Opening the window to learning
In the 10 months since creating a competency center, this manufacturer trained hundreds of project managers, established an intranet Web site and radically improved project management skills.
by Michael T. Clark, PMP
the Andersen Corp., a Bayport, Minn., USA-based manufacturer of wood windows and patio doors, “remodeled” its approach to project management with a new concept for focused learning, a Project Management Competency Center (PMCC). Faced with inconsistent and informal project management processes, the firm built a virtual community committed to improving skills company-wide.
In late 1999, the firm expected an unprecedented increase in Information Technology Services (ITS) and Internal Business Consulting projects while its project management system was struggling. Because projects all used different terminology, tools and formats, performance was difficult to track. In addition, trained project managers never fully learned how to apply their knowledge in day-to-day real-world situations.
To standardize processes and enhance learning opportunities while fostering a sense of community, Andersen created a PMCC based on PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) principles. The first step was mapping goals and deciding how things had to change in the organization to achieve them.
To show organizational learning in each of the five PMBOK® Guide processes (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling and Closing), the firm borrowed from Roger Bohn's “Stages of Knowledge” [“Measuring and Managing Technological Knowledge,” Sloan Management Review, Fall 1994].
These eight stages (complete ignorance, awareness, measure, control of the mean, process capability, process characterization, know why and complete knowledge) were applied to each process to show how the entire organization should progress toward a “... developed scientific model, with focus on optimization.” Andersen added a sixth process, Project Manager Competencies, to capture the required skills and behaviors.
With goals of the virtual learning center set, the firm scheduled workshops to hammer project management concepts home.
Ownership and Awareness
In Andersen's ITS department, employees were frustrated with their lack of resources to assist in project management skill-building.
The Human Resource Institute's (HRI) “Normative Systems Culture Change Process” suggested using workshops to build a sense of connectedness between project managers and clarify project goals.
The PMCC project team was working with a large group, therefore PMCC established six workshops, one for each of the five processes and one for competency development. These meetings resulted in templates and processes for the team's project management “toolkit.” More importantly, 60 project managers engaged in productive dialogue.
Next, group representatives presented results and outlined the next steps of the PMCC effort, which included establishing support systems. Four areas were addressed: intranet support, recruitment of champions, training and consulting.
System 1: Intranet Support
Initially, the project focused on building an intranet site to support the PMBOK® Guide principles and to serve as an easy-to-use reference. The site was structured similar to the guide, but also incorporated the tools, techniques and templates that Andersen uses.
Today, the intranet site has grown to include tutorials, lifecycle methodologies and an ever-growing historical project archive that holds more than 400 documents. It is the single place people visit to find the latest project management information at Andersen.
System 2: Recruiting Champions
The project actively sought out “champions” to reinforce project management practices in their realms of control and influence. While the PMCC's initial phase was focused on internal business consulting and ITS, word spread quickly throughout the organization. Quite by accident, a grassroots effort was established to use the PMCC across the organization, and with this momentum, the project was able to recruit champions. For example, the Andersen materials research branch preferred a specific, engineering-focused approach to training project management while the internal business consulting group preferred a more open, conceptual approach.
System 3: Training
From the outset, the project decided that training would be different. Traditionally, management sent large groups to training with little reinforcement. Within six months to a year, a fraction of what was taught was still used. A trainer was brought in to tailor courses, and the Web site reinforced what was learned in training.
Web surveys for training attendees indicated which training areas were either confusing or generated more interest. Follow-up in-house training sessions addressed high-need areas. Many wanted to learn how to practically use techniques, so the PMCC developed and implemented a three-hour follow-up training session that helped connect training theory to work reality. Andersen's training philosophy is: “Teach the concept in training, use the concept in follow-up sessions and reinforce the concept by teaching it again.”
System 4: Coaching and Mentoring
To support individual initiative in achieving project management goals, Andersen established informal coaching and mentoring. Several project teams were assisted by internal “consultants” in creating the work breakdown structure, network diagrams and project plans. Other project managers used coaches as sounding boards or “fresh eyes” to see the big picture.
This practice eventually created more champions, resulting in a “momentum cycle.” The established tools must be pushed into the “masses” through training, communications, orientation and other techniques. Once information is disseminated, consulting and mentoring practices instill changes in the organization. With time, a whole new group of champions develop and continue to fuel the cycle.
Today, more than 180 project managers have been trained in the new methodology, crossing functional and organizational boundaries. Training is an established part of Andersen Corporate University, the company's internal program. In addition, PMCC has consulted and assisted in project planning for more than 36 projects at various stages during the past few months.
Over the next year, the project will meet with all remaining business and functional leaders to demonstrate what PMCC offers in their business areas. Champions from each group will start the cycle anew, but they will have the benefit of an established support system and a large peer group. The long-term goal is to achieve the highest knowledge stages in the vision and maturity model.
Michael T. Clark, PMP, is a program manager within Andersen Corp.'s Enterprise Program Office and is primarily responsible for the development of project management competency throughout the organization.
Reader Service Number 190
PM Network July 2001