Getting Started in Project Management, PM Ideas for Your Business and Personal Life: Cornelius Fichtner, PMP

May 11, 2011

Cornelius Fichtner, PMPHere is an interview with Cornelius Fichtner, PMP.  Cornelius shares with us how he became a Project Manager, and his best tips to implement Project Management ideas in your small business and in your personal life.

This interview is the first in a series in which the best in the Project Management world will answer some of my questions. Enjoy!

Guest Bio

Cornelius Fichtner, PMP has been working as a Project Manager in his native Switzerland, in Germany and in the USA for the last 18 years and received his PMP credential in April 2004. He has led projects for a financial services provider, a management consulting company, a national retailer and an internet startup company. Currently, Cornelius helps project managers to stay on top of the industry with his free Project Management Podcast and helps them pass the PMP Exam with The PM PrepCast. His passions are project management methodologies and PMOs.

Cornelius is the 2007 Chair of the Project Management Institute Orange County Chapter. He currently lives in Silverado, California, USA with his wife and their four computers.

Feature Interview

Cesar: Hello Cornelius and thank you for sharing your thoughts and tips with our readers. Can you tell us how you got started in Project Management?

Cornelius: I began my career as a programmer in the 1980s. Even though I enjoyed software development very much I realized quickly that I enjoy working with people more and that if I wanted to break out of working primarily as a developer I would have to change my career. So I quit my developer job and found a company that was willing to hire me as a junior management consultant. I worked in that position for about 4 years, made another switch to become a junior project manager with a supermarket chain and then took a job as a senior project manager with an internet startup company. All of my career as a management consultant and project manager revolved around IT projects.

Cesar: What advice can you give to those planning to start a career in Project Management?

Cornelius: You will need to have both sound project management expertise as well as industry expertise. So if you want to become a construction project manager, find a construction related start. If you want to be working as a healthcare PM, find a healtcare job that you would enjoy. It’s what I did and it was successful for me: I started my career in IT as a software developer because I enjoyed doing the work. Then, when I decided to move into PM, I stayed in the industry as an IT project manager. So find your passion first and then become a PM second.

Cesar: What about the common idea that Project Management is “industry-agnostic,” meaning industry related expertise is not necessarily a requirement for a good PM?
Cornelius: I completely disagree with the notion that a project manager can be “industry-agnostic”. Each project manager needs to have a sound understanding of the industry that he/she is working in. In the first 60 interviews that I did on The PM Podcast, I always asked my guest at the end: “What is more important… PM expertise or industry expertise?”. And when you analyze the answers I got from all these PM experts from around the world, it ends up to be about 50/50. And it does make sense if you look at it logically: I would really prefer it, if the PM who builds the bridge that I drive over to have a sound understanding of construction and I would also like the PM who is in charge of developing the latest lasik devices to have some understanding of ophthalmology before the lasers touch my eyes. Of course, you always have to have subject matter experts on the project who have the required industry expertise. But if you as the PM don’t have it, then you can never be sure if what the team is doing is really “the right thing”.

Cesar: This is a sentiment I have as well, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Many of our readers are small business owners who want to implement Project Management best practices in their business.  In your opinion, what is the most valuable PM concept/technique one can use in their small business?

Cornelius: Repeatable, quality business processes are the key. When you run a small company you start out thinking that everything depends on the quality of the people you hire. True. But only to a certain extent. If you set up the business processes in a bad way, then even the best people will not be able to help you succeed. Your primary focus therefore has to be to ensure that the processes are fit to support the tasks that they should. So make sure that you plan the processes right, that you set them up using templates and checklists and that you include regular lessons learned feedback loops. After all, once the processes have been in place for some time, your employees will know what works and what doesn’t. Listen to them and make changes accordingly.
Cesar: Great advice. Do you bring any Project Management concepts/techniques to your personal life? How do you implement them?
Cornelius: I believe that the most valuable technique that I use in my personal live is the Deming/Shewhart cycle: Plan – Do – Check – Act (PDCA).

Cesar: What tools or resources can you recommend to the Project Manager wannabe?


Cesar: Thank you Cornelius for your valuable input and for taking the time to answer my questions.