Blog posted by: Gergely Pal - Project Manager, European Medicines Agency, March 15, 2022.
After working in project management for five years, I decided to get certified in several best practice methods.
With three years' experience in the challenges of leading change management projects in a non-governmental organisation and two years working on bank mergers, it was time to train myself in project management, Agile delivery and ITIL 4 service management approaches.
In the first part of my project management career, I was learning by doing. As a new PMO member, I was eager to gain practical experience, so I undertook responsibilities willingly and ambitiously. I also relied on having senior colleagues' support and guidance, along with my company's existing in-house project methods and previous projects to refer to.
The challenges of learning project management while working are many: aligning numerous different stakeholders towards a common goal, supporting the project team with development and training, and coordinating external contractors.
Along with providing people with the right level of information and ensuring compliance with project governance, it's also important to be able to manage the uncertainty that comes with a project - incorporating risks into the plan, estimating timelines realistically, and handling sudden issues as they arise.
Best practice certification - the difference
By going through training and diving deeper into best practice methods, I've been able to organise and clarify my existing knowledge and identify where I can develop further. In addition, I can use knowledge gathered from these frameworks to help me hit the ground running in new projects. It means not starting from scratch every time but having proven tools ready to support me, which greatly increased my confidence as well.
For instance, when applying in-house methods for banking projects, we usually followed waterfall approaches based on the work of experienced project managers and incorporating some external best practices. Training myself in project management ensured a deeper and broader view of our work. In turn, I could also map out development points for some weaker areas such as risk or issues management.
Agile and its practices, like backlog and sprint management, are hot terms favoured by many IT project teams, but often used inconsistently or not truly adopted. Since my training in Agile, I have been using these terms more accurately and have suggested improvements that make waterfall projects more flexible and faster.
While I once learnt by doing projects, being equipped with best practice knowledge and skills means I can now apply practical techniques from the guidance and my professional domain.
ITIL 4 - managing enterprise-wide services
More recently, I decided to get certified in ITIL 4 because I joined a team running several IT services. As my organisation had been already working with ITIL, I knew I needed to understand more about service management.
With ITIL 4, for example, this includes knowledge of the service value system, service value chain and related management practices. Learning this has helped me understand my new colleagues' work and the terminology they use. In addition, I could identify the focus areas of value delivery within my own service.
While ITIL's general management practices overlap with my project management knowledge (like risk, resource, or knowledge management), its service management practices have offered me something new. Although I had already seen certain practices in action during IT-driven projects, I studied them more deeply in my ITIL 4 training.
One current project I am working on is responsible for implementing a new system. ITIL 4 knowledge will help me directly in building up the service, including the design of the service desk, service level agreements, and incident management.
In addition, the concepts within ITIL can be applied to services that are not necessarily IT-driven. Instead, they involve transforming demand and opportunities to outcomes and value for service consumers - useful capabilities to build any kind of service. Moreover, to be successful in delivering services, I think the whole organisation needs to adopt ITIL 4, not just the IT team.
Blending best practices
Having studied several best practices has proven invaluable because they are all necessary to understand the big picture across the organisation. I came to understand how services - created and developed by projects - are realised through agile delivery.
While ITIL 4 and service management provide me with the biggest strategic overview, I can add a deeper comprehension of project management along with a practical grasp of Scrum's agile principles. Combining these three best practices gives me a full, top to bottom understanding about, for example, needs and motivations of stakeholders from all levels of the organisation.
There are also several common points where service and project management complement each other. For instance, knowing the plan service value chain activity can be useful for project planning, while the engage activity can benefit from the stakeholder management process of project management.
Completing three best practice courses has made me more prepared for the various challenges faced during managing a project. And by achieving three certifications within 12 months I could prove my expertise to my employers as well. But I'm always open to knowing what training and development would be most beneficial as a next step.