One thing that engineers and project managers have in common, regardless their industry or focus, is the need to access their personal project history. This point is being driven home for me currently as I apply for Project Management Institute’s Program Management Professional Certification® exam. The application – like those you’ll complete for the P.E., Project Management Professional (PMP), or the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – will require you to provide project- and/or program-specific information: who, what, when, where, and how.
If you have that information locked in your long-term memory and can access it at will, you’re set!
For the rest of us, however, total recall isn’t a reality. While our long-term memory is nearly limitless, our short-term memory is only capable of managing a handful of items. Also, as time goes by, the validity and specificity of one’s memories of the type of details needed for a P.E. exam or job application will wane.
The answer then? Develop and maintain a project portfolio.
Setting Up Your Reflection Process
To get around our inability to maintain total recall on details as minute as your supervisor’s email on the project you worked on 15 years ago, start a project portfolio. You’ll populate this with key information needed for completing applications for the P.E. and certifications you plan to secure. The information will also be helpful on future job applications and developing your resume.
I did not develop a project portfolio until twenty years into my professional career. Luckily, I have pretty detailed annual appraisals, which I’ve been able to sift through to find names or hints of projects and programs buried in my past. With these nuggets of knowledge, I was able to piece together the details needed for applications. But it could have been easier if I’d been maintaining a project portfolio all along.
Borrow the lessons learned process from project management, and develop your own knowledge management habit to capture the following data on each project or program you work on:
|Start Date||End Date||Project Title||Project Description
(300 to 500 words in
narrative or bullet format)
(300 to 500 words in
narrative or bullet format)
|Your Title||Firm/Agency worked for||Client|
Supervisor: Be certain to capture full name and if a P.E., their state/license number. They might serve as a reference for your P.E. application. Also, capture their phone number and email address…personal address if available since they may move on from the firm/agency, but their personal address is likely to remain constant.
Project cost: Key challenges experienced and how they were overcome (or not) Number of hours spent on the project. To be ready for the PMP certification application, be sure to segregate those hours into the five process groups. That is, the number of hours spent on each of these five actions: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling, and closing. (The PMP requires a candidate to show a total of 4,500 hours across these five process groups. That’s at least five years of full-time project management work.)
List project team members: This should also include phone numbers and email addresses. This data can be useful for both networking and future job application references.
What were some key lessons you learned from the project? (3 or 4 in bullet format)
Never mind if there isn’t a specific app or software on the market to capture this material. You can go simple, with nothing more than a Word document or Excel spreadsheet (or Pages or Sheets if you’re a Mac user).
Using either of these as your capture platform for project information may, in fact, be the simplest. You’ll be able to copy/paste information directly from the document or spreadsheet into the application or form.
Boosting Your Engineer Career with a Project Portfolio
Three more items to consider as you prepare to boost your engineering career with a project portfolio:
- LinkedIn Recommendations and Projects. As you capture the information from your projects, you might consider asking a supervisor, senior peer, or other key stakeholder provide a relevant recommendation on your LinkedIn page. The option to do this is towards the bottom and requires you to do something crazy – ask. This is more relevant if you’re position is the type where publicized feedback will help you win more work.
If this isn’t your thing, or not relevant to your career path, then another LinkedIn option you might consider is adding projects. You do this by selecting the Add new profile section blue drop-down on the right side of your profile. The select Accomplishments and select the Project option. Here you can provide the project title, relevant dates, project description and other team members.
- Project Imagery. If a picture is worth a thousand words, why not include these in your portfolio to boost the word count? Besides a nice way to show before-and-after and implementing a project management best practice, photo documentation of the project will help you recall what happened at various points during the project execution.
- Project Journal. If you really want to put a best practice into effect on your next project, consider keeping a project journal. What goes in it? This can vary widely, but at a minimum besides the date…key decision made; key events; milestones; severe weather events; outcomes of key meetings or discussions; etc. In short, any event, meeting, discussion or occurrence that impacts the project positively or negatively. Where do you keep the project journal? Again, multiple mediums here – a Word document; Excel spreadsheet; written notebook; an Evernote; etc.
Bottom line: Save yourself the time and headache on applications for licensure, certifications or future work by starting a project portfolio today. Don’t make the mistake I have of generating this process at the twenty-plus year mark in your engineering career.
Men’s memories are uncertain and that the past that was differs little from the past that was not.
– Cormac McCarthy
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on creating a project portfolio to boost your engineering career.
To your success,
Christian Knutson, PE, PMP
Engineering Management Institute