From Software Developer To Management Consultant: An Interview with Lynne Harrison, PMP

Earlier this year, I conducted a career advancement survey to find out how project managers get ahead. Earlier, I shared some of the findings from the research in this post: 22 Career Advancement Insights To Help You Get Ahead. Today, you will read a profile of one of the respondents and the lucky winner of the free draw – a premium subscription to the Project Management Podcast.

Enter Lynne Harrison, PMP. Lynne is a management consultant with the Atum Group in Portland, Oregon.

Lynne Harrison, PMP.

Lynne Harrison, PMP.

Introduction

1. How did you get started in project management?

I started my career in software development. Over time, I started to create work breakdowns and schedules for the team. In effect, I was acting as the team lead and performing project management tasks. In these early roles, I took work from the drawing board to end delivery.

In 2006, I was looking to develop my career further and began interviewing for engineering management roles. During that time, I was offered a project manager role instead and decided to give that a try. Since that time, I have worked in project management and related roles.

2. What was your most challenging project management experience and what did you learn from that experience?

I was working on a project to implement Software as a Service (SaaS) in an organization when SaaS products were still fairly new. There were many unknowns in the project such as how do we educate the marketing and sales staff on the product so that they can sell it? As the project manager, I also had to obtain sign-off from five Vice-Presidents to start the work.

I learned a number of lessons from this project. I learned how to handle the management of change in an organization. I also learned how to work effectively with senior management. Finally, I learned how to change to my focus from the details of the product to the big picture and the importance of understanding how the business operates.

3. What is the best project management advice you’ve ever received?

When I accepted the offer to start my first project manager role, I was matched with an excellent mentor. He gave me great advice on several aspects of the job. He stressed the importance of spending time and energy on relationship building. He also told me about the importance of setting the tone for the team and avoiding unrealistic “fantasy schedules.” Those lessons served as an excellent foundation for my early work in project management.

Project Management Certification

4. Why did you decide to study for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification?

Early in my career, I did not see a need for certifications. As I moved into project management, I began to see more and more project managers pursue the certification. When I looked into the requirements, I found out that I already met the requirements regarding work experience and education.

In 2012, I went through a career transition. During that time, I found that a large number of job postings I reviewed stated the PMP was preferred (or in a few cases, required). Given the market demand for the certification, I decided to move forward. I earned my PMP in July 2013, right before Independence Day.

5. What did you find most valuable about earning the PMP certification?

The job market in Portland, Oregon expressed strong demand for the PMP. Earning the certification made me more competitive: It was easier to get on the ‘short list’ of candidates to be interviewed. I recall several cases where interviewers would breathe a sigh of relief when I confirmed that I held the certification.

In my current role in the consulting industry, I find that holding the PMP gives me enhanced credibility with clients.

 6. What advice would you give to other people considering studying for the PMP?

You have to be very realistic about the time commitment required to earn the certification. The application itself requires significant effort to document your experience. I also found it valuable to draw on multiple study resources to learn the concepts – reading different perspectives and examples on a given concept helped me.

Here are a few of the resources I used to study for the PMP Exam:

  • The PM Prepcast and PM Exam Simulator from OSP International (editor’s note: I used both resources myself – they are excellent!)
  • The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide (editor’s note: a digital copy of the PMBOK Guide is available to members of the Project Management Institute)
  • PMP Exam Prep by Rita Mulcahy
  • my own flash cards and “brain dump” sheets

I would also add that attending a high price boot camp training program is not necessary. If you are motivated and disciplined, you can successfully earn the PMP through self-study.

Resource: For more insight on earning the PMP certification, read 5 Lessons Learned From Becoming A PMP.

Continuing Education

 

7. Maintaining the PMP requires ongoing continuing education. What continuing education activities have you found most valuable?

I enjoy learning and quickly earned the 60 required Professional Development Units (PDUs) in my first 2 years. My approach for continuing education is to look for material and resources that relate to my current projects.

For example, I was contracted to manage a project that was in serious trouble.  I listened to an excellent interview with Todd Williams (listen to the interview here – Episode 205: Rescue The Problem Project) on Cornelius Fichtner’s Project Management Podcast. Following that interview, I bought the book Rescue The Problem Project and read it cover to cover. Soon afterwards, I applied those ideas to rescue the project and was successful in completing the project. For an upcoming assignment, I am reading up on scope definition.

 8. What are your favorite business resources, books and resources?

The Project Management Podcast is an excellent resource – I have learned a great deal from all the various guests and from the host, Cornelius Fichtner. I have also benefited from reading ProjectManagementHacks.com . Finally, I have also benefited from reviewing the discussions in the Linkedin Group: PMI Project, Program and Portfolio Management.

9. What habits and practices do you use to make the most of your continuing education efforts?

I take notes on what I read and study and store that material in Evernote. I then make a practice to review those notes periodically to refresh my memory. I find Evernote is an excellent resource to support my lifelong learning.

Looking forward

10. What are your career goals in the future?

At this stage, I’m interested in pursuing work life balance. As a consultant at the Atum Group, I have excellent opportunities to work with clients and greater flexibility to grow. I’m also interested in exploring philosophy, traveling, and doing a hike through the Grand Canyon.

On a different note, I would also like to stress the value of flexibility in career development. My career goals have evolved over time. A key to my success is keeping an open mind about new opportunities – such as when I received the opportunity to move into project management or more recently when I transitioned from being an employee, to being a contractor, to being a consultant at a boutique management consulting firm.

Today, I use two criteria to decide which projects to work on. First, can I make a good contribution to achieving results? Second, how can I grow and learn from this work?

11. What’s the best way for readers to contact you?

You can contact me through my Linkedin Profile. Potential clients can contact me through the Atum Group.

 

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