Updates from QA Training

Competent Project Managers – now there’s a thought!

Having been in the Learning and Development industry for over 15 years I have seen many ‘silver bullets’ aimed at creating staff that are competent to do the job they were employed to do to drive organisational success. In fact, the quest for the elusive formula has been going on for a lot longer – in the project management profession there has been over 30 years of “the next best thing”.

Tony Martin | 8 February 2013

Having been in the Learning and Development industry for over 15 years I have seen many ‘silver bullets’ aimed at creating staff that are competent to do the job they were employed to do to drive organisational success. In fact, the quest for the elusive formula has been going on for a lot longer – in the project management profession there has been over 30 years of “the next best thing”.

Let me just summarise where we are:

In the eighties, project management was destined to become automated, and the latest offerings of the time from Microsoft (Project) and Artemis, dawned the era of the systems.

In the nineties, the systems weren't really saving projects from failure at the rate that was expected,  so a new methodology called PRINCE2 was introduced and started the era of the project management methodology - and everyone had to have one.

In the noughties, the methods evolved, but projects still failed, and so the root cause was deemed to be not enough people were qualified in the methods, so the era of certification and qualification heralded over 100,000 project managers a year seeking PRINCE2, APM and PMI badges to enable them to do their job better.

So here we are in the twenty-tens, and whilst the qualification market is still buoyant, many organisations are now expecting less staff to do more, do it more efficiently, be more effective and contribute to the overall organisational success.   We are now squarely in the era of competence.

The reason for the brief history lesson is to highlight the need to go back to basics as history has proven that the coveted silver bullets may not always be the answer.  What is clear though is that we need a more holistic view of how we can help staff grow more competent, and confident, to improve the organisational project delivery capability. 

The Association of Project Management (APM), Project Management Institute (PMI), International Project Management Association (IPMA) and the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) all have Competency Frameworks, for the project management profession, and offer an opportunity to have some benchmarked standards.   But where do you start?

Start with "what does good look like?"

In my experience, the starting place has to be a definition of "what good looks like" for each and every role in your project, programme and PMO communities in your organisation.  In all organisations there is a "go to person" or a "safe pair of hands" in each role. This is my starting point for finding out what good looks like in that organisation. If everyone was at their level, then there would be a step change in delivery capability.

The international standards and benchmarks are also a good starting point, but your organisation also has its own way of working, so it is important to reflect that in your own view of "what good looks like".  Creating a set of role profiles that form a clear career structure like that shown below helps to foster a PM community with aspirations to do better and progress.

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Find out where you are now

So now ask yourself the question: "What if everyone in my PM community was at the level of 'what good looks like in my organisation? '".

The next step has always been a contentious one and just rolling out an assessment programme has always been viewed as a pre-cursor to redundancies and cost savings. So the communication that supports an assessment programme needs to be sympathetic and honest. Start with a pilot.

Take three roles - I generally go for Senior PM, PM, and PM associate (or whatever they are called in your organisation) - as these are common in all organisations and have the largest pool of staff.  Get the role profiles created, and use an online tool like our COMPASS system to roll out a tailored assessment programme to around 30 staff.  Ideally carry out self assessments and validate this with a 180 (line manager or appointed assessor).  Then do some analysis, both individual and group, to see whether the responses are what you expect.

It is important to give something back to individuals. COMPASS for example, gives a comprehensive PDF report that can be downloaded immediately afterwards and will overlay the 180 scores as well once they have been completed. So this is a great discussion document to take to your annual performance review and identify your next career steps.

Create competent professionals with immersive and progressive Learning

A well structured and implemented assessment programme will inevitably throw up some gaps in knowledge, skills and experience. You need to be ready for this. The pilot approach will give you a good idea on what to expect from a wider programme, so having a plan of the next steps for your PM professionals will give a lot more creditability to the assessment programme - remember that the communications around the assessment programme is vital.

At the beginning of this blog, I mentioned the historical 'silver bullets' and this is where they are important. Simply training in the system, the method and getting a qualification is not enough to create a competent professional. Yes, some of this is a vital grounding in technical knowledge, but a one-day session or 5-day course will generally be forgotten in 3-4 weeks time.  What I advocate is a programme of development that takes place over a longer period - 12 to 16 weeks, and includes elements of formal training, and what I like to call "extended" learning.  The extended learning activities (xLA) are done in pairs and help put a topic into context.  For example, we might include an activity that asks how your project risk and issue register is structured and maintained.  By making you go and look, and ask questions, and document your findings, we are encouraging collaborative working and interdepartmental working.  

What we also find during these exercises is that a lot of improvements are suggested that can be incorporated back into the ways of working.

This approach of immersive and progressive learning is what we have called the "Living Learning Framework".

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When the Living Learning framework is coupled with the "finding out what good looks like and COMPASS assessment programme,  you have a proven way of developing competent project professionals.

Find out more about our Pilot Offer

QA Training | TM

Tony Martin

Product Developer

Tony is a project management practitioner with over 12 years experience of designing, implementing and managing strategic and tactical, competence development programmes around the world. He has delivered practical and innovative solutions from concept to delivery and has worked with many national and international organisations such as: GSK, BAA, NHS, BT, BA, Logica, Fujitsu and many more. Tony is now working to further develop QA’s project, programme and portfolio management training and consultancy services maximising the use of technology and blended solutions.
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