How to Teach Yourself About Project Management without Spending Any Money on Training or Consultants

[Note: If you’re in a hurry to get started learning about PM, check out my online fast-track article “How to Teach Yourself About Project Management… in Under 3 Hours (and for less than $10)!!” On the other hand, the “teach yourself” process outlined below is more of a “deep dive” and will take a little longer.]


I am often contacted by people who are new to project management (PM) and who would like the names of textbooks or other references that can help them learn about PM. These people aren’t ready to commit to a formal PM class, but would like to do some intelligent investigation of the PM field on their own. Because I’m a trainer at heart and I know that it’s not enough to simply read about something to learn about it, I recommend the following mixture of reading and self-guided activities. I hope you find these to be helpful.

1. Obtain a couple of good, basic PM references that you can revisit frequently.

You don’t need to read these documents entirely, simply have them at hand to examine as questions arise. I recommend the following free documents:

  • The Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) – This document, put together by PMI’s Standards Committee, identifies and provides basic descriptions of nearly every proven and generally accepted PM practice. You will probably revisit it regularly to provide you with either PM fundamentals or broader PM context as you consider a particular PM author’s recommendations. I keep mine on my desk beside my dictionary and use it all the time. You can download this free from this web site at
  • American Society for the Advancement of Project Management’s (asapm) Competency Model provides “The Competency Framework: A structured list of the minimum competencies that Project Managers and key stakeholders must demonstrate—with the target competency levels for each.”  While PMI’s PMBOK (above) defines essential PM Knowledge areas, asapm’s Competency Model focuses on what those involved in PM must be able to do to get the job done. It identifies “… roles of Project Manager 1 (Team Leaders or managers of small projects), Project Manager 2 (medium or large, but less-complex projects) and Project Manager 3 (Managers of large, complex Projects and Programs)” as well as the roles of other stakeholders, including sponsor, resource manager, Project Office staff, and project team members.
  • The Project Management Forum’s PM Glossary by Max Wideman – This amazing, frequently-updated on-line reference tool provides definitions of nearly any PM term or concept you are likely to encounter, along with a specific citation of the source from which the definition is drawn. Frequently, there are several different definitions of the same term, depending on the reference cited. You should bookmark this powerful source and visit it whenever you are learning a new PM term or concept.

2. Do some broad study to get an overview of PM.

I recommend the following free or low cost resources:

… and the following low-cost resources:

3. Informally evaluate your own or your organization’s current PM practices.

After you’ve completed steps 1 & 2 above, you might want to see how well some of these PM fundamentals are being practiced in your organization. Below are a couple of free tools that you can use to organize your thoughts and guide your analysis. Depending on your local management context, you could simply use these tools yourself and reflect on your findings or you could seek broader input from stakeholders, project team members, customers, or senior managers. Either way, applying one of these tools will help you figure out what PM concepts and practices you need to learn more about.

  • Project “Post Mortem” Review Questions – This set of questions can help you reflect on what went wrong, what went right, and what needs improving in your PM efforts.
  • Critical Attributes of ID Project Success – If you develop training or documentation, you can compare your PM practices to those identified in this list. The more of these practices your team employs, the greater your chance of project success.

4. Find some examples of well-organized project plans and figure out what you can learn (or borrow) from them.

Contact people in your organization or your industry who have created successful project plans and ask them to share these plans with you. Better yet, if their project plans are on disk, ask them to give you the files so you can use them as templates for planning your own projects. Typically, project plans are in Word, Excel, or MS Project file formats, so you can easily open them with your own software and edit them. Look for examples of project charters, project schedules, work breakdown structures (WBS), lists of deliverables, lists of phases or activities, resource lists, and so on. As you examine each of them, ask yourself, “How could I adapt this approach to improve my next project plan? … to improve my next PM tracking effort?”

5. Now go plan and manage your own project.

At this point, you’re ready for some real-world practice. So gather up all the tools, guidelines, checklists, and so forth that you’ve acquired in the preceding steps and put them to work. For more specific, in-depth help along the way, including worksheets, guidelines, etc., you might want to revisit the texts I mentioned in Step 2, above. In particular, my book, The Project Management Minimalist: Just Enough PM to Rock Your Projects!, has most of the essential PM tools to help you create important project artifacts. Finally, the second edition of my book The Project Manager’s Partner contains a total of 57 tools, worksheets, and so on to help you plan and manage projects.

And finally, if you’ve like to take a lean “Minimalist” approach to your first project, just follow the steps in this article in in this book: Be a Role Model of PM Minimalism: Manage Your Projects with a One-Page Checklist!


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