Understand it

understand.gifThe simplest way to gain cultural acceptance of project management in any organization is by promoting thorough understanding. Business leaders and staff alike must all understand the value associated with implementing project management practices. More importantly, they must comprehend the relationship of project management activities to realizing business achievement. Creating a leveled understanding across any organization requires thoughtful consideration of key stakeholder needs and recognition of their roles within a project-centric environment. A thoughtful plan is required to educate each constituency accordingly. Each stakeholder has a unique role in defining project success, whether it is the project management organization (PMO), executive sponsors, project managers, or project team members. Each player must hold an understanding of project management methodology, knowledge of organizational requirements, and an appreciation of how each project management activity contributes to the choreography of project success.It’s possible to establish project management understanding through a simple plan. Such a plan involves isolating each constituency, assessing what each group needs to know to support project management, and most importantly, recognizing how the level of their understanding will effect project success. Establish and maintain an educational plan by recognizing the points of pain for each player and creating a program that sets out to address each pain or need. This requires a delicate balance so you do not overload players, yet you provide a level of understanding for each group so they are successful in fulfilling their roles. Once you define a comprehensive training program, overlay additional developmental programs to further strengthen project success; include developmental support in negotiating skills, organizational and time management practice, and communication techniques (written and verbal).
Project management training programs must be designed with the flexibility to meet such changing needs. This means you must construct adaptable training programs that gradually expose staff to more in-depth levels of project management knowledge, as required. Offer versatile training that enables project stakeholders to apply their knowledge in a more comprehensive, results-producing fashion; help them leverage project management tools better and create new processes and techniques to manage projects differently.
The challenge for any PMO is to establish the “right” selection of training programs to initially develop project management competency and also have the ability to evolve the training plan to meet changing needs. Having a training plan that is simple yet flexible holds many benefits: improved teamwork, more efficient project planning, better work quality, and gains in productivity. As training programs evolve and advance, recipient project managers and executive sponsors also gain efficiencies, resulting in more projects coming in on time. Completing projects on time offers many benefits. When a project delivers ahead of or on schedule, it is apt to produce a more valuable return on investment, and the project team staff can then be released faster to get back to their regular jobs on the front lines. Faster project manager turnaround also allows the limited number of project managers to be assigned to the next project more quickly. With ongoing, more advanced training, organizations can see the number of projects finishing on time increase substantially.
You can start your training program by offering a number of in-house training courses. These may range from basic project management training to more advanced levels of training, and they should focus on different audience requirements. Training should be offered through different venues, ranging from traditional classrooms to informal brown-bag sessions. They should also leverage technology and offer learning opportunities through video web conferencing and e-Learning channels. Offering variety within an educational program acknowledges that people learn best in different environments and in different ways. It also exhibits an appreciation for how busy people are: classes are designed to offer enhanced understanding efficiently, with the objective of increasing knowledge quickly, enabling staff to get back to delivering project success.

Foundational Understanding

Any organization looking to establish project management should focus on foundational training first, to establish project management competency and also to educate staff about your organization’s methodology. As soon as you establish your organization’s own project management methodology, offer an Introduction course, which should include an overview of your organization’s project management methodology, including its lifecycle, processes, workshops, and templates. It should contain helpful tips, techniques and tools, and best practices. Attendees should participate in a case study with exercises, giving them immediate, hands-on exposure to your company’s project methodology and tool set. This type of course helps students understand the importance of the project management methodology used at your organization and helps them learn how to apply it to enable project success. Offer the course to all project managers, project coordinators, and anyone else highly involved in project work or interested in entering the project management profession.

Executive Training

Senior executives and upper management also require foundational knowledge of project management methodology, and they must understand their role in supporting project success. An Executive Project Management seminar, offered each year to senior leaders who are focusing on their role-based requirements as executive sponsors can meet this need. Seminar topics should vary, depending upon need and the type of projects in the portfolio each year. For example, a portfolio that includes many projects containing business process redesign will warrant executive training to support business change activities. Executive sponsors for projects containing significant technology should have a general sense of what is anticipated for such projects and be able to recognize how to best provide oversight for them. The key to successful executive training involves selective focus on topics that promote executive sponsor roles and responsibilities.
Almost all Executive Project Management seminars should contain basic review elements in line with simple foundations of project management, both in general and at your organization. A review of roles and responsibilities should always be included, to ensure new business leaders understand and appreciate their role in supporting project success. Other executives simply need to be reminded from time to time, so as not to lapse in their sponsorship responsibilities. The value of these seminars is priceless. It allows the EPMO to retain a strong presence among senior executives, enables executives to enhance project management practices, and establishes a mutual respect and appreciation for collaboration and the need to change and evolve.

