Boulder Project Manager Meetup Wrap-Up: Project Manager Training Discussion

A few weeks ago Boulder area Web Project Managers (PMs) once again came together for a Boulder Web Project Manager Happy Hour. This gathering focused on PM Training. A few questions we asked were: 1) What have we done to train as PMs?; 2) How do we train new PMs at our companies?; and 3) What training is  working and what isn’t? This topic proved to be interesting and generated plenty of conversation.

Based on the conversation, it’s clear most web PMs are encountering similar struggles with training. There are a few specific types of training PMs have received or found useful, but short of those structured programs, there’s generally a void. (Much of our conversations focused on what training might fill that void.) Below are the main topics we discussed, and the conclusion I left with.

To be fair, there is an Internationally recognized certification option for PMs

The most commonly recognized credential for a PM is Project Manager Professional (PMP) certification offered through the Project Management Institute. PMP certification is given to PMs in many different fields, and is a rigorous (and expensive) process. A PM must have a certain level of education, a minimum number of years as a Project Manager, a minimum number of Project Management hours under her belt, and must pass a test in order to get certified. To keep a PMP certification a PM must also achieve a specific number of Professional Development Units (PDUs), or points, every 3 years. Points are earned by attending—and paying for—community events and trainings.

If you aren’t familiar with PMP certification, you may be wondering why there are any questions about Web PM training when there’s a clear option in front of us. In addition to the cost of events and training associated with PMP Certification, there is another issue specific to Web PMs: the roots of PMP focus on waterfall type project management. Although there are agile focused professional development opportunities offered through PMI, there is more focus and understanding of a waterfall style of project management which can feel less valuable to a Web PM.

In short, PMP certification feels pretty old-school to many younger, web-focused PMs. The industry appears to feel the same, as many PMs at the meetup had never known a small or even mid-sized Digital Agency to seek PMP certification in its Project Managers. Of course PMP certification has its place (and importance) in many industries, but it seems like it misses the mark for training a Web PM.

If PMP certification feels outdated, then surely the answer lies with Agile and Lean training, right?

The latest structured training programs are focused on the Agile Software Development methodology. You can get ScrumMaster Certification, Scrum Professional Certification, and even become Scrum Coach or Scrum Trainer certified. You can also receive training and certification in all sorts of Lean principles, including Six Sigma certification.

I’ve heard debate on the merits of this type of certification—it can be expensive, but I think the bigger problem is that in order for it to be valuable, your organization must (pretty strictly) employ the philosophies and principles of Agile and/or Lean software development. I’ve been through Lean training and I’ve been certified as a ScrumMaster. Both of those training resources work well in terms of understanding Agile and Lean philosophies, but the certification can be overkill when I’m not living and breathing Scrum or Lean principles.

Still, Lean Training and ScrumMaster certification only requires a day or two of training for each. It’s much less rigorous than a PMP certification, and the lessons learned can be valuable—although, I’d recommend reading a book that covers those topics over paying the sometimes high cost of training.

So then what? What else is out there?

That’s exactly the question we asked at the meetup, and the answer isn’t clear. We all agreed that we want to improve as PMs. We also tended to agree that there isn’t a great distinction between senior PMs, PMs, or junior PMs at agencies. Usually it’s a matter of simply accumulating more experience that allows for growth, rather than demonstrating an improvement in skills. This would suggest that we are learning (and theoretically improving) with every project we run. That is definitely true, but if there’s a skill I’m weak in, simply running more projects isn’t necessarily going to improve that skill.

I know I’ve personally found being involved in a larger PM community helps provide education opportunities. Simply talking to other PMs about what they do, what challenges they’ve faced, and how they’ve handled those challenges has given me plenty of new ideas on how to approach the work I do. In addition, the presentations at the 2013 Digital PM Summit were a great opportunity to learn, and led me to believe that attending similar conferences could be a great way to continue growing as a PM. But unfortunately, in terms of concrete training, the opportunities do seem to be lacking.

My takeaway from this Meetup, and from follow-up discussions here at Viget, is this: access to relevant training is a problem many PMs are experiencing, and it’s something we should address. I intend to start putting together a roadmap for training as a PM. There are great books, individual classes, and conferences that can be extremely valuable. A great start will simply be to pull these resources together in one place.

I’d love to hear what you think should be in that roadmap? Even better, does your company already have a training plan you’d like to share?

Also, If you are a Digital Project Manager in the Boulder Area, we’d love for you to join us for our next event!

Becky manages digital projects from our Boulder, CO, office for clients such as Duke University, Volunteers of America, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Shure.

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