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Personal Growth
The Best Way To Learn Project Management? Training Vs The Hard Way

A friend and I were joking that learning the hard way has been what has taught us the most important lessons as digital project managers. That got me thinking: is learning the hard way the best way to learn project management as a DPM?

The Case For Learning The Hard Way

On the one hand, learning the hard way is extremely effective. What I mean is, it stings so much that you learn the lesson quickly, and then it haunts you so that you don’t forget what you learned.

Some also believe that it builds character: every time you slip, fall, and pick yourself back up again, you earn new “battle scars” that make you a hardened PM with skin so thick it can withstand even the harshest of stakeholder criticism.

And most importantly... it’s digital we’re talking about here! I’ve literally erased entire style sheets accidentally on a weekend before a launch, but we were able to fix it in time. It’s not like I forgot to extend the landing gear or that I neglected to pick up the kids from school.

Reflecting on it now, perhaps digital made it easy for us DPMs to learn the hard way. Digital culture accommodated and enabled that kind of learning. We were failing fast long before it was considered a good thing!

But the mindset was: how could we become the weathered, veteran DPMs that we envisioned ourselves becoming if we didn’t actually put our hand in the fire a few times in our careers?

And as I write that, I realize just how silly that sounds.

The Case For Training

Here’s the thing: the thing we struggle with as DPMs is rarely the technology. Our challenges come from interpersonal dynamics and project politics, leadership and ethics.

The recurring themes of our failures revolve around expectations management, miscommunication, delivering bad news, and mediating conflict.

The things we’re constantly trying to get better at are motivating project teams, collaborating effectively, and facilitating the delivery of a product that is faithful to its vision.

So, yes, maybe a textbook isn’t what every digital project manager needs, but it might not hurt to have a playbook built by the real-world experiences of others who have put their hands in a few more fires than you have.

The thing to remember is that while we all learn differently, sometimes what we need is a balance. A balance of theory and practice. A balance of first-hand project management experience and second-hand advice. A balance of reckless bravery and stoic caution.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn the hard way. By all means, go ye forth. But don’t write off the usefulness of a bit of formal project management training and support. You’ll probably find you didn’t have to shove your hand in the fire so many times after all.

What’s Next?

This is why we created our Mastering Digital Project Management course. It is designed by DPM Experts who have walked in your shoes, felt your stress and experienced your setbacks. This 7-week online course will equip you with the project management skills and knowledge you need to tame your project chaos and set you up for project success. 

Get more information on the course here, and don’t forget to sign up for The Digital Project Manager newsletter.

By Galen Low

I am a digital project management nerd, a cultivator of highly collaborative teams, and an impulsive sharer of knowledge. For the past decade, I've been shaping and delivering human-centered digital transformation initiatives in government, healthcare, transit, and retail. I'm also the co-founder of The Digital Project Manager and host of The DPM Podcast.

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