Leveled Training

Training programs for project managers constantly evolve, depending upon the nature of the portfolio, the turnover of project management staff, and the evolution of the organization in regard to pace and change. The EMPO should continuously analyze project success metrics and offer leveled training in specific project management activities embedded within your methodology.

Software and Tool Training

Presumably, EPMOs will create a number of project management tools specifically designed to support their project management methodology. Most of these tools should be introduced during the introductory training. However, as new tools are introduced, enhanced, or mandated, project stakeholders must be informed accordingly and be trained in their effective use. Each time a new tool is created or an existing tool is modified, the EPMO must communicate all changes and ensure project managers understand how to use the tools, and how the tools support the project and align to the methodology. All project managers must know what is in the toolbox and how to use the tools to successfully support each project. Course offerings can introduce new tools or mandate the use of specific tools.

Building a PM Community

In other instances, minor changes to existing tools can be communicated through brown-bag sessions. You can establish informal sessions to create an environment in which project managers can come together and share information relevant to their project, which may also affect another project. This forum promotes the timely sharing of information to better manage interdependent relationships among portfolio projects. It can also be leveraged as a forum for sharing best practices and providing flash updates in support of project success. While these sessions are sponsored by the EPMO, they are should not be for the EPMO. The forum should be designed with project managers and project leaders in mind; the EPMO can regularly solicit feedback and ideas from project managers to make these sessions a valuable use of their time.
Do not limit training courses to technical project management practice. Project Management constituencies must develop core competencies in good business practice and develop strong management skills to succeed. Consider offering a meeting management course, for example, this is a perfect example of where the EPMO can offer training outside the technical confines of project management practice. The objectives of a meeting management course should allow participants to match the type of meeting to the purpose, learn how to successfully plan and conduct a meeting, and, what to do after holding a meeting. Since much of what project managers do today relies upon rallying team members together and producing updates and results through a meeting format, this is an important skill to have.

Finding Partners

As projects evolve, becoming more programmatic in nature and longer and more complex, you will need to evolve your training program as well. At a certain point in time, you will find reach a point where you can no longer meet the evolving needs through internal resources; you will need to seek expertise from others outside your organization.
When selecting training partners, identify candidates who can meet your current business needs and evolve to meet your ongoing needs. Seek training partners who can develop a strong provider/client relationship that enables a sharing of information between both organizations. Look for candidates who can evolve with you as your project/business evolves and are able to collaborate with you to understand your needs and how to deliver the appropriate training to meet those needs. You must be able to nurture your partnership over time into one that enables both organizations to continue to grow and develop their employees. This is a win-win arrangement.


The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff

Knowing how to manage the phases of a project is often a forgone conclusion. Knowing how to navigate the organization and manage business relationships to meet deliverables is often assumed. Be sure to address soft skill development for project managers. Consider partnering with inside experts to accomplish this goal. Establishing a partnership with your Human Resources/Corporate Development department is a terrific way to join forces and accomplish a lot in this space. Work together to periodically survey project management staff to identify areas for development. The survey results help the two departments design and/or offer courses to meet prioritized development needs. .
Successful EPMOs must continuously design new courses or affiliate with external partners to offer project management and leadership training, to further develop project management competency. These ongoing efforts are important, as they further solidify the Project Management career path.
Organizations must recognize the need to develop employees for individual growth; individual growth globally supports organizational success. Vary your training in depth, scope, and delivery according to audience need. Leverage a multi-channel approach, such as eLearning, to recognize project stakeholders’ demanding priorities and schedules. Extend tiered offerings that keep audience members engaged and enthusiastic about learning. You can accomplish this through a comprehensive menu of workshops, seminars, forums, and brown-bag sessions.
Global understanding of project management is a crucial ingredient for project and ultimately business success. Support ongoing educational needs; enable project managers to go to be the best they can be!

Lisa A. DiTullio is the author of Simple Solutions: How “Enterprise Project Management” Supported Havard Pilgrim Health Care from Near Collapse to #1. This is an excerpt from her book, which can be found on-line at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.


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