Elevating Everyone

How One Organization Developed a Comprehensive Training Process for All Project Managers


By Andreas Madjari, PMP

When it comes to training programs, one size doesn't fit all. A program that helps elevate an organization or individual just starting to develop project management skills won't work for those with more maturity looking to reach the next level.

But the multipart education program my financial services company, Erste Group, developed in 2010—and still uses today—was designed to fit a range of skill-polishing goals. The organization's needs were critical: We needed project managers to be able to handle our rising number of projects, which faced increasingly complex regulatory requirements and business needs. But that's not all: We also needed to train project managers scattered across seven countries.

I believe that what Erste Group came up with can provide guidance to other organizations looking to structure their project management training and improve project performance.

Formal Training

Erste Group's formal project manager education program has three levels: basic, advanced and expert. The basic level is open to all employees and consists of half-day to one-day courses on topics such as project management basics, risk management and people skills. The courses are accessible through our online learning platform.

The advanced and expert levels go beyond online classes and are designed to enable project managers to handle larger and more complex projects. But we limit access to those levels, because a key success factor for training is getting the right people into the programs. Only project managers nominated by management and who pass a project management proficiency test are eligible. For the expert level, the selection process includes a leadership capabilities evaluation.

Advanced and expert level training consists of multiple four-day classroom modules, each hosted in a different country where Erste Group does business. Participants meet and gain leadership knowledge from senior executives and collaborate on group assignments using tools and techniques acquired during classroom sessions. Finally, trainees also complete individual assignments.

During one of the classroom sessions, participants must pass a written exam on the project management policies and procedures of the organization, ensuring that they understand the tools and techniques and can properly apply them in the context of the company.

Informal Training

But Erste Group learning doesn't stop in the classroom. The project management office organizes an annual Project Management Community Event to foster further growth among the advanced and expert project and program managers. This congress-like meeting lasts two days and features internal and external speakers. The most popular sessions usually are the ones about soft skills, when topics about self-reflection, leadership or people development are addressed.

One benefit of our training process is that participants learn from each other through an informal, international network. The connections I made in the advanced and expert programs helped me manage international projects. For instance, I now have contacts in various countries who can help me understand specific cultural differences and local challenges there.

Two years ago, I was involved in a project that defined and implemented organization-wide rules. When it came time to implement those rules in our Romanian subsidiary, I discovered that my counterpart in Romania was a colleague with whom I had completed the advanced program. She was particularly helpful in opening doors that would not have been accessible to me from my position in Vienna. Her knowledge of the local management culture and influencers made it easier to assign the appropriate resources to the task.

A program that helps elevate an organization or individual just starting to develop project management skills won't work for those with more maturity.

Benefits Realized

After more than six years, the training program is still delivering benefits. More than 100 Erste Group project managers have reached the advanced and expert levels. Some of them have become successful in upper management, showing the program's ability to develop leadership skills.

Projects and the organization as a whole have also benefited from having a common understanding of project management, increased collaboration across departments and business units, and a transnational network of project managers. PM

img Andreas Madjari, PMP, is a member of the project governance group, Erste Group, Vienna, Austria.



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