My future, a successful project

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Project Manager, Procter & Gamble

Abstract

Today's competitive business environment demands that organizations willing to get the best talent should cultivate that talent starting very early. In Procter & Gamble (P&G) Italy we are doing that. Top students are engaged during their last year of high school and invited to participate in an exciting business game focused on project management.

The course is largely leveraging gamification techniques to teach project management framework and give opportunities to practice soft skills like presentation skills, team collaboration, and time management in a safe environment. The course is proposing project cases adapted to students, never forgetting fun. The students working in groups are challenged to find solutions and are stimulated by company coaches to properly drive the project forward. These activities improve their ability to work in teams and to interact with senior management, defending their case, both verbally and in writing. Project management framework is taught with simple examples and competitive games proposed for each knowledge area. Course communication is fully managed through social media, proving to be very engaging for the newer generations.

The course is, on one end, growing future potential successful project managers, and on the other end, it is a powerful marketing tool for P&G. The game setup is exciting for the students; there is buzz in the school; students, teachers and parents are creating a powerful “word of mouth” engine. P&G is building an image of a company that grows the community.

Introduction

Italian high schools is very much traditional in educating students. Teachers would lecture students that are listening for hours to endless explanation. The interaction is quite limited and discussion is not a tool that is largely leveraged. We can safely say that the center of a school lesson is the teacher.

Procter & Gamble Italy offered students a course that is completely changing the education model. The center of the course is the student.

The training course was offered to the best students of “Istituto di Istruzione Superiore Giovan Battista Alberti, Roma,” who were attracted to participate in a different way of learning. Procter & Gamble was fully leveraging this touch point to create a strong company image that was naturally spread by the enthusiasm generated by the course. Students were absolutely flabbergasted by the different teaching paradigm and being in the center of the learning. The word of mouth generated was unbelievable. The top levels in the school were involved in the conversation as well as nearby schools. The use of social media as key communication framework for the team had unparalleled positive return for the breadth of reach.

Italian Education System

Education in Italy is compulsory from 6 to 16 years of age, and is divided into primary education, secondary education, and tertiary education (university). Italy has both public and private education systems.

School is very much traditional and delivery of lessons has not changed much in recent years. School teachers are setting specific syllabi for each class at the beginning of the year, based on class composition and special education needs that dictate what will be taught during the year. The teaching style is very much traditional, with few very selected exceptions. Students sit through long lectures, then they are required to study and internalize the lessons at home. They are in due course examined to check their level of knowledge of the specific subject.

School classes are normally organized according to specific distribution of student grades. Levels achieved in the prior school cycle are examined when first classes are assembled in order to have a representation of top and bottom students and a significant number of average ones. The objective of public school is to equalize education and attempt to gain back the low scoring students. There are often specific programs for them.

On the other hand the school system does not give special attention for excellence in any class; these students, considered the best, are often not confronted with a peers who perform at a similar level to them.. A typical Italian class numbers between 25 and 30 students, with top scorers averaging between 10% and 15%. That is not challenging the best to strive for next level, and competition is limited.

Exhibit 1 – Italian education.

The “My Future: A Successful Project” training course

The objective of the training was to teach the best high school students coming from a nearby Procter & Gamble Rome school how to plan their future.

The course started from the principle of putting the students in the center of the classroom experience.

The group of 25 students was organized in six teams randomly assembled however guaranteeing an even number of males and females. The organizers paid attention to avoid having classmates on the same team. That was done to prevent potential sub-teams and give competitive advantage to groups with school buddies.

Gamification concepts were largely leveraged. The student groups were immediately challenged to compete, and they were rewarded for accomplishing tasks. All challenges were different in nature. On the one hand there were “hard scoring” ones like answering a questionnaire and measuring the number of correct answers. On the other hand, we had “soft scoring” ones where points were awarded based on a jury vote. All results were published on the course Facebook board with a great deal of commenting from the instructors to increase positive competition. The points that groups could gain grew proportionally to the increased skill level and was declared at the beginning of each session. In that way any group, even the bottom ranking one, could gain the first position in any of the challenges. That created a high level of engagement. Learning more and better and penetrating the topics was giving a competitive advantage to the specific team; that created a virtuous learning circle with instructors chased by students with increasing complex questions.

The course communication was completely managed using a Facebook group, to be fast and in touch with the students’ generation. That proved to be very successful. Furthermore, flash contests were launched unannounced on Facebook and the fastest team to find the right answers was awarded points. That created momentum.

First session:

The first time the students and their corporate teachers met was awkward. The students come with the idea of listening to the usual boring lecture; however, the trainers were energized and friendly. They were old enough to be their teachers or parents, yet they were putting themselves on their same level!

The first proposed game, to break the ice, was very easy. Give a name to your team, present it, and declare why you believe you'll win. That game was centered on presentation skills.

It ended, as forecasted by the trainers, in a complete disaster. The students were lost without clear guidelines. Left on their own, they were unsure how to carry on this simple activity.

The presentations in public of their slides as well were awful. Completely unprepared for this sort of practice, they were looking at the ceiling, fixing their shoes, rolling on their heels. That was really the first time they had presented in public.

The trainers were expecting such a result: that was the starting point to have them learning from their errors. It was quite a shock in a group of best-in-class students, to be harshly criticized and asked to go home and rework that assignment completely. They realized that what was good enough to be best in class at school was not sufficient in this new environment. They had a real challenge in front of them. But the results were amazing; the trainers themselves were impressed by how much the students interiorized the feedback and the quality of the work that they produced thereafter.

