Are you organised, methodical, good at keeping work on track, confident about meeting deadlines and happy to take on responsibility? A career in project management will require you to deliver tasks on time and within budget by planning and organising resources and people. If you recognise your own skill set here, PM could be the perfect match for you
Modern project management (PM) started in civil engineering, where proper management was essential simply because the costs of not having it were too high! At first, other industries did not share civil engineering’s recognition of the importance of PM, so there were a number of hugely expensive disasters because:
- people did not know what they were trying to achieve
- the business benefits of the change were not understood
- customers kept changing their minds
- change was not adequately controlled
- late technological changes were incorporated into projects at disproportionate cost.
… which is why the role of the project manager is now so vitally important.
These days, the project manager is the person on the ground delivering the customer’s wishes and dealing with suppliers, although any contractual relationship is usually between customer and supplier. It is essential that top management understand exactly what a project means for the way the whole business is conducted.
Effective PM will ensure that the result of a project process is measured before it even starts – and that it covers the precise amount of change that was envisaged at the outset.
PM TO THE POWER OF THREE
To sum up PM, three factors make up every project:
These are interdependent, so any changes made to one will impact on one or both of the others.
Skill up while serving
Whatever your rank or specialisation, you are very likely to have delivered projects of varying complexity, although it is vital to distinguish between planning and carrying out relatively simple routine activities and specific projects like the refit of a warship or the design of a cockpit. However, experience gained by, say, moving a unit to a new base or running an NCOs’ course would certainly be relevant.
CPD IS KEY
Continuing professional development is required to keep abreast of changes in the PM world
Have you got what it takes?
PM knowledge and experience are crucial skills in many civilian jobs. With this in mind, consider enhancing your project-related skills, particularly leadership, team building and risk management. PM is an increasingly useful discipline – good project managers are in great demand, both within the Services and outside. It is also an industry that is expanding into new areas every year. The basic skills required to manage a project are:
- recognising what it is that needs to be delivered
- planning how to deliver it
- using the resources available
- organising the project from start to finish.
PM is a field in which there are specific qualifications as well as general ones that include an element of PM within them. Many degrees, for example, have modules on PM and yet more test students by requiring them to carry out a project as part of the qualification.
Several methodologies are used for project management. Some of the most important are Atern, Management of Risk and Managing Successful Programmes, but the most common generic methodology is PRINCE2 (see separate panel). It is not cheap, though, and you may have to meet some of the costs yourself. The Practitioner certificate is mandatory for civilian project managers employed in the MoD.
Another source of advice is the Association for Project Management (APM). It publishes a Body of Knowledge that provides basic information on the competences required by a project manager. There are also training courses and education programmes for those who want to advance their knowledge in this field. It has aligned its qualifications with the standards set by the International Project Management Association (IPMA). Visit the relevant websites to find out more (see ‘Useful info’).
Short courses in PM are run regularly throughout the UK, and the APM can provide a list of approved training providers (again, see ‘Useful info’). Many British universities and institutes offer a range of PM courses and programmes. Some are specialist, while others are aimed at the general project manager.
The crux of PRojects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE), now in version 2 (PRINCE2, see below), is embodied in the phrase ‘Controlled Environments’, which means:
- tight, agreed specifications
- quality control of the product and the process
- full participation of the customer throughout
- involvement of suppliers so requirements are understood
- no surprises on delivery.
THE METHODOLOGIES YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Managing Successful Programmes
- Management of Risk
PRINCE2 is a processed-based approach; each element is defined with its key inputs and outputs, together with the specific objectives to be achieved and activities to be carried out. The project is split into manageable stages, enabling efficient control of resources and regular monitoring of progress. The process is product based; plans focus on delivering results and are not simply a set of timelines by which various actions must have occurred.
The project is driven by the business case, describing the organisation’s justification, commitment and rationale for the deliverable (or outcome). This case is reviewed regularly to ensure that the business objectives (which may change) are being met. PRINCE2 enables projects to have an organised and controlled start, middle and end, with a series of processes that cover all necessary activities.
The project manager organises and controls the project team, which actually does the work. The customer pays for the project, the user will use its outcome, while suppliers (or specialists) have the expertise to carry it out.
All will be represented on the project board to ensure that the right outcome is delivered within budget, on time and to the appropriate quality. Project assurance provides an independent view of how the project is progressing.
There are two qualification levels: Foundation and Practitioner. The Foundation exam must be taken before the Practitioner exam.
1 hour allowed
60 questions per paper
33 marks required (out of 60 available) to pass = 55%
2.5 hours allowed (no reading time added)
Objective testing format
68 questions per paper
38 marks or more required to pass (out of 68 available) = approx. 55%
Open-book exam (official PRINCE2 manual only)
You can sit both exams in the same week or even day, or you can split them and sit them months (or even years) apart. You do not have to take a course to sit the examinations – it’s up to you!
Foundation level will provide enough knowledge to enable you to act as an informed member of a project management team – it indicates understanding of the principles and terminology. Practitioner, though, is necessary for those who need the competence to run and manage specific projects. APMG-International administers the exams, and also accredits training providers to teach PRINCE2 and conduct the exams. (APMG-International also offers a number of other qualifications relevant to this sector.)
PRINCE2 Registered Practitioners must take a re-registration exam every three years, to maintain their certification.
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website at www.enhancedlearningcredits.com and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features on this website.
One obvious employment area Service leavers is the defence industrial sector, with many projects to choose from. This has the benefit of immediate skills transferability, possibly working on familiar equipment but from a different perspective. But it’s true to say that PM skills are of great value and in high demand in every conceivable occupation.
The more junior ranks will tend to be employed on the basis of their technical skills and expertise, while if you have been in a managerial role in the Services, your management – and specifically PM – skills will be attractive to prospective employers. If you are thinking of working freelance, there are agencies, magazines and other intermediaries that can help you; if you want to find an employer, the job-finding process is much the same as for other kinds of employment.