most recognizable project management credential. Even though you may not have been a full time project manager in the past, you may use your previous project management responsibilities and education as a basis for qualification when applying.
- A four-year degree
- 36 months leading projects
- 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM® Certification
- Study for ScrumMaster Certification – this gives you a foundation of agile project management, which is going to really help especially if you are going to work in Software Development. I have completed my CSM training with cprime and it was fantastic and well worth it
- Take online courses on Coursera and Udemy. There is a long list of amazing classes to take that are extremely affordable.
- There are also great podcasts you can find, to listen to while driving or exercising. Those are fantastic.
- Here is a little story. When I first came to the United States I was about 16. My twin brother spent a year prior learning English as though he was possessed. How will you survive in America if you don’t speak the language he told me. To that my response was well I’ll learn automatically and I won’t have any accent, while you are learning the pronunciation that will sound weird and you will end up having to unlearn anyways, you are just wasting your time. I was a lazy teenager. When we finally got to California, I realized my brother was right and I was totally unprepared. I went through some hell the first few months in school having no clue how to communicate. But interestingly enough by being completely immersed in the language, I eventually learnt. I started seeing the patterns and picking things up and within a year or so, I had very few problems communicating. This experience game me an idea I use to this day. Every profession has it’s own language, it’s own communication patterns. Learning that language is a huge part of what it means to be proficient. That is why I advice to read, and to listen (articles, podcasts, youtube videos, etc) as much as possible to learn that language, mindset and patterns of thinking. By the way, to this day I have a little less accent that my brother. So who was right? 😉
- Grain Experience
- Ideally you can find a chance to practice your project / program management stills on your job. Talk to your managers, mentors, TPMs and project managers / program manager about any opportunities for you to work with them.
- If these opportunities don’t exist then make your own. What do I mean by that? Well, almost everything can be made into a project. Just look around you, are there problems to be solved or any gaps that need to be addressed? Then take a lead and build a program around it. For example, let’s assume you notice that technical product documentation is outdated or lacking in content. There are certain processes that are ineffective and can be automated. The list of problems is literally endless. Talk to your manager(s) about addressing these gaps. Write a short proposal explaining the problem and the business value that can be derived by solving it. Chances are, the leadership team will be happy you took the initiative and will be supportive as long as you are able to continue fulfilling your usual responsibilities. It’s a win-win situation and very much low risk.
- If there is absolutely no way for you to gain any good project / program management experience on the job, you can always volunteer. Find local non-profit organizations in your community talk to them about how you can help and your interest in managing projects or programs. This is again a win-win situation, you will have an opportunity to flex your leadership and program management muscles, build professional connections and do valuable work that will not only help your community, make you a better human being, but also set you apart from 99% of people who are not taking the same level of effort and initiative.
Side Note: Learning the theory of Project / Program management actually isn’t that difficult. However, it’s been said project / program management is more art than science. The devil is in the detail. It’s leadership of people and working within complex organizational dynamics, it requires battlefield experience. When I was young, I used to train boxing. In boxing too, I realized, there are only a few simple punches: jab, cross, hook, uppercut, may be an overhand. Simple right? It is not at all. It is the footwork, head movement, distance, fakes and faints, anticipating your opponents’ next moves. It requires a special level of physical and mental conditioning. Blood and sweat in the practice room and the ring.
If you need a mentor I am here for you. Please engage with me using this blog or write me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always happy to share my experience and help you succeed.