Project Management Institute

Learning new tricks


Want your project managers to stay on top of trends and embrace new approaches? Give them time to do so.


There's no question that project professionals are busy. With people to manage, deadlines to meet and constant decisions to be made, is it any wonder that finding the time to see if a new software tool would be a good fit or attending a leadership workshop takes a back seat to the more pressing demands of day-today work?

Your seasoned project managers may have memorized the Knowledge Areas in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and have ingrained your organization's processes. But the risk of complacency is ever-present—unless there's a consistent effort on the part of the organization's leaders to stay abreast of current trends as well as remain open to change.

“Project professionals not only can become stagnant, they do become stagnant,” says Stephen A. Devaux, PMP, president of Analytic Project Management, a consulting and training firm in Swampscott, Massachusetts, USA. “Many project managers apply effort to pass a credential exam once and then think that they know it all. Many do not take the steps necessary to maintain currency and expand their knowledge.”

Some credentials, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential, require ongoing education and experience to maintain.

That can help project professionals keep up with the rapidly accelerating pace of change in the profession.

To maximize the value of project management, your organization's leaders must not only encourage your experienced project managers to incorporate new techniques but also create a culture that welcomes innovation, says Melanie Franklin, CEO of Maven Training, a program, project and change management training firm in London, England.

And that's all the more difficult when continued education is voluntary rather than mandatory.


One of the main factors that stunts development in seasoned project professionals are those milestones that always seem to be looming.

“Too many project managers feel that they don't have time to consider new management techniques because they have too much work and extremely tight deadlines,” says Frank S. Nestore, PMP, a Hamilton, New Jersey, USA-based senior manager and consulting practice leader at Mathtech Inc., a strategy and consulting services firm. “The responsibility for this often can be attributed to organizations with a broken or nonexistent project portfolio process. In those companies, the project evaluation process is insufficient, allowing too many projects to be scheduled for the year. Project managers in those organizations are then tasked with delivery of that impossible portfolio, allowing little if any time for professional improvement.”

Part of the problem is project managers are often evaluated in terms of metrics, says Colleen McGraw, PMP, an Alexandria, Virginia, USA-based consulting project manager for Metro Systems Inc., an IT staffing firm. “Did they make their dates? Did they stay within budget? Did they deliver the required project artifacts? Trying a new technique is a risk; if project managers know they will be judged by the numbers, and that the techniques they have will allow them to meet the numbers, what incentive is there to change? Learning new techniques takes time, of which project managers rarely have enough.”


There are “rock stars” in every profession— including project management, says Colleen McGraw, PMP, Metro Systems Inc., Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

Be on the lookout for potential standouts during the hiring process.

“Often, star project managers will not only seek out information but are the same people who give back to the profession, either by volunteering at their local PMI chapter, teaching, writing, blogging or working pro bono,” she explains. “Look to hire these people if you can—they make great role models.”

Creating an environment that encourages learning should be a top-down approach, where project managers know the culture supports taking the time to try new approaches. Organization-sponsored workshops offer one way to communicate that it's OK to slow down in order to recharge.

“We need to ensure that we give people the time to learn and don't try to fit learning into our busiest periods and into times when the stress levels are already high,” Ms. Franklin says. “Two weeks before a live date is not the best time to get the project manager to understand and apply new reporting processes for the project, as the emotional energy required to learn this new way of working could be better employed concentrating on a smooth project completion.”

Another factor that discourages project managers from trying new methods is the fear of failure.

“When experienced staff members are learning something new, we mustn't forget that we are asking them to take the risk that they will get things wrong to start with,” Ms. Franklin points out.


To ensure continued training and development for your project managers, make training part of the standard work schedule, part of their job description and part of performance evaluations, Ms. McGraw suggests. If you rely solely on each project manager to “keep up” during their off hours, it demonstrates that growth and development are not valued by the organization, she warns.

“I worked at one company that provided tuition reimbursement for professional education,” Ms. McGraw says. “However, they would not provide the time, requiring the project manager to take evening and weekend classes. This ‘benefit’ was rarely used.”

She oversees projects for the Navy Federal Credit Union, which provides monthly training opportunities and weekly meetings where project managers come together to discuss how to better serve the organization. In addition, its leaders regularly look for new learning opportunities for their project professionals to take part in.

“Make learning new skills and demonstrating them a clear path to reward and advancement,” Ms. McGraw says. “Even better, encourage information sharing through a community of practice, where project managers get together in the organization and share skills and techniques that they've learned or put problems out to the group to discuss.”

Ms. Franklin informs recruitment agents that she won't accept résumés from candidates who are not a member of a relevant professional body and who cannot demonstrate that they have undertaken some training in the last two years.

“I cannot take an applicant seriously if they claim to be a project manager but are not a member of an organization like PMI,” she says. PM



It's not always the company culture that holds back project managers from growth; sometimes, it's the individuals themselves.

“I know of an experienced and successful project manager who is very structured and detailed,” says Frank S. Nestore, PMP, Mathtech Inc., Hamilton, New Jersey, USA. The man had a subject-matter expert on his team who was less structured in his work practices and, as a result, didn't respond well to the project manager as he tried to hold him to the confines of the project schedule and deliverable timetables.

“The project manager's initial inability to seek out a new method of managing the project caused a lot of slippage, but this experience taught him that on some projects you must find new methods,” he explains.

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