Over the past several years, there has been a big push in the NCO and SNCO ranks to get their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. Learning about Project Management is a great way for us to become better leaders while paving the path for our future civilian careers. If you want to understand project management, it is important to understand what a project is and what a project manager’s role entails.

Project: The PMBOK (see below for what this) defines a project as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” The key word in this is ‘temporary’, although it can be a little bit misleading. Some projects are only a few months and others go on for several years so temporary can feel like a strange way to phrase something when it lasts 252 years as did the building of the York Minster Cathedral. However, the intent of the word temporary means there is a defined start and finish. Building a computer program, car, home, science fair project, or experimental aircraft are all projects because there is a start and finish. Mass manufacturing cars in production is not project management, it is operations management.

I like to say projects are the answers to problems leadership needs solved. A project is the solution that bridges the gap from where we are now to where we want to be. Projects are often very unique and have a defined moment of success or definition of done. This is not as succinct as the PMBOK’s definition, but more relevant to me. Projects solve a problem. When we look at it this way, it also provides a purpose for us as project managers. When we forget we are doing something to help another it is easy allow scope creep or slips in the schedule. Always keep the problem you are solving in the forefront of your mind.

Project Managers: In general terms, a project manager is someone charged with keeping the project on-time, on-budget, and within scope. These are the quantifiable metrics used to track success; however, there is so much more to it than just those generalities. A project manager is the person who sees the big picture of what each area is doing for a specific effort and ensures all resources are on the same page. True, it is our job to ensure the resources (human and financial) are being utilized effectively, but we all know when people become a simple metric, it leads to problems. This is why enlisted leaders are so effective as project managers. We know people drive the mission. Taking care of the people ensures long-term success.

In my civilian role as an Agile Project Manger (there will be more about Agile in future article), I am a part of some small projects lasting only a few months and some that have spanned over a year to date. My peers who have seen success are those who remember people drive the mission and take care of their team by developing them and not burning them out. There is always work to be done and those project managers who push their team to work weekends consistently and reward work with more work have very high rates of turnover. Remember in the civilian world, people can quit. People skills make all the difference.

Understanding what a project is and what a project manager does is very important if this is a path you want to pursue. I love project management, because I love to solve problems and do not want to do the same thing forever. A project is temporary and as a project manager, I get to help people solve problems and remove impediments from their paths. This is what drives me. If you are the type of person who likes to solve problems, this is a career path to look into further.

Additional Reading Material:

PMBOK: The Project Management Body of Knowledge or the PMBOK, is the guide created and used by the Project Management Institute (PMI) to teach their methodologies and prepare you for the PMP test. Think of it as the PDG for Project Managers. It reads the same way and the test is just as difficult; however, like the PDG, the PMBOK has the knowledge of many who have come before us and are sharing their wisdom and is a vital reference guide…just not a something you want to read cover to cover while dipping your toes in the sand. This book is free if you join PMI.

The next two are not “study guides” intended to help with the certification; however, they are great books that describe the industry and project management quite well:

Project Management for Dummies is a pretty good book that is much cheaper than the PMBOK and put together very well.

Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager is another great book I have read recently that explains things well.

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