Using the PMO to develop and support project managers

a case study

International Institute for Learning Spain

Abstract

When a project and consulting organisation grows, the number of project management professionals must increase to handle the increased number of projects. If the number of projects is growing and if project complexity is increasing, the organisation needs more experienced Project Managers. On the other hand, this business growth allows more experienced professionals to grow within their organisations. This means that some experienced project managers, who are able to manage complex projects, are promoted to management positions. The organisation loses a vital source of experienced Project Managers. But the organisation still needs to manage bigger and more complex projects, albeit with inexperienced project professionals.

However, what the organisation does not know is the impact of managing projects “by accident”. In this scenario, the organisation asks senior technical people and junior project managers to manage complex projects but does not provide them with the specific training and support required for linking projects to business needs.

Upper management is, therefore, not supporting the Project Manager along the full length of the project life cycle. Project Managers are isolated dealing with internal and external problems within their projects. These Project Managers require support to grow themselves and eventually, in turn, to become a growth factor within the organisation.

The Project Management Office can help the Project Manager to keep focused on the client and to enable him/her to perform high quality project management. This is not only achieved by providing the necessary methods, tools and support for the Project Manager, but also by implementing a complete mentoring program. This holistic approach will better prepare the project management professional for managing projects and lead to a more productive organisation.

This paper explains how to create and implement a mentoring program through a Project Management Office. The mentoring program is not only focused on junior project managers but can also help the more experienced professional to increase his/her potential as a project manager.

Background

The HP Spain Project Office was born from the need to relieve project managers of the administrative tasks associated with managing a project. Generally, at the corporate level, the project offices are regarded as project management centres of expertise. HP decided that the professionals who staff these project offices should be experienced and trained in project management skills. At the local level, we have been using the Project Office to push the organisation to change our culture from a reactive approach to management to a project oriented approach.

The reality for HP was that the number of projects was increasing in terms of size and complexity but at the same time senior project managers were promoted to other management positions. This resulted in a situation where many projects had to be managed by junior people (junior project managers). PM training was one of the services provided by the Project Office. Upper management believed the lack of experienced Project Managers might be compensated through PM training, but we knew people needed to be mentored and coached after being trained. I explained to upper management that project management is learnt by practice and through experience.

Then, I proposed the “Mentoring program for Project Managers” to the management team. It took two months to convince them of the advantages of the program. Reviewing the project portfolio and analysing the weaknesses and status of our projects was very helpful.

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The mentoring program

The main objective of this program is to achieve the best personal and professional development of the mentoree. This program is not only focused on junior project managers but also senior project managers who need to grow and sustain the culture of the organisation.

The importance of the professional development of the mentoree is based on:

  • Increasing their productivity and competence as a project manager, generating benefits for him and for the organisation.
  • Offering the opportunity to identify and maintain the best professionals in the organisation.
  • Monitoring of the professional progress of every project manager and every project.
  • Visibility for the high performers within the organisation.

The personal development will help the mentoree have a clear idea of what he or she wants to achieve. This program has benefits for the mentoree and for the mentor.

Benefits for the mentoree:

  • Acquiring knowledge and values from the organisation, through keeping in touch with senior project managers in the Project Office.
  • Knowledge of other projects in the organisation, better knowledge of the project portfolio
  • Recognition and the sense of achievement
  • Accelerated development through the feedback and support of senior project managers

Benefits for the mentor:

  • Satisfaction through their contribution to development of other professionals in project management
  • People skills development
  • To be a trusted advisor of other person

Benefits for the organisation:

  • Better link between junior people and the organisation (people see: “there is somebody concerned for my career”)

We considered a mentor as:

  • An advisor who motivates project managers throughout the project life cycle giving them support and positive ideas.
  • A guide who introduces the professional to the Project office and explains to him or her how the organisation works and what the value of the PMO is.
  • A role model, who can demonstrate to the project manager how to take advantage of the PMO using our project methodology in a practical way.
  • A professional, who helps the project manager to discover their weak areas and how to improve them.

The mentor's role

The main purpose of the mentor is to contribute to the full development, not only personal but professional, of the mentoree (project manager). This implies high responsibility as this task is not easy one. I can remember some junior project managers didn't use the mentoring service because they didn't appreciate its value.

The mentor will be helping the mentoree in identifying their values, clarifying their expectations, finding out their strengths and weaknesses, helping him/her to identify opportunities, achieving his/her full integration in the PMO.

The first lesson I learnt was that many junior project managers do not know what project management means, and they don't know what they want from project management. Some of them are accidental project managers. The main value of the mentor in this type of situation is to serve as a help and a guide to discover what are the mentoree's expectations, and then facilitating the tools and showing the paths to achieve them. I spent some time explaining to my mentorees the differences between “individual contributor” and “project manager”. It was really worthy and helps people to take their decisions.

You as a mentor should:

  • Listen to the mentoree
  • Respect their opinions
  • Be confident and show interest
  • Give him/her objective information
  • Ask him/her to propose solutions and give feedback
  • Encourage their decisions
  • Deal with them as a friend
  • Be honest. If you don't know something, say I don't know…

Difficulties and suggestions

Sometimes things not turn out as well as we would like. In my experience I encountered some difficulties with implementing the mentoring program and I will explain my solutions.

