project management courses

What makes a 'complete' project management professional?

Completing the Tough Mudder challenge gave me some valuable life lessons. But what have I learned from it and how can this help me become a better project manager? Read on to find out.

Steve Jones | 5 October 2016

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Can we ever be ‘complete’? Well, what would be the key characteristics that might at least help us on that journey to be a complete project professional?

On Saturday, a group of 13 from the office where I work undertook a Tough Mudder event on a parkland estate near Horsham, with thousands of other people. Tough Mudder is a 10-12 mile mud and obstacle course designed to drag you out of your comfort zone by testing your physical strength, stamina, and mental grit. With no podiums, winners, or clocks to race against, it’s not about how fast you can cross the finish line. Rather, “it’s a challenge that emphasises teamwork, camaraderie, and accomplishing something almost as tough as you are.”

The big question that kept looming up in the weeks prior to the event was ‘Why’? What had possessed us to enter such a thing!

Okay, so there was an obvious brilliant reason; seeking to raise money for our chosen charities of Macmillan and Teens Unite against Cancer, but I guess ultimately we each knew, deep down, that this would be an event that would challenge us, and make us learn something new about ourselves.

Our team consisted of 5 lads, 8 girls and to be fair, we varied in shape, sizes, physique and age (!) but though apprehensive, we were determined and knew that if we all we worked together we would succeed... and succeed we did! Over those hours trudging round the course, a group became a team – closer than we could have imagined. Adversity seems to bring out a natural and awe inspiring camaraderie enabling individuals to overcome all sorts of challenges.

On Monday, as we reflected back on the events of the previous weekend we considered that the most brutal challenge we faced was an obstacle called Arctic Enema!

Let me describe it. You climb to a height that enables you to drop down a chute into a 10 ton skip filled with icy cold water. Okay, I can assure you it wasn’t quite like jumping into a beautiful crystal clear lake for example. There was a lot of muddy water mixing up all those ice cubes by the time we arrived. Not funny!

So, while I was pondering this state of affairs and the beautiful parkland surroundings, a very helpful lady marshall shattered my reverie by shouting in my ears. ”Just slide in. When you re-surface, take a single breath. Go under the water again, and go under the obstacle to the other side!” Oh, and she repeated it too in case I hadn’t quite got it! (Maybe she’d seen my face!)

Easy right? I was now armed with the knowledge I needed to succeed in this challenge. Great I thought – since I now know what is necessary I’ll just pop back down the steps behind me and share this valuable info with others waiting, thanks!

Ah, so it doesn’t work like that? Oh, so I actually have to do this? Apply what I know – right now?! Okay – here goes! Splash!

“Oh – my – goodness! Whose idea was it to do this challenge? Couldn’t we just have had a cake bake off to raise money?!

Well, I’m in now and I’ve gotta get through this... no idea what’s ahead... plunge in again and drag myself up the other side... whole body feeling like it’s shutting down.... oh my goodness, where and how do you get out of here?” 

So, what have I learned from this! By taking the plunge (literally) I now know 3 important things: 

I have gained a new skill. I’d managed to apply my newly acquired knowledge in a very real sense to achieve something pretty special (...ah, he says with glorious hindsight!!)

More significantly though, I suppose I have now gained some ‘experience’. I’ve done it once and next time (yeah, right!) I’ll be much better prepared for it (and able to share with anyone doing it for the first time just what is involved).

Oh, and one more thing, my behaviour and approach might be altered next time, since I know what to expect. My approach first time was one of apprehension, a very real fear of the unknown. Now I know exactly what to expect. But that’s okay, because I’ll approach the obstacle differently next time.... probably 20 feet to the left of it.

In the project management world, each of these same key elements come together to help drive our development of project capability.

We may seek out lots of knowledge from a training course or from reading a book – receiving helpful instructions on how to tackle our projects. But just like me standing nervously on the edge of the Arctic Enema... it’s not much use if I don’t use the critical info I’ve been given and take the plunge and use it. (Why only ‘one’ breath I thought? Until I was deep in the water and realised that the quicker I got out the better. You know, those marshalls really did know what they were talking about!)

I have gained a specific skill as a result of Saturday’s events, though hopefully not one I’ll need to use too often, but keeping calm and aiming to check my breathing and not panic seems a good one to me! In project management, we really need to apply what we’ve learned in different situations to ensure that we continue to develop our skill set. It doesn’t happen by passively watching the world go by. Look for opportunities to apply your knowledge practically in order to grow towards being a complete project professional.

Gaining experience of different types of projects and contexts also helps us to become more complete as a professional, adding to the knowledge and skills we have gathered over time. Being able to describe these experiences and share with others, maybe through coaching, enables us to grow further.

So what makes a complete project professional? I believe it is a combination of knowledge, skills, experience (length of time and differing contexts) and our attitude and approach to the task at hand.

For gaining specific knowledge of tools, techniques and a method that will help us in our project career, QA has a wealth of project management courses, e-learning, video based learning covering all aspects of Programme and Project Management, including PRINCE2 and PMP. QA is also blessed with trainers who are able to share their own experiences for the benefit of others. But because we recognise it takes more than knowledge, we have developed other approaches such as the Living Learning Programme that enables a project professional to learn and then apply their knowledge to their own organisation and project environment through work based assignments and coaching through tutor marked assignments.

Through our COMPASS competency assessment tool we can also help individuals (and organisations) to recognise where the gaps in their capability exist including identifying the approaches and behaviours necessary to achieve success. I won’t forget Arctic Enema for a long time – I learned a lot! Experiences like that remain for a long time. But it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken the plunge first. Becoming a complete project professional is a journey, but you must take the plunge first to find out just what you can achieve. Go on, maybe even dive in!

For more guidance browse our project management training courses.

Steve Jones

Steve Jones

Consulting Partner

Steve has a proven ability to deliver transformational change, bringing over 20 years of knowledge, skills and experience in learning and development, change, and project management to address strategic organisational workforce demands and help shape the future. Steve is is an accredited P3M3 Assessor. His broad range of commercial and public sector client experience enables him to add a contextual understanding to his work. This includes working within finance, energy, construction, rail, defence and technology as well as many years in the public sector.
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