Project management in the USA: How to build a career

A group of project managers in an office

Project management in the USA is definitely a career with a pathway and progression opportunities.

Moving from project assistant to junior project manager and onwards to project manager and even to programme level, this is a career with longevity. And, unlike some jobs that won’t be here in five to 10 years, project management is adaptable because the skills are more about the process than the product.

Demand for project managers in the USA

Well-qualified and experienced project managers save US organizations time, money and minimize the risk of projects failing. They identify problems early and help achieve the desired “end state” more successfully.

For example, as happened during the 2008 financial crisis, many homebuilding projects had to quickly be adjusted in scale and size in response to a declining economy. Through proper governance and project management techniques, the more agile developers were able to pivot within their projects and remain viable, while others went out of business.

As the lynch pin in a process, project managers understand how different pieces go together and make them work.

Talent development challenges

Despite their value, what I see today is insufficient qualified project managers with the right skills.

Hiring managers are looking for experience, certifications and degrees – in that order. So, if you have less experience, they will focus on your “certs” and university education.

Having a certification tells the hiring manager you are dedicated to your craft and have a common best practice lexicon. Equally, to get through today’s AI screening of applications used by many companies, you won’t get through the filter without a certification like PRINCE2®.

Traditional weaknesses

Unrealistic expectations up-front are one of the big weaknesses in US project management. For example, promising that things will get done in six months ends up with many blown timelines.

Another issue is money – projects seem to end up costing more than predicted.

In my view, US project managers have a tendency to look for a number of definitive steps to follow in projects. Unfortunately, this doesn’t lead to critical thinking in a world changing so fast and with the need to pivot.

The ability to communicate with stakeholders and understand the “why?” behind a project, while focusing on the outcome and how to get there, is vital.

Project management requires a lot of thought, problem solving, communication and thinking rapidly. This is why the principles and themes of a method like PRINCE2 are better than being tied to a mythical “10 steps”, especially because they can be moulded to any project environment.

A good example is the ability to apply PRINCE2 to both waterfall and Agile projects. This allows project managers to integrate governance and oversight with methods such as Scrum and projects run in an Agile manner. Therefore, the C-suite can make executive decisions and Agile product developers can get on with the job. No doubt, this works well in high velocity enterprises such as Silicon Valley start-ups.

Obtaining key certifications

Anyone working in project management will benefit from having a recognized certification. However, the one you choose shouldn’t be based solely on where you’re located, because we’re all living in a global economy.

Ultimately, it’s important to have a key certification and PRINCE2 is one of them. And if you’re looking at other project management accreditations it shouldn’t be a question of “either/or”, as they work together.

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