Maximize Career Advancement with Project Management Training

by Cornelius Fichtner

Do you want to take your career as a project manager to the next level? Yes? What is project management training what advice how can it advance your career? We have a suggestion for you: project management education. In this podcast, Cornelius Fichtner interviews Marie Spark at the Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Conference 2018 in Los Angeles, California, about how project managers can maximize their career advancement through project management training. They discuss the ways in which adult education has changed over the past decade, as well as the changes that are expected in the future. 


They also discuss how project managers can (and should!) take advantage of various training opportunities to advance their careers. To find out more about how to advance your career and project management training, click on the button below to listen to the whole podcast! To find out more about how to advance your career and project management training, click on the button below to listen to the whole podcast!

SOURCE: Project Management Podcast

Listen to the podcast here or read the transcript below

Cornelius Fichtner Podcast Transcript: Maximize Career Advancement with Project Management Training

Podcast Introduction

Marie Spark: In this episode of The Project Management Podcast™, you’ll discover how to take your project management education to the next level.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™ at I’m Cornelius Fichtner. We are coming to you live from the energizing 2018 PMI Global Conference in Los Angeles.

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner: And with me right now is Marie Spark. Good afternoon, Marie!

Marie Spark: Good afternoon, Cornelius! Great to be here!

Cornelius Fichtner: I cheated a little bit because I said that we are at the PMI Global Conference. We’re not yet at the conference. We are at the PMI Leadership Institute Meeting to be absolutely precise. It’s a couple of days before the conference actually starts. How is the LIM for you?

Marie Spark: Oh, the LIM is fantastic. The Leadership Institute Meeting brings project managers from allover the world. I sat down at the table with people from Nigeria, Portugal and Vietnam and we had a great talk from people PMI Global and someone from Pixar relating project management to wonderful animated movies. How can you tap that?

Cornelius Fichtner: Our topic is career advancement through project management training. What can out listeners expect to learn from our conversation?

Marie Spark: Well, the world of project management training keeps changing in disruption just like everything else but the exciting thing is I think our listeners can think about going beyond the traditional bounds of what is learning and hopefully we can explore the possibilities in this conversation.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah! Let’s take a step back and start at the very beginning.

Marie Spark: Sure.

Cornelius Fichtner: What is your background in project management and also in project management education?

Marie Spark: Sure. So the funny thing on me is I am a full-time faculty member now in academics. But that is not where I started and I never would have guessed that I’d be here.

So I was an IT project manager in banking and operations and I also is a Six Sigma Black Belt and I really fell into being in education after leaving my last job and suddenly realizing that my favorite thing I did was Six Sigma coaching. And thinking I would be in professional training to make a long story short, I am now the director of a project management program and I really enjoy the fact that I combine my professional background with education.

Cornelius Fichtner: And what exactly it is that you do for that program and just you know for full disclosure it’s Golden Gate University.

Marie Spark: Sure! It’s Golden Gate University. So I’m a professor of project management. I teach but I also on higher faculty. In a way, I am a project manager for the program because I get to figure out what courses we need to refresh, how we can change our program. And I do outreach. And when I come to events like PMI LIM, what I love is I get to network as part of my job to learn from others.

Cornelius Fichtner: What are some of the changes that you are seeing in adult education?

Marie Spark: Oh my goodness, like everything else, those are the days, and you probably know too, Cornelius. Although education is changing rapidly, I run a graduate program as I mentioned. And the thing is people are looking for shorter education and they need it to be available. They are not necessarily looking for a degree. But they are like: ‘I need training for my job that I need right now.’ They are looking for online learning. They are looking for mobile learning. Then there are providers like some of the online providers and coding booth camps, so it’s a very interesting time to be in education but definitely those of us in the university community having to rethink how we provide value to students.

Cornelius Fichtner: And these trends — shorter, mobile, online, is that the same in project management? Because frankly, project management is not something that you can do in 5, 10-minute videos on YouTube.

Marie Spark: Yes. I would agree with that. So I think for some of the technical skills, you can do some of the online learning and video and that kind of thing, but where I see the value in in-person classes, and that’s not necessarily in my program but there’s also certificate programs and other things, is I do think with the Talent Triangle™, there’s the recognition that project managers need those soft skills, leadership skills, things like negotiation and motivation, and maybe it’s not going to a graduate school or university program but definitely, there’s still the need for project managers to do something in person where they are getting those people skills and professional skills.

Cornelius Fichtner: And how do these changes affect how we, and by ‘we’ I mean project managers, learn throughout our careers?

Marie Spark: Yeah, well I think we all have to be in continuous learning mode. I think they are used to this idea that you, with a lot of professions, but project management, you work your way up the food chain. You got your Project Management Professional (PMP)®. In a certain way, you are a seasoned project manager and you could kind of cose on that.

But I think things are changing so rapidly that I think we just all need to assume we are in continuous learning mode whether that’s learning new technical tools, new methodologies like Agile and hybrid, new business models because the business world keeps changing. And how do we continue to add value to the business? Because it used to be we could all be focused on the technical project management aspects but more and more business needs us to do the things that are right for the business and be really glued in on the business. Also having that business understanding is I think even more and more important for project managers.

Cornelius Fichtner: So on the one hand, adult education is changing continuously. At the same time on the technical side, project management is changing continuously. How do you stay relevant in designing and developing a program?

