Tracking Careers: How to Apply Project Management Tools to Promote Career Development
By Jennifer Bradley and Sharon De Mascia
As a career professional, you know firsthand the challenges faced by individuals navigating their careers. Career management is more demanding in the context of a turbulent labor market and a decline in employers’ support for employee development.
Data from the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development found that only 56% of employees report that they trust their employer to “tell the truth” about the company’s economic health. Monika Hamori and colleagues discuss the vicious circle of companies reluctant to invest in developing employees who may go to work for a competitor, and workers who leave due to a perceived lack of development opportunities.
Clearly, there is a need for new approaches to career development that can accommodate the changing world of work. In this article, we introduce three areas of Project Management (project charter, scope management, and stakeholder management) and discuss how to apply them to career development.
A Career as a Series of Projects
What is a career? If you consult a current dictionary definition, you will find that the concept of “work for life” is prominent. Although there are numerous publications explaining that this is no longer the case, the notion of a traditional career persists. We need new definitions that not only reflect the current reality but are also useful to employees and career professionals.
One option is to consider a career as a series of projects. According to the current Project Management Body of Knowledge, a project is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result” (Project Management Institute, 2013, p. 3). The field of project management has developed a number of processes and tools to drive project success. As discussed below, some of these tools can be used to support career management.
The Need for a Charter
A Project Charter is essential for project success. The Charter is a high level description that addresses the fundamental question “What is the purpose of this project?” It makes explicit key information such as assumptions, constraints, risks, primary decision-makers, boundaries, overall budget, and the most important outcomes. Essentially the charter lays the foundation and acts as a reference point for the project as it progresses, while maintaining flexibility in anticipation of changing work and personal circumstances.
The “Charter Approach” lends itself well to career management. Individuals need to have a vision of the career outcomes they want. They should assess the risks and challenges, and identify the key people who can help them achieve their goals. This understanding of self and the environment will enable individuals to both plan ahead and reorient when the unexpected happens. The Charter is the document that captures all of this information. By working with a career development professional or supportive manager, individuals can create highly individualized career “Charters” to create a solid foundation for career planning and management.
Career professionals are experts in helping individuals to gain insight into their skills, abilities, strengths, and values, and identify their development needs. Managers are also well placed to promote the career development of their employees by observing their key strengths, and giving feedback. The charter is the starting point: by continuously checking in on their progress and sharing their progress with others, individuals will benefit from this powerful project management tool.
Defining Project Scope and Making Career Choices
If you ask project managers about the challenges of their jobs, it’s likely that “scope creep” will be a key concern. Scope creep is the unchecked or uncontrolled growth, change, or expansion of a project without appropriate changes or adjustments to the time, costs, resources, or original plans of the project. Like projects, careers happen in an organizational context subject to both opportunities and constraints.
Individuals need to be able to keep track of the cumulative impact of smaller decisions on their career development. The project management field offers systems and tools to collect the data needed to identify trends and make more informed choices. Career success requires the ability to navigate the tension between personal career goals and organizational goals. By engaging in career development discussions with their employees, managers can offer additional insight into potential areas of overlap, since they are likely to have more access to information about the goals of the organization.
Helpful approaches include sharing information about current and upcoming corporate changes, challenges and opportunities. By helping employees to compare this information with their goals, managers can help their employees manage their career project scope, evaluate their options, and make appropriate career decisions.
Developing the skills needed to manage project stakeholders is critical to project success. As discussed by Jeff Crow in his book Project Management in the Workplace, the ability to manage multiple relationships with different agendas is even more important in the project manager role since it often has limited formal authority.
The various tools and process used to make stakeholder management easier can apply equally to the management of careers. Although individuals are increasingly responsible for their own career development, this does not mean that career development is a solitary enterprise. In the context of flatter organizations, virtual teams, and greater complexity, the ability to build and manage interdependent relationships is essential for career success. Career professionals can work with clients to develop systems and tools to help them build a professional network. In addition, managers can help their employees increase their awareness of important stakeholders and proactively manage these relationships.
Essential Tools for Career Success
Creativity and flexibility are essential for career success in today’s work environment. But there is also a need for systems and processes the help clients manage their work lives. The field of project management offers practical tools with proven success in dynamic environments. We hope that this short introduction --- the current PMBOK® Guide is 569 pages – will inspire you to consider new approaches to support your individual and organizational clients.
Claman, Priscilla. (2012, February). There is No Career Ladder. Harvard Business Review:HBR Blog Network. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/02/there-is-no-career-ladder/.
Crow, J. (2013). Applying Project Management in the Workplace (6th Ed.). Portland, OR: Blackbird Publishing.
De Mascia, S. (2011). Project Psychology: Using Psychological Models and Techniques to Create a Successful Project. Farnham, UK: Gower Publishing Ltd.
Hamori, M., Cao, J., & Koyuncu, B. (2012, July-August). Why Top Young Managers Are in a Nonstop Job Hunt. Harvard Business Review: The Magazine. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/2012/07/why-top-young-managers-are-in-a-nonstop-job-hunt/ar/1.
John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. (2009). What a Difference a Decade Makes: The Declining Job Satisfaction of the American Worker. Retrieved from http://www.heldrich.rutgers.edu/node/44.
Project Management Institute. (2013). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) (5th ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Jennifer Bradley, Ph.D., is a US-based Career Professional and a Registered Occupational Psychologist (UK). She coaches individuals during career and work life transitions. Jennifer combines her personal experience of international relocation and career change with several career industry certifications and extensive work experience in higher education and health care. In addition, she has a Certificate in Project Management from Portland State University, where she was a project manager and member of a team researching work life issues and transitions. Contact Jennifer by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jenniferbradleyphd
Sharon De Mascia, M.Sc., is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and Chartered scientist. She is an expert in managing organizational change and well-being. Sharon is the author of ‘Project Psychology: Tools and Techniques for making your Project a Success’ (Gower 2012). She is a sought after speaker and guest lecturer at several leading universities in North West England and an assessor for the British Psychological Society. For more information and to reach Sharon, visit www.cognoscenti.uk.com (English) or www.cognoscenti.es (Spanish).