Project management (PM) and information technology (IT) have a complicated relationship. While it's not exactly a core subject for related academic curricula, such as computer science, management information systems (MIS) and so forth, PM is something that touches deeply and directly on most IT activities. That probably explains why PM certifications like the Project Management Institute's (PMI's) Project Management Professional (PMP) certification command a constant presence amidst the top 10 top-paying certifications of interest to IT professionals over the past decade.
What skills do I need to become a project manager?
Project management sits at the heart of most IT activities, including system design and development, deployment or even maintenance. All these routine activities can also be characterized as projects – some of massive scope and duration, others more quick and evanescent. Indeed, that's why project management skills and knowledge are in high demand among IT professionals in nearly every specialty and area of technical focus in that field.
The best project managers possess a great eye for detail and are highly organized. Masters of soft skills, PMs are clear, concise, and effective communicators in both speaking and writing. PMs are excellent problem-solvers and negotiators. It's also helpful to possess an understanding of cross-functional areas, such as supply chain, HR and resource constraints, procurement, finance, and change orders, which may impact overall project outcomes.
What are some popular project management methodologies?
As a project management professional, you'll find no shortage of methodologies. There is no one single "right" methodology, and the one you choose to practice will be influenced by factors like the type of project, industry sector and your employer's preference. When choosing PM training materials, look for materials that complement the PM methodology you want to practice.
While not an exhaustive list, below are a few of the most popular PM methodologies and frameworks:
- Waterfall – Traditional PM methodology with a linear downward process flow. Design changes are difficult to implement. Project phases include system and software requirements, analysis, design, coding, testing, and operations. It's often used with large projects where defined schedules are required and few changes are expected.
- Six Sigma – Six Sigma PMs (usually referred to as a Black, Green or Yellow Belt) focus on improving quality and efficiency by identifying what doesn't work and removing it from the process. A Six Sigma Black Belt would define the problem, measure the current process, analyze data, improve the process and then control the future process.
- Agile – Introduced in 2001, Agile was a response to the Agile Manifesto and originally geared toward software development. In the Agile framework, teams are collaborative and self-organizing. Projects are incremental and iterative, enabling team members to move quickly and respond to change.
- Scrum – A type of Agile framework, Scrum focuses on five core values: courage, commitment, openness, respect and focus. As with Agile, teams are collaborative. Iterations are organized into short blocks of time called sprints, which enable great flexibility to respond to design change. A scrum master (a servant-leader) holds daily meetings where team meetings discuss what they did the day before and what they plan to accomplish each day.
- Kanban – Another type of Agile framework, Kanban is popular in manufacturing environments. Teams are collaborative and self-managing. Kanban practices include visualization, limiting work in progress, flow management, making policies explicit, feedback and collaborative evolution.
- PMI/PMBOK – While not strictly a PM methodology, the Project Management Institute's (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is a well-known and respected standard for project management practices. PMI's certifications, especially its Project Management Professional (PMP) credential, are among the most coveted project management credentials in the industry. PMBOK practices focus on five primary process areas: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing.
How long does it take to get a project management certification?
Requirements to earn a PM certification are set by the individual certification provider and may include a combination of exams, specific training courses, minimum education levels or experience. The requirements to earn advanced certs are generally more than those for entry-level credentials. For example, the Project Management Professional (PMP) is one of the most highly prized PM certifications available. In addition to passing a rigorous exam, candidates must also possess a combination of education, project management education and experience.
CompTIA's Project+, an entry-level certification, recommends that candidates possess 12 months' experience before attempting the exam. However, since this is a recommendation only, candidates can obtain this PM cert by sitting for the exam only, which makes it the only PM cert we found that is available without the necessity of additional training, education or experience.
In the table below, you'll find information about how to obtain five of the popular PM certifications.
|CompTIA Project+||Entry||1||12 months' experience recommended|
|Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)||Advanced||1||High school diploma and 1,500 hours of project experience or 23 hours of PM education|
|Project Management Professional (PMP)||Advanced||1|
Four-year college degree, 4,500 hours leading and directing projects, plus 35 hours of PM education;
High school or associate degree, plus 7,500 hours leading and directing projects, plus 35 hours of PM education
|Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)||Entry||1||Two-day, fee-based training course|
|Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB)||Advanced||1||Three years of experience in one or more of the Six Sigma Body of Knowledge areas plus one completed project with signed affidavit or two completed projects with signed affidavits|
What are the best online project management courses?
Given the incredible popularity and demand for project management skills and knowledge, it is no surprise that one can find commercial project management training courses to fit nearly every schedule and budget. But that does not mean there aren't good choices available for free training, too.
We scoured the internet to bring you the best free options. Here, you'll also get pointers to some outstanding low-cost offerings as well. Don't forget, many colleges and universities offer courses aimed at the PMP and related PMI certifications (such as Certified Associate in Project Management, or CAPM, PMP add-ons for portfolio and program management, plus other credentials for Agile, risk management, scheduling and so forth). These courses cost the same as other college courses and are taught in similar fashion. That puts them halfway between low-cost/no-cost options and short-term, higher-priced intensive courses from traditional training outlets (such as Global Knowledge, New Horizons and Learning Tree).
