The full spectrum
BY SIMON KENT
the old pros—
if you want
them to actually
put it to use.
“The BP Way
all projects are
Manchester Business School,
TAKING the one-size-fits-all philosophy to training just doesn't work. What the grizzled veteran who's been at this for years needs to learn is probably going to be a lot different from the new recruits, who may not know that earned value management even exists.
Projects work because they play upon the individual strengths and skills of each person on the team—and training should reinforce that. The trick is to create programs that speak to each person, but still reinforce an organization's overall goals and strategies.
“The journey to success requires certain project norms, processes and methods to be understood and followed consistently across all project teams,” says Glenn Stafford, practice head for banking financial services and insurance at Wipro Technologies, Sydney, Australia.
Before any project starts, it's up to the project leader to identify training needs and ensure team members are versed in technical skills as well as the methodologies they'll need to get the job done. That can cover everything from change requests to conflict resolution.
By assessing the needs of the team at hand, organizations can avoid a training mutiny. There are few things more frustrating for time-crunched team members than being trapped in a training initiative that covers material they already know or simply isn't relevant.
Sometimes it helps to take a two-track approach, says Karl Fernström, managing director at Academic House, a training company in Stockholm, Sweden.
One of his clients, for example, had a team that “had all worked within project management before, but they needed a new start,” he explains. “The main part of the training was addressed to all of the team members, and after that we specialized, so project managers got one kind of training—more leadership—while there was more about understanding the project and project goals for other team members.”
At global energy giant BP, all project managers undertake an intensive week-long training session to learn what's dubbed “the BP Way,” a comprehensive methodology governing the organization's project processes and standards.
“The BP Way training ensures all projects are defined, planned and executed according to BP’s group-wide standards,” says Cliff Mitchell, senior fellow at Manchester, England-based Manchester Business School, which helped develop the training.
Although it does help get everyone aligned, this type of mandatory training also poses the risk of creating troops of clones inflicted with the dreaded groupthink.
“There is a potential danger with this kind of education that everyone ends up thinking the same way,” warns Mr. Mitchell.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
“The idea of the BP Way has been to get everyone thinking, working, understanding and delivering projects in a consistent way. It has been necessary to get that unity as the company has grown through mergers and acquisitions and project complexity has increased exponentially,” he explains.
“The next step was for the business school to help BP project managers apply their judgment to that way of working and start developing independent leadership skills. You still need to follow the methodology, but you also need to apply common sense, professionalism, experience and judgement to often difficult situations.”
TIP Project management training shouldn't just be for the project team. “You should address the people outside the project, too, so they understand what those guys are doing and why it's important to the company,” says Karl Fernström, Academic House, Stockholm, Sweden.
Enter the Managing Projects Programme, introduced in October 2007.
“The course represents the next step in professional development for experienced and professional project managers,” says Mr. Mitchell, deputy director of the program.
“The BP Way has given them the process. We look at how you do it practically,” he explains. “We're not teaching them how to implement the approach in black and white—it's more a question of understanding the judgment they need to use when following the BP Way in difficult, ambiguous situations.”
With major project leaders from BP acting as mentors, students undergo two intensive weeks of seminars, lectures and discussions in Manchester. But the goal is more than just absorbing information. In between the sessions, participants write three “reflective practice papers” describing how they have practiced their training in real-life work situations and how they can use that experience to improve their projects in the future.
PUT IT TO WORK
For training to work, people have to feel like they're going to use all that information being pumped into their brains.
“I’ve seen organizations conduct lengthy programs of training, only to allow weeks or even months to lapse before providing team members an opportunity to apply their newly acquired learning,” says Bill Shackelford, faculty manager at the College of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry University, Wood Dale, Illinois, USA.
“Every training activity should, whenever possible, have a specific plan for application in an upcoming project, including a scheduled post-mortem to evaluate the effectiveness of that training in meeting its ostensive purpose,” he says.
Sometimes part of that responsibility falls on the students, too.
MIX IT UP
With training budgets being slashed, companies should leverage their talent within, pairing newcomers with experienced project managers.
Karen Tate from The Griffin Tate Group Inc. says team members often have a strong desire to learn from one another, especially if they're in a room filled with colleagues that span the company's departments and divisions. They can learn about co-workers’ organizational roles and strategize on how to work together more effectively—which benefits staffers and organizations at the same time.
But there are three critical guidelines to forging a fruitful mentoring relationship, says Rodger Oren, Ph.D., PMP, director of application development at TennCare, a state healthcare program in Nashville, Tennessee, USA:
1. Instruct by example, using actual work case studies.
2. Point staff to educational materials, including journal articles and websites.
3. Evaluate these resources, and identify key points and omissions.
Mentoring doesn't just help the young upstarts. Jumping in to share know-how with less-experienced team members can also be a way to advance. “When I’m evaluating whether a project manager is ready for the next level, one of the items I look at is whether they mentor their peers,” says Ron Sklaver, PMP, Decatur, Illinois, USA-based manager of the global project management office at U.K. food manufacturer Tate & Lyle.
Even something as simple as giving a talk on a subject and becoming identified as an expert can be part of leadership development, he says.
“My job is to make sure the participants know how to do what I am teaching, says Karen Tate, PMP, PMI Fellow, president of The Griffin Tate Group Inc., a project management training company in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. “The participants’ job is to decide, given their circumstances, what to do with those skills in a given situation.”
Although some areas, such as the structure of how a project is governed, can be standardized, companies can't let their training process stagnate, warns Mr. Fernström.
What this year's crop of team members needs may not be relevant next year.
“You need to constantly change because all projects are different, so the training should be different, too,” he says.
With a constantly shifting project landscape, team members need all the help they can get. Done right, training can make sure they go in prepared. PM
PM NETWORK DECEMBER 2009 WWW.PMI.ORG