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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Learning Project Management Basics


A question about starting career in project management is heard pretty often. A question about value of different project management certifications usually follows.

There is a bunch of standard answers for these questions. Apply for junior role in project management. Attend a course. Help your PM in her job. Get a certificate (this or another). Buy and read a stack of books on project management etc.

I have another answer. Actually the answer isn’t exactly mine. I’ve ruthlessly stolen it from Scott Berkun.

Go, run a project.

“How? I mean I’m yet trying to get project management job, remember?”

Pretty much everything which happens around you is a kind of project. If you invite a group of friend for a dinner it is a project. If that doesn’t sound like a real project think bigger. Maybe you can organize vacations for friends?

“Yeah, and what do I learn from such a simple thing?”

Don’t tell me it’s easy – I’m just finalizing sailing trip for 25 people. And, believe me, friends aren’t the best clients you can find around. It requires the same skills you’ll be using once you get your PM job to organize this kind of trip.

“Maybe that’s a nice idea but I don’t have 25 friends.”

That sucks, man. But you definitely have some non-profit organization which would appreciate some help in their projects. And they do have a lot of them. And they’d love your help they’d get for free (non-profit often means non-paying too).

“But, you know, this whole non-profit stiff isn’t really something I’d like to work on.”

Um, you think once you are a project manager you’ll be able to choose projects you like and reject those you don’t. I have a bad news for you. You won’t. You know life isn’t as nice as they told you.

“OK, but how it helps me to learn project management?”

You basically organize a group of people to do what you want. They come to a meeting point. They go to target place where they’re warmly welcomed by your hosts. People know when they can go watch latest World Cup match and when they should bring you a cold beer in exchange for organizing this great trip. Earlier everyone paid you their share of costs so you could have paid for your shelter.

This isn’t much different from project management in real world. You make people doing what you want. They work on a project tasks of your choice. Everyone knows when they’re free to learn new technology and when they should focus of finishing before deadline. Earlier people agreed on plan of splitting tasks and build a schedule etc.

“What about all the formal stuff? I don’t have to create technical specifications when I organize a trip for friends.”

Oh, really? You don’t? That’s interesting… OK, just joking. All the formal stuff will differ among companies so it isn’t so important anyway. Of course you should know what WBS is and understand how to find critical path, but that’s not a rocket science.

What more usually candidates for project management positions lack practical knowledge – lack of understanding of some technical terms isn’t so common.

So go, find a project and run it. After all there aren’t many things which would match your friends thanking you for a great trip and asking whether you’re organizing it next year too. This single thing is worth the whole effort. The funny thing is it works similarly in projects you run at work.

By the way, I’d use the same method to learn leadership.

in: personal development, project management

9 comments… add one

  • Karol Zielinski June 30, 2010, 2:23 am

    Absolutely agree. The best way to became a project manager is to manage a project (even your own, simple project or a project for your friend). Practical knowledge is the most important thing. All kind of books and certificates are additions (sometimes these are really important additions, but… still additions and nothing more).

  • Pawel Brodzinski June 30, 2010, 2:41 am

    What I find interesting is how rarely you find this kind of advice. Go get some experience, even if will happen in a sandbox. I guess it is because no one makes money from the advice.

  • Piotr Nabielec June 30, 2010, 7:27 am

    Absolutely agree, too. And I found this advice in the book which I loved – ‘Axiom’ by Bill Hybels – ‘Lead something’. There are tens of two-three pages long ‘axioms’ in that book about leadership – ‘lead something’ is just one of them. For me project manager vs leader is quite similar, skills may be different, but attitude not.

  • Pawel Brodzinski June 30, 2010, 7:42 am

    And that’s exactly what I meant in the last sentence. When we think about general attitude learning leadership, which is way more difficult than learning project management, will use exactly the same pattern.

    I guess we could push it even further to many so-called soft skills and the attitude would work the same. I’m just not so sure if it is omitted as frequently as in project management or leadership cases. I.e. sportsmen seem to understand this model very well.

  • Josh Nankivel June 30, 2010, 5:28 pm

    Loved the post Pawel! Thanks for the links to my articles, although I may be a bit more in the middle I fully agree that gaining experience is the way to start.

    The flip side is that IF you will learn a great deal through the process of studying for a certification or getting a degree, it can be a good thing. As I warned in my article though,

    “If you do seek education in project management, I would like to add that it’s value is greatly diminished unless you are actively working in a project environment where you can implement the concepts you are learning, or at least use a real project environment as a means for comparing “book learning” to real life.”


  • Pawel Brodzinski June 30, 2010, 11:48 pm


    I don’t say “don’t read books at all.” Neither I say “courses are the source of all evil.” My point is you can get this kind of answers pretty much everywhere. And what people often overlook is that knowledge is at hand, it’s enough to overtake some effort to gain it.

    Then, it’s up to you which tools you choose to support your practical experience. These can be books, courses, certifications or just learning from colleagues (which is also frequently forgotten).

  • Elena July 1, 2010, 6:56 pm

    The reverse is also true, at least for me. As a project manager I now apply my knowledge to everyday projects just like the ones you mentioned – vacations, birthday parties, home remodeling, gardening. I guess it’s a force of habit :)

  • Praful Karambelkar May 29, 2013, 7:51 am

    Thanks Pawel,

    I am also in belief of having hand on experience. Now a days I am googling PM terms but what I get standard answers and find little turf to get some real time and simple examples. Your article is nice.

    Praful K

  • GAF August 14, 2013, 3:38 pm

    This is a great post! Project Management is all about using resources wisely, Managing time and cost. I always wondered where should i found a great support on this. Now i got it and am really agreed with the post. Totally satisfied with the post. Thanks again for sharing!

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