How Do I Maximize My Value as a Project Manager?

I frequently get questions from students and others asking “How do I maximize my value as a project manager?”. That’s a very good question because the world of project management is changing rapidly as a result of the influence of Agile. As a result, the answer to that question is not as simple as you might think. It’s important to understand the impact of these changes and plan your career accordingly.

How Do I Maximize My Value as a Project Manager?

What’s Different in Today’s World?

There have always been two primary aspects of being a good project manager, in my opinion:

  1. The first is knowledge of project management principles and practices
  2. The second is understanding of a particular area to apply that knowledge to

In the past,

  • You might have been able to get by with being a “general purpose project manager” with a solid knowledge of project management principles and practices alone
  • In some cases, a project manager might have been nothing more than a good, high-level planner and administrator

In today’s world, I don’t believe that is sufficient.

1. Project Managers Need to Provide Business Value

In the past,

  • It may have been sufficient for a project manager to be successful by delivering a set of defined requirements within a given cost and schedule budget
  • However, there have been many projects that have met their defined requirements but failed to deliver an acceptable level of business value

That can easily occur for two major reasons:

A. Level of Uncertainty

We live in a world today where solutions are much more complex and there may also be a much higher level of uncertainty about what the best solution is. That can make it very difficult or impossible to accurately define the requirements for a project upfront. In this environment:

  • Business value takes on a much broader definition – Simply meeting cost and schedule goals is only one component of business value and it may not even be the most important component of business value
  • A more adaptive project management approach is needed – Attempting to define firm project requirements upfront in a very uncertain environment and then controlling changes to those requirements makes it difficult to optimize the value of the solution as the project is in progress
B. Need for Creativity and Innovation

There is also a very high level of competition in today’s world. Being successful in that environment can demand leading-edge products and it can require a significant level of creativity and innovation to develop those products. An over-emphasis on planning and control can stifle creativity and innovation.

For example, can you imagine trying to develop an industry-leading product like a new iPhone with a traditional plan-driven approach to project management? There is a lot of uncertainty about how to maximize the customer value of a new iPhone and it can require a lot of creativity and innovation to be successful. Producing high-impact business results is what is important.

2. There Is Not Just One Way to Do Project Management

A major impact of this is that there is no longer just one way to do project management. You need to fit the project management approach to the nature of the project. Any project manager who only knows how to do a traditional plan-driven approach to project management and tries to force-fit a project to that approach is not likely to be successful.

It is also not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” as many people seem to think. A good project manager needs to see those two approaches in a fresh new perspective as complementary to each other rather than competitive and learn how to blend those two approaches in the right proportions to fit any given situation.

How Do You Adapt to This New World?

It can be a big challenge to develop and enhance your project management skills to adapt to this new world. Here are some questions I’ve seen frequently:

What Certification Should I Get?

PMI is still catching up with these changes. For a long time, PMI has treated Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as two separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two. Today’s PMI certifications still reflect that:

  • PMP is heavily associated with traditional plan-driven project management
  • PMI-ACP is associated with general Agile and Lean knowledge

Neither of these certifications really addresses the most important challenge I believe a project manager needs to address of learning how to blend these two areas in the right proportions to fit a given situation. In addition, the role of an Agile Project Manager is still not well-defined and PMI-ACP is only a test of general Agile and Lean knowledge and does not prepare you for a specific role. The result is that:

  • Both of these certifications have value as a foundation, but
  • They do not go far enough to address the primary challenges that a project manager might face in today’s world

What Academic Degree Should I Get for Project Management?

There have also been a number of questions from college-age people about the role of an academic degree in becoming a project manager. For example:

  • What academic degree should I get for a career in project management?
  • Is it worthwhile to get a master’s degree in project management?

Here are my thoughts on that:

  • There is certainly some value in academic training but project management has always had a practical, real-world focus on getting things done. As a result, an academic degree in project management without any real-world experience has limited value
  • Many universities that offer academic training in project management still base their curriculum heavily or exclusively on a traditional plan-driven approach to project management and have not fully-integrated an Agile approach into their curriculum
  • As I’ve previously mentioned, project management is more than just knowing project management skills, its important to also have some knowledge of an area to apply those skills to. An in-depth knowledge of general project management skills without much knowledge of how to apply those skills to deliver business results in a particular area of focus is not a good formula for success, in my opinion.

What Is the Role of an Agile Project Manager?

Any project manager should have a clear idea of what role they are preparing themselves for. However, the big question that is difficult to answer is “What Is the Role of an Agile Project Manager?” That role is still evolving and there is even some controversy among some people that there is a role for a project manager at all in an Agile environment. I can only give you some general recommendations on this:

  • The role of a project manager in leading and managing small, simple, single-team projects is rapidly disappearing
  • Many project managers who may have primarily focused on performing that role will need to move up to a higher level of value-added
  • The primary focus of any project manager should be on delivering business results and just a knowledge of project management skills is often not enough to do that

Here’s an article with more on that:

Overall Summary

The world of project management is going through some very rapid and significant changes at this time.

  • Many project managers have questions about how to adapt their careers to fit this new environment
  • There are no simple and easy answers to that because the role of a project manager in this environment is still rapidly changing

The most important things for a project manager to realize are that:

  • These changes are happening and can’t be ignored. Most project managers will probably need to upgrade their skills to continue to grow and thrive in this new environment. Any project manager who is in “denial” and insists on doing project management the same way it has been done for years may have limited success
  • PMI is still catching up with these changes. As a result, you can’t totally rely on PMI certifications to guide you in the right direction. The existing PMI certifications are a good foundation but they don’t go far enough at this time

Additional Resources

This is only a very brief, high-level overview of the changes going on in the project management profession. If you want to learn much more detailed information, check out my Online Agile Project Management Training Courses. The first course is free!