The best of free PMP training: MOOCs and more
An online education phenomenon is reshaping the training landscape as we know it. It's based on free online training courses called MOOCs, short for massively online open courses. These are based on open, high-volume, high-capacity, cloud-based training platforms, such as edX, moodle, COURSEsites, Udemy and Versal.
While monetization of training is possible on some of these platforms, a MOOC is supposed to be free for the taking. Organizations or institutions that offer such free courses can still ask for fees for testing, certificates of completion, and other add-ons or nice-to-haves, but the basic course materials remain free to all interested parties.
Here's a short, highly curated list of some of the best of those offerings:
- Cybrary Course CYB-2010: Project Management Professional – Professional instructor Vincent McKeown delivers a 10-module series of video lectures, each of which maps to a domain in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) for the PMI PMP certification. At 5:14 in length, the course is neither incredibly detailed nor extensive, but it does provide a useful orientation for those just getting started on the subject.
- ALISON: Diploma in Project Management (Revised 2017) – With more than 561,862 students having either taken or now taking this course (from Advanced Learning), this MOOC has seen some serious traction to mostly positive reviews. The course contains three modules, covering 28 topics and takes 10 to 15 hours to complete. While it does not map directly to the PMP or other project management credentials, it does provide a useful introduction to the subject matter.
- Other ALISON courses on project management – As a full-fledged MOOC delivery platform, ALISON offers a page called Project Management among its Courses listings. In addition to the previous diploma item, it lists offerings from XSIQ (two fundamentals in English and Arabic); the Saylor Foundation (five courses, including another diploma sequence, an introduction [in French]); and topics like working with clients and project teams; managing project startup, scheduling and budgeting; quality, risk, procurement and project closeout); and the Aga Khan Foundation.
- Udemy – Udemy courses are not always or even often free, but they're very close. A search on project management at Udemy.com produces 854 courses, of which perhaps half are truly relevant to people interested in some facet of PM. Most cost between $20 and $50 each, although we found many as low as $10 and a few on the high end at $200. A search on PMP produces more than 1,600 free and paid courses. You'll spend a lot of time fiddling with the search engine to find what you want, but there are plenty of choices here.
- edX.org – edX gets many of its project management courses via Microsoft these days. Thus, despite a huge catalog of offerings, many of the project management courses relate to Microsoft Project and Microsoft Project Portfolio Management (PPM). We did find a few project management courses from such institutions such as the University of Adelaide, the Rochester Institute of Technology, Australian National University and the University of Washington.
- MIT Open Courseware – This site pops up 120 hits on project management, but 49 for PMP. The results show a profound focus on engineering and business management topics. Nevertheless, there's a lot of interesting stuff here, well worth trawling through for those seeking top-notch offerings.
- ProjectManager.com – You'll find more than 100 training videos on all kinds of project management topics. You'll need some time and willpower to stitch a curriculum together here, but there's lots of good material available. ProjectManager.com also maintains a YouTube channel where you can easily find training videos.
- YouTube – YouTube is rife with project management training videos. Probably the best of these is Dr. Jimmie Flores' massive free PMP Certification Training Program, though somewhat dated with a 2011 release. Searches on YouTube for project management or PMP produce hundreds of thousands of hits.
- The MOOC List – This website offers consolidated search for offerings available in the next 30 days (most courses are offered with specific starting dates, so this engine points only to relevant courses starting in the near term). Here, a search for project management produces more than 12,000 hits, including listings for a variety of MOOC platforms, such as ApnaCourse.
- The Oxford Home Study Short Course – OHSC offers In Project Management, a 20-hour, free online course that introduces candidates to project management, examines the project life cycle and explores the project management role. A certificate is issued at the end of the course.
Low-cost stuff also offers some gems
Most Coursera courses go for $49, and multicourse bundles are also available (such as UC Irvine's Introduction to Project Management Principles and Practices). The Master of Project Academy offers numerous free online training courses for PM certifications, such as the PMP, CAPM, Six Sigma and Prince 2. For $197 per month, you can purchase an all-course bundle deal for materials that include all Master of Project Academy courses.
What about higher-priced offerings?
Hundreds to thousands of other offerings for project management training at higher costs are readily available around the globe. For PMP or other PMI certifications, there's a whole network of partners who teach an official curriculum. Some are in academia; others offer purely commercial courses. All the biggest training companies offer PMP and related certification training, as do the major online training players (Lynda.com, Simplilearn, Pluralsight and so forth).
Where to go from here?
Start digging into the outlets and offerings that interest you most. When training is free, the only thing you can lose is your time and energy. Thus, you can try things out and pull the plug at any time if they don't work for you. When it comes to for-a-fee training, we recommend looking for online reviews, personal recommendations from people you know and trust, and feedback from former course attendees or materials users to help steer you toward the cream of the crop.