Difficulties Suggestions
Lack of empathy To find out the reasons for that
Lack of time Any moment may be good to make better use of time: having lunch, at the airport, early in the morning, it depends on priorities
No real expectations or expectations are not achieved You need to re-plan the initial objectives
Different mentality You must appreciate that another mentality is different point of view and you also can learn from it
You can not see the results in the short term You must understand that detecting the problems and analysing them is the first step. Be patient and persistent.

For a successful relationship you need to understand your role. You must check that the expectations of your mentoree are the same as yours. You must find time, while respecting the meetings you have agreed to. You should reinforce their positive behaviours, reinforce their progress and check the action plans with the mentoree.

The process

How to start? Initially we agreed that the mentors should be assigned at the “Initiation phase”, when the project is recognised by the organisation as a formal project and a “project manager is also assigned”. In theory this should be the best approach, but we observed that the approach was not always working.

With more experienced project managers, for example, they only understand the need of a mentor when they are running into problems on a particular project; but not from the beginning of the project.

Finally we agreed the principle that the decision to initiate the mentoring relationship should not be taken by the PMO but by the mentoree. This does not provide an obstacle for the PMO in providing assistance to the project manager.

Being able to recognise you are not prepared for managing a project is difficult for some people. I needed to explain to the upper management team the purpose of the mentoring program, while reinforcing the explanation that mentoring is not equivalent to co-project management. The purpose was not to substitute the project manager. The purpose was to enable a mechanism through the PMO which project managers could use for their benefit.

Therefore, I had to take into account the following:

  1. Initial duration of the program
  2. Availability of the mentors
  3. Establishing a meeting schedule, because it helps to have discipline with regular meetings
  4. Think about the main subjects you would like to discuss with your mentored PM

I presented a proposal to the “management committee”; I explained to them that the mentoring program was in place and they would be my sponsors for convincing project managers to use it. The first month I only had one junior PM enrolled in the program but some weeks later we ran into problems to find enough mentors to do the work.

How to move forward?

The main objective of the mentorship program is to contribute to the development of Project Managers who are enrolled in the program. If you can, I suggest you establish personal objectives, with actions for achieving them.

The activities you can do as part of the program may vary from one person to another, but my suggestion is to ask for periodical meetings. Some meeting subjects that worked well in my particular experience were:

  • As the project manager mentoree may choose you as his/her mentor, you will probably know him or her. My suggestion is to spend some time talking about yourselves to get to know each other better.
  • Mentoring program expectations.
  • Personal and professional expectations.
  • Identifying and talking about strengths and weaknesses.
  • The company culture and their values.
  • His/her job.
  • Future opportunities.
  • Obstacles and barriers.
  • Network of contacts.

Lead the mentoring process

It was recognised that the PMO was a new way of working and I had to give the organisation time to adjust and catch up to where we were. We were flexible enough and created commitment incrementally by breaking down big issues and problems into small – manageable chunks.

Leading the “Mentoring process” as the PMO Project Manager was difficult but I based my daily activities in three principles:

  • Passion: I really believe in the advantages and the need for a PMO. When you believe in something you send positive signals to the mentoree. This behaviour helps you to be happier and transmit happiness to others. Smiling every morning was part of my attitude every day.
  • Persistence: I always tried to reinforce the project management knowledge of the organisation on a daily basis. It does not matter if you find a project manager not following a PM methodology, or not using a PMO procedure; you need to understand why by talking to him or her. In terms of implementation, nothing works perfectly the first time. Understanding the learning curve is essential.
  • Patience : Every project, every phase, every activity or task needs time to be implemented. The PMO project manager needed to be patient. You need to spend time doing every activity and understand every activity consumes time. On the other hand people need their own pace. One of my errors was to assume everyone learnt and applied knowledge at the same speed.

The most important is that I enjoyed my assignment as PMO project manager and I believe that this was fundamental for our success. A Project Manager's attitude is fundamental for team members and also for project stakeholders.

The results

More than fifteen project managers were involved in the “Mentoring program” during the first year. The organisation had to make a large investment by taking the time of senior project managers and using them as mentors.

We had 180 projects running and, one year before, 10% of them were delayed and out of control. One year later we got those fifteen people using our PM methodology and taking control of their projects. It took time but it was worth it and our effort was rewarded with results.

Upper managers were convinced about the benefits of using a mentoring program because they saw the results. Managers of the project managers understand that is the right way to contribute to project success and for people development success as project managers.

Lessons learned

  • Before implementing a successful mentoring program you need to understand your organisational environment.
  • Upper management is only convinced by results.
  • Implementing a mentoring program takes time.
  • Project Managers can develop their careers quicker through mentoring.
  • Passion, persistence and patience were key for PMO success.

References

1. Graham, R. J. and Englund, R. L. (1997). Creating an Environment for Successful Projects: the Quest to Manage Project Management. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. www.josseybass.com

2. Block, T. R. (2001). The seven secrets of a successful PMO. PMI Network Magazine.

3. Bucero, A.. (2001, June) Implementing the Project Office, a real case of innovation. IPMA 2001 Project Management Congress proceedings. Stockholm,

4. Bucero, Alfonso. (2002, June) Forging the future through PMO implementation, a case study of sponsorship. PMI European Symposium proceedings. Cannes.

5. Bucero, Alfonso. (2002, June) Improving project performance through the PMO, a real case. IPMA 2002 Project Management Congress proceedings. Berlin,

6. Englund, R. L., Graham, R. J. & Dinsmore P. C. (2003). Creating the Project Office. Jossey-Bass Editors. San Francisco, CA.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

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