Career progression is one of the most important drivers of employee retention. 52% of millennials say opportunities for career progression is the most desirable quality in a workplace, competitive wages and financial incentives (44%), good training and development programs (35%) (PWC). There is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to career progression in organizations.
From an organization perspective, a lack of structure around career paths and visibility provided to employees creates problems. Employees on the other hand lack a well-thought skill enhancement plan. In my experience, the most overlooked aspect of skill enhancement is project management. It could partly be just a perception around the discipline and partly because of how an organization engineers career paths and associated skills.
Typically, there are 2 distinctive career paths in an organization: Individual contributor and Management. The individual contributor path is all about specialization and building expertise, while the management path entails strategy, people & process management, client & stakeholder engagement and more, depending on the nature of the business. If you notice, both career paths have a strong flavor of project management along the journey and yet it is not called out very clearly.
In this blog, I will highlight the various facets of project management and their role in career progression.
As a beginner in an individual contributor role, you are typically assigned specific tasks with deadlines and equipped with the process knowledge required to execute. Delivering on time with desired quality levels are the key expectations. Progressing to the next level means having the ability to plan project schedules, plan resource availability and budgets and plan tasks and schedules, just to name a few of them. Planning is essentially the most fundamental skill required across various disciplines in the organization and almost a prerequisite for career progression. Project Management is perceived to be specific to projects and employees tend to undermine its importance in their domain. Some people may naturally be good at planning but when it comes to career progression, organizations should not leave that to chance.
There is a popular belief that good people managers are born with people skills; so you either have it or you don’t. However, a number of studies suggest otherwise. In fact, some of the greatest leaders in the industry are known to be introverts by nature (Source: Inc.com). Also, people management does not always mean managing people under you. It also means having the ability to work effectively with peers, managers, clients, vendors etc. So whether you are taking up an individual contributor path or a management path, there is no bypassing the people management aspect. Project Management is one discipline that brings a lot of structure and rigor to people management aspects in the form of people touchpoints, performance measurement, productivity and effectiveness frameworks and skill enhancement.
Career progression simply put is an increase in levels of responsibility and accountability towards outcomes. Higher the level, higher the stakes and higher the accountability towards results. When you are required to control outcomes, you need to be able to identify potential risks to ensure they are addressed and don’t come in the way of the desired result. According to PMI, 83 percent of organizations that are high performers in project management practice risk management frequently while just 49 percent of low performers do so. PMI even has a Risk Management certification that is widely sought after (Source: PMI – RMP).
Stakeholder management & Communication
As you rise up the company hierarchy, at some point you will be expected to manage customers/stakeholders. With outsourcing becoming prevalent, stakeholder management has become a crucial component of client retention. Project Management organizations have a well-thought hierarchy and methodology for stakeholder management and communication, such as frequency and format of status meetings, quarterly business reviews, regular metrics reporting etc. When it comes to stakeholder management and communication, employees can learn a lot from the project management discipline.
Data-driven decision making
“In God we Trust. All others bring data” – W. Edwards Deming. In today’s cutthroat business environment, data holds the key to the difference between success and failure. Project management has always been a data-oriented disciple; key business metrics such as productivity, quality and timeliness have originated from the project management practice. To succeed in today’s enterprise, one needs to cultivate data savviness from day one on the job. Having the ability to see patterns in the data and make business decisions based on the insights is the most crucial skill one needs to develop in the journey upwards.
This is the age of digital transformation. It’s time for us see the project management discipline in a different light; as a discipline that helps us address key aspects of career progression. It is also time for organizations to invest time, effort and money in project management training and adoption.