Marie Spark: Very good question! We’re still working on it. But I mean I would say some of the fundamentals are the same. I mean in terms of providing a program, you need to have to understand the concepts within the PMBOK® Guide. We have an Agile management class. We have things like team leadership and having a framework. I think the framework doesn’t go away. So those out there who have PMP, I say don’t listen to the people say that’s not relevant. I think the foundation is still really important. But just you’re not done with the foundation.

So definitely in terms of like an academic program, keeping the foundation but also figure how to make it relevant. Like in my programs, we incorporate a lot of article research. So actually I kind of crowd-source some of the class content. I have my students present articles throughout the term and that’s how we stay focused on what is the next best thing because I certainly can’t be on top of all the trends. So it’s this combination of the basic framework and then keeping on top of everything that’s changing, and it’s like continuous improvement.

Cornelius Fichtner: You already alluded a little bit to it, the PMI Talent Triangle™. And just as a refresher for everybody who is listening, it’s a triangle. It has three sides obviously. We have technical project management on one side. We have leadership on the other. And then strategic and business management on the third side. How does that fit into everything?

Marie Spark: Well great point. I think the reason that PMI kind of went into this model is traditionally and I dating myself. I got my PMP in 2003. The focus was on those technical project management skills. Back when our triangle met the triple constraints of time, scope and cost and that was what we are supposed to focus on those project management. But there’s the recognition more and more that to be relevant and to be successful project managers, we need to understand business strategy and how our business works. I mean so for the business arm. So like if I’m in biotechnology, I’m going to have different sets of skills that I need to know than if I’m in banking or non-profits.

And then in terms of the professional side, the leadership side of the triangle if you will, the soft skills that are so important to succeed, things like resolving conflict and being a leader and managing without authority and all those things. So where that all came together is that you really need all those pieces to be a successful project manager and that’s where project management, the view of project management education has changed. Because it’s not just enough to know those technical sides of the triangle to be successful.

Cornelius Fichtner: One thing that I’ve done here on the Podcast is I obviously once PMI came out with the Talent Triangle, I started to invite a lot more guests to talk about leadership, a lot more strategic and business discussions that I’m having. Are you seeing that infiltrating your own courses as well, that thinking and that teaching?

Marie Spark: Good question! I mean I think the thing is I wouldn’t say it has changed how we teach our classes but it’s helped the value proposition in terms of when someone says: Why would I get a graduate degree? All those things that you mentioned are part of a graduate education because you’re learning advanced, thinking in analysis skills, leadership skills. A lot of our students can because they are at that point in their career where they are kind of stuck and they need to take it to the next level. And so I think we have been doing that along but now it’s really great to have PMI acknowledge and for people to realize those skills are important. I think it’s unfortunate they are called soft skills because I think it minimizes how important they are.

Cornelius Fichtner: Soft skills are really, really hard.

Marie Spark: Yes, very much so.

Cornelius Fichtner: Our listeners are anywhere in their career. Somebody may be listening to this as their first podcast on project management and somebody is a seasoned program manager or portfolio manager. So let’s take a look at what type of educational opportunities that we have out there for people throughout their career starting at the very beginning. What kind of basic project management training do you see?

Marie Spark: Okay and there is a lot out there. So when I got my MBA in the mid-90’s, I heard about project management but there really weren’t a lot of options that I knew about. But now, if you’re someone for instance like we’ll start at the beginning. If you’re someone who really don’t know what project management is all about, there’s a lot of things out there in terms of PMI articles just to get familiar and definitely joining PMIs organization. One of the things I always recommend people is the PMI Breakfast Roundtables. In every city, they have roundtables. They are free and open to anyone and you can show up and talk to project managers about project management.

In terms of classes or certification, if someone is new to project management, I would say start with a class of some type because that’s the advice I got when I was starting out. I went to my manager and I said: “I want to get my PMP.” And she said: “Well you know, that’s great eventually. But if you want to be a project manager and learn how to do that why not you take some classes first.” So I sought out a program at my local extension university and it was really outstanding. So there’s a lot of programs. I’m not going to recommend any particular one but I think that’s definitely something to consider.

Cornelius Fichtner: And in that situation, it’s probably mostly focused on the technical side, right? How scheduled management works, how cost management works and learn the basics.

Marie Spark: I think yes and those are the nuts and bolts basics I would say. So for sure, the extension is a great way to get a foundation. It’s also a place you may meet other professionals that does tend to be professionals.

Also look at the PMI Chapters. A lot of chapters offer workshops of various types. In terms of PMP because people always want to know whether I get the PMP or not, I know some of the listeners already have the PMP, but if you’re trying to figure that out, there are different reasons for it. One of the things I think is you have experience as a project manager but you don’t have it on your resume. Let’s say you have been doing work that really is project related but you were never a project manager, it’s a way of branding yourself. It’s also a way of learning the language and terminology so that you can brand yourself as a project manager and that people will buy you as a project manager.

I’ve had students who felt like they were doing project management but there were stuck in their career path and they say: “Well if I get a masters or if I get a PMP, my manager will see me as a project manager and I can move to the next level.”

Cornelius Fichtner: And then above that, let’s talk a little bit about graduate level courses. For whom are these applicable? Thanks for reading about how to maximize career advancement with project management training.

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