The kids had started understanding that there is another way of learning, leveraging mistakes, and, in a safe environment, play and make errors and correct them, so you can grow up stronger.

Second session

The second time the trainers and the students met, the atmosphere was remarkably different. The students were more relaxed, they were excited to get exposed to something new and … to gain points. Yes, the spirit of competition had kicked in and they were really playing by the rules.

This time the students were invited to have a debate, very common in Anglo Saxon education and completely absent from Italian schools. Presentation skills, in a different form, were the main feature of the game. Trainers ad judged that specific skill to be foundational for an individual that aspires to a successful future.

Two teams were competing, defending a thesis and the opposite of very controversial topics. They were judged by a committee of Procter & Gamble managers that had offered their time to be part of the game.

The game was an incredible success, defending a topic you don't necessarily believe in, and in restricted time, was not easy for the students. The discussions that were generated on Facebook were amazing: the trainers were right, the course content was really getting under the skin of students.

Prior to resuming for the session, the trainers gave the students some project management short lessons (pills) and gave them homework: They are starting a new business, a pastry shop, they were asked to articulate the scope statement of the activity and return it via Facebook. Teams were assigned coaches from the instructor team whose assistance they could enlist.

During this second session, they started working as team. Many of them during first session were apprehensive, not being in the same team with their class mates. Now they were focusing on how to move their team to victory. Team working was another soft skill they were subtly acquiring— one that is quite often not considered in traditional Italian traditional education.

Third session

The students had made an attempt to do their homework, and it was awful, as expected. The trainers were again teaching them to learn from their errors. Some were entirely copied from web sites, others were thought through, yet poor in the delivery. They all received direct and precise feedback from their coaches and were asked to revise the assignment and resubmit it.

All the teams made an extremely limited use of their coaches. The coach was again not an easy concept to digest, a professional that is giving you time and knowledge only to improve your skills was difficult to accept. The students were hesitant to reach out to their coaches, and the coaches had to work their way to reach them. Eventually, the relationship started and the work kicked off

The third session was centered on time management and activity sequencing, a fundamental tool of a project manager, as well as of an individual who wants to have a successful future. The game that was awarding points this time was in the form of a questionnaire, delivered at the end of the session. Some of the questions required remembering the explained concepts; others challenged the teams, requiring some advanced reasoning and connections.

Even the concepts were new for all of them; the best teams starting realizing the importance and how, in principle, project management skills are required of almost all activities we normally engage in. Even a simple concept like, “think before you act” was new to the students.

Fourth session

The fourth session entered the project management world in depth. The students, equipped with their pastry shop scope statement, could really start creating the skeleton of their projects. They were given one by one the project management fundamental tools and asked to apply, always in competitive fashion.

Understanding the sponsor, sequencing the activities, and understanding what could or could not be within the scope of a limited budget were some of the proposed exercises that awarded points.

The learning was made fun, and the competition was really challenging the students.

Fifth and last session

The course was progressing very well; students and trainers worked at an incredible level of energy as evidenced by the animated discussions on Facebook and the enthusiastic spontaneous feedback the groups were addressing.

The bar was set at such a high level and all participants were compelled to conclude the program on a high note.

The last proposed exercise was requiring the students to use all the tools and skills they had learned: the ability to set a scope, to plan against it, to sequence activities, and to coordinate a team.

The game, played with Lego blocks, simulated a supply chain that was producing finished products from raw materials to fulfill a customer order. The game was brilliant. The groups were given customer orders and a precise time slot to fulfill it. During the production of the order itself they were faced with risks and issues. The customer changed his mind and wanted different things; the plant was experiencing a fault in the electrical system; the best worker had an accident. The activity was thrilling! Students had never been confronted with such frantic decision making, for them it was a once in a lifetime experience

Conclusion

The course was closed by a celebration to award the winning team. The local authority, the participating school, the principals of the neighborhood schools, the local press, PMI Rome chapter representatives, Procter & Gamble trainers and management, and the students and their families attended the event.

The final celebration was completely run by the students, who were amazingly able to manage the presentation professionally and face the large audience.

The event created magnificent word of mouth for Procter & Gamble, regarded as a company that cares for the community and invests in it.

What Procter & Gamble, as a company, gained from the activity can be seen in the following points:

1) Build leaders of tomorrow, engaging students when they are yet to decide their future career. This is very much in line with new company recruiting strategy to lower the age when we engage our target people.

2) Marketing. The event has created incredible talk among students, their families, and their teachers. P&G is seen as a company that cares about the community and the people. After the first lesson we encouraged students to listen to a podcast on Procter & Gamble history that was, by chance, broadcasted by a national radio network. They all listened to it and started discussing Procter & Gamble values and success stories in the dedicated Facebook group we created for the course

3) Grow Procter & Gamble equity in the community. This is helping position Procter & Gamble as an “asset” as well as a valued partner to grow the local community.

My Voie Pro Europe. (2013). The Italian education system 2013. Retrieved from http://voieproeurope.onisep.fr/

NASA. (2007). What is EVM?? Retrieved from http://evm.nasa.gov/

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.

© 2014, Iolanda Napolitano
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dubai, UAE

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