From Junior to Senior: How to Level Up as a Project Manager

Anastasia Morozova
Anastasia Morozova
Chief Operating Officer

When does a junior PM become a middle PM? Or senior, for that matter? Does it take a certain number of years at work or successful project to move up the corporate ladder?

In fact, the number of projects and the length of your working experience are not as significant as your knowledge and skills as a project manager.

In this post, we have tried to structure the skills that are required of a project manager at each level. With this analysis, we hope to help junior PMs starting their careers in project management to better plan their self-education and select the areas for personal growth.

At the same time, we believe our recommendations might be of use for middle and even senior PMs, as a truly successful person never stops learning.

Moreover, most successful project managers devote some of their time to training and mentoring their younger colleagues.

Thus, we believe our summary of the most critical project management skills is going to help PMs of all levels.

Our analysis is based on the skills needed for mid-sized projects, as both huge and tiny ones require both a different team structure and different skills for each job.

For example, our recommendations could apply to the development of an AI-powered customer service chatbot for an HoReCa business or mobile augmented reality application for retail.

Project Manager functions and the required skill levels

Regardless of their experience level – junior, middle or senior – a project manager is engaged in multiple management functions, though to a different degree.

Let’s see what knowledge and skills a PM requires in the context of each of their basic functions and how they evolve from level to level.

project manager required skills

Project architecture and release management

In this context, we can summarize what project architecture and release management knowledge the PM should possess at each level.

Junior

Middle

  • Version control. While the project manager takes no direct part in the development and writes no code, he should have an understanding of how software version control works. Most often, teams use Git as the version control system, thus we recommend that the PM has some basic knowledge of how Git works. Of course, the technical aspects are the responsibility of the development team, but the PM should be able to coordinate the development flow.
  • GitFlow. GitFlow is a great branching model allowing separating the completed components from those still in progress. New branches are merged into the main code only when they have been properly debugged. For the project manager, the basics of GitFlow give an understanding of how the team works on each individual feature.
  • Understanding the environments – development, staging, production. The project manager should get the idea of how the environments are used for development, testing and deployment and how the software product passes from one to the other.
  • Basics of Continuous Integration (CI). CI is one of the most common developing models where a new or changed code is integrated into the main trunk, thus preventing or minimizing integration issues. For the PM, understanding the CI mechanisms helps to get the full picture of the code creation process and the possibilities of its automation.

Senior

  • Continuous Delivery Practices. Continuous Delivery (CD) concept means a frequent automated release of software to production. The CD processes are directly related to release management; therefore, the understanding of this concept is essential for a project manager.
  • Business Intelligence (BI). BI includes a variety of methods of gathering, processing and analyzing business information for better decision making. The senior PM should be able to implement BI techniques and set up their automation with the help of BI tools. Check, for example, Sisense or Microsoft Power BI.
  • Configuration of real-time monitoring of work processes and automatic data analytics.
from junior to senior project manager

Project planning

In terms of project planning, there is a particular set of skills that PMs should master at each level.

Junior

  • Waterfall vs. Agile methodology
  • Scrum and Kanban
  • Lean software development
  • Types of software development contracts – ‘fixed price’ or ‘time and materials’. Some projects are built under Fixed Price contracts, others according to the time Time and Materials model. Both have their advantages. However, we believe the Time and Materials model to be more reasonable
  • Budgeting basics

Middle

  • Project planning
  • Knowledge of Scrum Master duties and the ability to fill that role when needed
  • Knowledge of project estimates (both rough and detailed estimates)
  • Ability to plan at different levels – high-level planning, user story mapping, technical planning
  • Project schedule visualization in the form of Gantt charts for the client
  • Release planning including integration planning
  • Basics of PMBOK and PRINCE2 methodologies and their differences from the Agile approach

Senior

Recommended reading:

project manager communications

Communications

In the context of communication, an effective Project Manager should both possess certain personal abilities and have knowledge of communication principles and concepts.

Junior

  • English: Upper-intermediate (B2)
  • The ability to explain the possible risks to the team
  • The ability to maintain communication with the team members

Middle

  • English: Fluent (C1, C2)
  • The ability to manage the project after the SOW has been approved and signed. The SOW determines detailed project requirements and their cost as well as the main terms and conditions.
  • Project Risk Management including communications with the customer on the project risks

Senior

  • English: Fluent (C1, C2)
  • Communicating with top-level stakeholders
  • Experience in pre-sales activities
  • Delivery Management

Recommended reading:

project manager responsibilities

Human resources

For a Project Manager, is it equally important to hire a great professional for the team and to maintain a working environment that motivates the colleagues and inspires their creativity and productiveness?

Junior

  • Ability to act as an intermediary between the client and the team communicating the client’s requirements and their updates to the team and the team’s progress to the client.

Middle

Senior

  • Ability to set and control KPIs for the team, evaluate the performance within the context of BI
  • Experience in managing remote and distributed teams
  • Experience in holding interviews with candidates

Recommended reading:

project manager functions

Collaboration tools selection

No project can be completed with proper collaboration tools. This concerns all aspects of project development – communication, documentation, code creation, design, and prototyping. For a Project Manager, it is essential to have a working knowledge of such tools as well as their pros and cons.

Junior

  • Jira (project and issue tracking tool) – user level
  • Confluence – team collaboration and documentation tool
  • Google Guite – set of collaboration tools by Google including Google Docs, Gmail, Google Hangouts, etc.
  • Instant messaging tools – Slack, GoToMeeting, Skype

Middle

  • Jira, Confluence – advanced level
  • UX/UI prototyping tools – InVision, Axure, Proto.io, etc.
  • MS Project – project management software by Microsoft

Senior

  • Jira Configuration Manager
  • Atlassian Portfolio for Jira – project portfolio management software for cross-project development and for managing multiple teams
  • BI tools

Recommended reading:

Budgeting

Project budgeting means both creating the initial budget and keeping to it for the entire project duration. A Project Manager needs to balance the time and cost so that to stay within the limits of the budget approved by the client.

Junior

  • Project Scope Management where the client’s requirements are translated into specific features and components that should be delivered, and the work required to deliver them is determined

Middle

  • Project evaluation and discussion with the client
  • Time tracking and estimation
  • Budgeting (either management or discussion)
  • Reporting

Senior

  • Time management
  • Budget Monitoring including the BI components
  • Budget excess management (for each sprint as well as for the entire release), setting up automatic warnings of budget excess
  • Budgeting in the context of the team and the project tasks
  • Budgeting for future periods
  • Invoicing

Should you need more information on how we manage our development projects, contact us for a detailed discussion. In addition, we will be glad to work with you on implementing your startup idea.

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