How To Break Into A Project Management Career If You're In PMO

A lot of my readers are currently in a Project Management Office (PMO) and are PMO Coordinators. They help the Project Manager develop project status reports, calculate project financials, plan meetings, manage resource plans and so forth.

Many of them ask me how they can transition into a project management career. They say:

"Since I'm already doing project tracking and documentation, can't I just naturally move into project management?"

Well, in my opinion, moving from a PMO Coordinator role directly into project management is tough.

Let me explain why below.

A Project Manager is Different From A PMO Coordinator

A Project Coordinator's role is vastly different from a Project Manager's role. Don't confuse the two.

A Project Manager's role differs in three important ways.

Accountability. First, a Project Manager is fully accountable for the on-time, on-budget delivery of the project. If the project is delayed, or delivered way out of budget, his or her job could be on the line.

Communication. A Project Manager communicates constantly. He or she delivers results by talking to a lot of stakeholders. He or she needs to convince senior and middle management, team members, vendors, etc. to execute their tasks, meet schedules and resolve issues.

Project Delivery Methodology. A Project Manager is also clear on how to deliver projects. They have an arsenal of project management toolkits and templates to deploy. In addition, the best PMs go beyond – gain domain knowledge so they can speak credibly with their business stakeholders.

I don't mean to down play a PMO Coordinator's role – they definitely add value to projects.

But their work in the PMO is very focused on to project documentation, tracking, status reports and financials, etc.

If you're currently a PMO Coordinator, jumping straight into a PM role will be very difficult. Even if you manage to make the jump, you will have a hard time as a PM.

how to break into a project management career if you are in pmo 1 Learn how to break into project management if you're in a PMO role

So How Do You Transition Into Project Management?

My sense is that it's much better to move from a PMO Coordinator role to a Business Analyst role. As I mentioned here, a Business Analyst's skillsets has many parallels with that of a PM.

I encourage you to pick up BA skills first.

Over time, your BA skills will teach you confidence and increase your communication skills. You also set yourself apart because you will work with business users and understand their industry domain.

With those BA skills, applying for a Junior PM position should not be a problem.

You can also move to an IT or Testing role, but I feel those do not give you the industry and domain exposure that are highly valued by employers these days.

Try to Work In A Large-Scale IT Transformation Project

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for a PM career is to play a BA role in a large-scale IT transformation project. Through the BA role, you work with business users and understand their domain. You will eventually oversee testing of the system and thus obtain an end-to-end view of how system delivery projects work.

This end-to-end knowledge, coupled with the BA communication and domain skills you obtained, will place you in good stead to move into a PM role in your next project.

Case Study. I was once a young Business Analyst in a large team of 50+ consultants rolling out a core insurance system for a major insurance company based in Singapore and Malaysia. Given my junior role, I thought I'd not be able to contribute much to the project.

To my surprise, playing even a junior BA role help me gain a lot of confidence in presentations, conflict resolution and also domain knowledge. My role basically forced me to present to some very senior Heads of Department in the client's firm.

Over time, my communication skills kept improving and it help me eventually transition to a PM role in a leading global bank here in Singapore.

What Courses or Certifications Should You Take?

Well, if you're already a PMO Coordinator, you should already have access to some PM tools and templates.

But to prepare yourself for a PM career, you need to do more:

Get a PMP Certificate. The PMP exam is an excellent exam to take. I know for sure that many companies, especially banks here in Singapore, specifically look for the PMP credential in their PM candidates.

Pick Up Domain Knowledge. Domain knowledge, e.g. knowing how bank deposits, loans, structured products, fees, interest rates is a huge advantage. If you're joining a bank as a PM, I can promise you the hiring manager will try to see if you understand the banking business.

If you're thinking of a PM career in banking, here's a book I wrote to help you pick up the domain knowledge.


And that's all, folks. Now you understand that jumping from PMO Coordinator to straight into a Project Manager role is a recipe for disaster.

Better to start off in a smaller but high value role like that of a BA, in a large-scale IT transformation project. Over time, you will pick up the transferable skills you need to end up with a banking PM job.

How To Start A Project Management Career

How To Start A Project Management Career Guidebook

Are you wondering how to break into a Project Management?

Would you like to understand how others have successfully switched to a PM career?

Or discover what skills, certifications and domain / industry knowledge are required to excel in a PM role?

I’ve written a practical, easy-to-read guidebook that will help you find your best path to Project Management – one that leverages your unique skills, experiences and career background to your advantage.

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