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Practice makes project management

Adeline Teoh ed.
February 8, 2013

Qualifications and certifications give you a good foundation for managing projects, but there’s nothing quite like the lessons you learn when you’re a project practitioner.

My partner and I went down to Bowral, about 100 kilometres southwest of Sydney, for a friend’s wedding last weekend. While we were down there we visited Corbett Gardens, which is a small green patch in the centre of town. I saw a tree with strong, sprawling branches I rather liked and remarked, “that’s a good climbing tree.” My partner suggested I have a go but, in addition to being short of time and inappropriately dressed for tree-climbing, I sheepishly admitted I wasn’t actually any good at climbing trees.

The problem was, I knew the theory—how to select a good tree, how to test your weight on a branch and where to place your hands and feet—and I’d seen hundreds of good and bad examples of tree-climbing in my life, but I was never allowed to do it when I was a child. As an adult, this manifested itself in a certain kind of distrust for the activity, where I knew my lack of experience and cultivated fear would conspire against me.

This concept raised itself again at a renewable energy talk I attended on Tuesday night. The speaker, Matthew Wright from Beyond Zero Emissions, mentioned that Australia’s inaction with regard to rolling out sustainable energy initiatives was due to a reluctance to commit expertise to action. Politicians too easily played the ‘we don’t know everything yet so we won’t do anything’ card, he said, without realising that we learn so much by doing, that practice leads to improvement.

Our project management students deserve the same treatment. We cannot simply equip them with everything they need to understand project management, without actually giving them a chance to practice and learn from their actions. Fortunately, the best educational institutions are already doing this with everything from simulations to internships and work experience opportunities. Those organisations that take on graduates should also be aware that their new employees are still on a learning curve. But then again, which project manager ever stops learning?

By the way, if you’re interested in the impact of education and experience on professional project management, be sure to spend 5 minutes on completing the 2013 Professional Project Management survey. One lucky (Australian) winner will receive a Panasonic Toughpad valued at $1,499 and 5 global respondents will get a subscription to The PM Channel.

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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