How I hit ‘Enter’ on becoming a Project Manager

Long ago, in 2013, there was a woman called Isobel who was looking for more of a challenge in her working life. She was also quite interested in trying to increase her income because she had two children to care for and wanted to provide for them the best she could.

Fast forward to now, ten YEARS (!) later, and that same person works predominantly as a PMO Manager (that’s Project Management Offices) for large projects and complex Programmes.

I want to share how my journey went from vague thoughts, and grew into a career in project management and PMO

Isobel Boyes
The Real Life PM

First thing I did?

I stopped and took a minute. To know where you’re trying to go, you need to know where you’ve been, and you need to have chance to figure out whether anything that you’ve done to date could support your journey into project management.

These are all the jobs I had before getting into projects (the role at the top of the list being the last non-project role I did):

  • OFSTED registered Childminder
  • Yoga for Pregnancy and Active Birth Teacher
  • Executive Assistant to a Director of Medical Safety
  • PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor, Grand Cayman
  • Office Manager/Director, Retail Consultancy
  • BHS Riding Instructor/Groom, Radnage House Riding School, Buckinghamshire

What’s my education

For context, I didn’t go to University (the teachers only talked to some pupils at my school about university). I didn’t mind though because I was 100% sure that all I wanted to do was to work with horses! Fortunately (or unfortunately it felt to me at the time) my Mum insisted I do at least a year of college so I did a year’s Secretarial course at my local Further Education College (it’s so long ago, I can only find a black and white picture of it!).

The qualifications I had

From my days in college I came out with various secretarial qualifications whereupon we all legged it down to the town centre to the temping agencies where we all got office temp jobs.

What I did first

Before I did anything drastic, I started by looking at job boards to see what kind of work there was in projects, what sort of responsibilities and experience employers were looking for as well as typical earnings.

That led me on to looking at the types of qualification and knowledge that a project manager would need, how I could study, and what the costs would be. I realised that for me, I wanted to have a proper understanding of how projects are run, and how are they managed.

I signed up to a distance learning course to learn the Prince2 project management methodology. This is a traditional, waterfall (sequential) approach to project management used extensively here in the UK. Other certifications were available but this seemed like a good fit and, as it turned out, the majority of my projects have been in the public sector where Prince2 is used a lot.

So I studied, did all the learning and got ready to look at taking the exam. Unfortunately, funds did not allow me to take the exam – at the time it was about £400 and I simply couldn’t afford that amount of money. So I stopped there, and armed with at least the knowledge, I started looking at how and where I could get into project management.

I actively job hunted and started applying and so below is all of the roles I’ve had right up to the current day (this being written in April 2023).

As I looked at all the job roles out there, I felt that having had limited experience of working in a business, I would start looking initially at project support roles (eg Project Support Officer), rather than going into a full on Project Manager role. I was so excited to get my first role at a regional car manufacturer. This was part as of a huge team of individuals supporting a global software implementation. My income went from about £60/day, to £250/day. Game on.

Another couple of support roles, this time in the arena of Estates & Facilities. At one NHS Trust I worked on the refurbishment of three hospital wards at an acute adult mental health hospital. On another I visited multiple properties looking proactively for and logging repairs and issues (multiple site to site journeys each day).

Next it was onto a regional NHS commissioning body where I did many, many pivot tables in Excel to help assess and quantify patient demand and predict activity patterns to help scope out requirement for an urgent care centre.

My first role as a Project Manager! Another role in the NHS and this time in a community NHS setting. This was such an interesting project – implementing two software systems that enabled touch of a button nurse>patient allocation, capacity management and route optimisation. Really interesting and challenging, very busy, and involving driving to multiple sites each day.

Here comes the second Project Manager role. This time at a local-to-me regional hospital Trust implementing a software tool which identified whether patients were in the right level of care for their current clinical needs and if not, why not. Managed this virtually single-handedly to drive compliance up to +85% in the daily completion of patient assessments for every patient in the system.

Now I went into the world of permanent employment and joined an arms length government body based in Birmingham. I worked as a Project Manager as part of a team sitting in the organisation’s Portfolio Management Office. Here was born a passion for PMO (project / programme / portfolio management offices) that continues today.

Off to my first experience working for a consultancy firm. My first role was managing a PMO for a large transformation programme at a Council who were overhauling all their systems including moving to Windows 10 and introducing Microsoft 365. I did numerous other project and PMO roles including Microsoft 365 adoption, PMO Manager roles for ERP programmes, Microsoft 365 training, and project assurance support. Very interesting work, lots of variety.

As 2022 hits you’d have found me firmly in the world of contracting where I’m not employed by an organisation, I work independently usually through my limited company. In this capacity I do one PMO Lead role and one Senior PMO Analyst role – two really interesting projects/programmes.

So what should you do next?

It’s important to take time to think about all the factors that apply to your individual situation, especially before committing to financing project management certifications. Like me, take a minute to review your previous work and educational history and experiences, where you are now, and what will work for you and carefully evaluate to allow you to find the right way forward, for you.

Why not check out my YouTube channel where there are videos with information on how to get into project management, skill development and more.

Check out the website.

This FREE Skills Matrix is where you can start tracking any skills you decide to work on keep note of your progress.

If you’ve already embarked on your journey into project management let me know how you approached it and where you are with it now. How easy or difficult did you find it? Leave a comment or catch up with us in the Real Life PM community forums where we chat about topics that come up in the Blog or Newsletters.

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