PM training resources for agencies: Virtual + in-person options

Written by: Karl Sakas

Agency leaders regularly ask me for recommendations on PM training for their project managers, for struggling SMEs, and for themselves.

Here’s my roundup summary of PM training options to help you and your team! This includes virtual events, to help people stay up to date during the COVID-19 pandemic. [Latest updates: September 2022]

Keep in mind that PM is a “learn by doing” job—training is helpful, but nothing prepares a PM for project management like real-world experience.

That’s partly why more-experienced PMs expect higher salaries—they’ve made early-career mistakes at someone else’s expense. (Deciding the level of PM to hire? Check this out before you post the job. Currently hiring a PM? Here are my PM interview questions.)

Want PM training plus networking?

Send your PMs to Digital PM Summit—the marquee annual event for digital project managers. Imagine hundreds of project managers from all over the world, sharing tips and war stories. It’s evolved from an agency-specific event to PM in a broader sense, but agencies are a strong presence. I did a lightning talk at the second event in 2014.

The value to your agency goes beyond the conference itself—organizer Bureau of Digital runs a Slack group for event alumni, including PM channels to continue the sharing and learning. You can also become a standalone Bureau member for $499/year.

If your project managers ask to go to Digital PM Summit, it’s a good sign they’re dedicated to a career in PM—rather than what I call “reluctant PMs.”

The Bureau has previously run a retreat-style Digital PM Camp (November 2018 in Asheville, NC). Their “camps” are a flat rate for hotel, registration, daytime meals, etc.—for example, the Asheville event is $2,999. DPM Camp 003 was capped at 30 people, with an application process. Topics are audience-driven.

Looking for in-depth, hands-on PM training?

The gold standard for in-depth, agency-oriented project management training is likely Louder Than Ten’s year-long Digital PM Operations Apprenticeship Program. The apprenticeship combines eight months of remote training with a concurrent year of coaching, along with various other benefits.

There’s also a “train the trainer” component—program founder and PM trainer Rachel Gertz notes, “Apprentices are encouraged to share the content with their own teams, and we teach them how to deliver mini workshops to improve team and operational processes.”

It’s not cheap—you’ll pay US$8,000 to $12,000 per person for the year—but I hear good things about the program. If your agency is based in Canada, you may be eligible for a reimbursement from the Canada Job Grant program.

Louder Than Ten also offers a 3-month Digital PM Foundations program (US$4,000), and an 8-week self-directed Digital PM video training (US$499). They do custom remote PM training, too.

Looking for a broad range of PM content?

Ben Aston of The Digital Project Manager offers a wide range of PM training materials. In addition to shorter articles, Ben has tons of free how-to guides.

Ben also runs a weekly PM podcast. I was a guest in 2017, sharing my advice on managing teams.

Want upgraded help? His web-based PM training includes a year of access for between US$750 and $2,500.

Want a deep dive at your own pace?

Sounds like a book is the right choice—I recommend these two books on PM:

Brett’s book is great on the interpersonal side, while Nancy & Meghan’s book has good coverage on nuts-and-bolts. They aren’t 100% agency-specific, but the advice applies in a range of situations.

Don’t love PM, but need to do PM anyway?

Are you what I call a “deputized” project manager, doing PM on top of your other responsibilities? I’ve created an on-demand e-learning course designed specifically for you.

The course is Agency PM 101: Project Management Fundamentals. At US$397, you can complete the self-guided course in about 4 hours (including bite-size videos, templates, and hands-on exercises). Most people will complete it in afternoon, or in a week over lunch.

Curious to see what’s inside the course? Here’s a free preview of Agency PM 101, including the first video lecture and the full table of contents.

It’s useful for full-time PMs, too; most students have had at least some prior PM experience, and I’ve included tips I wish I’d known before becoming a PM. If you’d like to up-level several team members on their PM skills, volume discounts start at 5+ people.

Want a PM credential?

A certification certainly isn’t required—but some people like having it. Here are a couple PM certification options.

The PMP® might be a fit

If you do highly technical work—or work with technical clients, like manufacturers or SaaS firms—the Project Management Institute’s PMP® certification may make sense.

But be careful. When I’ve hired PMs, I haven’t been impressed by candidates with the PMP® (or its junior version, CAPM®). Often, I’d look at their resume and think to myself, “OK, but what have you accomplished as a project manager?”

PMP holders were frequently candidates who talked about responsibilities, not their quantified results—possibly because they were usually at large organizations running projects that took 12-36 months. That doesn’t reflect reality at most independent agencies.

From what I’ve observed, the PMP and CAPM seem more relevant to IT project management, or perhaps PM at in-house marketing roles. But that’s starting to shift, especially as the PMP is becoming less of a “just waterfall” program.

That said, community colleges increasingly offer PMP-compatible training—which can help you find pre-trained junior candidates, or send your PM for a refresher. For instance, Wake Tech in North Carolina offers an online course for $1,449. It includes 35 hours of [virtual] classroom training. In contrast, they note a commercial training firm would charge $3,000 to $12,000 for similar content.

But the CSM® may be a better fit

Do you practice Agile project management—and Scrum in particular? Consider the Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM®) certification from the Scrum Alliance. (I know, I know—Agile Scrum technically doesn’t include a PM role. But there’s frequently overlap.)

As it happens, your community college may even offer ScrumMaster training, too—for example, Wake Tech has previously offered a two-day ScumMaster course.

While you’re at it, check out Four Kitchens‘ free Consultancy Scrum methodology on applying Scrum in an agency environment.

Roundup: Picking the right PM training

I realize time and money are limited and you can’t do all of this—so start with one, and then add a second.

If your PM team can attend the next Digital PM Summit (or a spin-off workshop), I recommend sending them—it will plug them into a larger community and support network.

The two PM books are a low-risk investment, and The Digital Project Manager’s how-to guides are both free and in-depth. Beyond that, you’ll need to decide if pricier PM training makes sense for you and your agency.

Keep in mind that giving employees time and budget for training can be an important retention tool—it shows your PMs that you see them as high-value team members.

Question: How will you help your project managers upgrade their skills to better serve your agency and your clients?

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