Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with - or even disagree with - leave a comment.

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Bloggers Sound Off: Aligning Talent with Strategy

In the previous installment of the Voices on Project Management roundtable series, we asked bloggers to share their experiences with project management career paths.

This week, they discuss project management talent and business goals. We asked: As a practitioner, what do you think talent management programs need to do to align with organizational strategy?

Marian Haus, PMP: Talent management programs do more than just increase project success rates and reduce project risks. They contribute to employees' professional development. This directly leads to professional satisfaction and contributes to talent retention.

One way organizations align talent management to strategy to gain a competitive advantage through their most valuable asset -- their employees -- is by encouraging them to follow career paths tailored for the organization. This is a win-win. Both the organization and the employees are aware of and support the goals of the applied talent management.

Mário Henrique Trentim, PMI-RMP, PMP: Some time ago, I read the book "Know-How," written by Ram Charan. It unveils the importance of talent management as a driving force for strategic management. We are facing a huge talent gap in Brazil and around the world because organizations didn't do their homework. They should have mapped their employees' competencies and created career paths  to boost talent development in-house. Building organizational core competencies involves investing in people.

To align talent management programs with organizational strategy, you have to:

  • Set organizational goals
  • Identify competencies needed to achieve short- and long-term goals
  • Create a detailed map of people's competencies
  • Identify and fine-tune career paths
  • Develop training, coaching and mentoring programs
  • Monitor and review

Lynda Bourne, DPM, PMP: The simple answer is: Yes, of course they do. If you are in the oil industry, you need skilled oil people, not skilled bakers! What's missing in most organizations is the realization that project delivery and strategic project management are core competencies essential to the future development of the organization. Most talent management programs are stuck in the era of the "accidental project manager" and need to adjust to modern reality. Project, program and portfolio management and supporting roles, such as PMO management, are critical skills that need to be nurtured to allow the organization to grow and adapt to deal with an ever-changing world. These skills need to be tailored to the organization's culture and industry, but are definable and can be mapped into career frameworks.

Kevin Korterud: Project managers represent a special case when it comes to talent management. They require a complex mix of talents -- such as understanding high-level business process, executive communications and negotiation skills -- that allows them to be effective as project managers. 

Given their broad responsibilities and business impacts in the delivery of projects, project managers need to have their level and depth of talent ready in advance of the implementation of organizational strategy. That readiness will allow them to more quickly and successfully deliver projects, which creates a competitive edge for the organization. 

Posted by Voices Team on: July 19, 2013 12:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bloggers Sound Off: Project Management Career Paths

In the first installment of the Voices on Project Management roundtable series, we asked bloggers for their thoughts on critical project management skillsets.

This week, they discuss project management career paths. We asked them: Is there a defined career path at your organization? If not, what do you think are the barriers to developing one? If there is one, how is it affecting business success?

Mário Henrique Trentim, PMI-RMP, PMP: Unfortunately, we don't have clear project management career paths at my organization. In Brazil, project management is seen as a practice, not a profession. Career paths here are usually oriented according to recognized professions, such as engineer or lawyer.

I believe the greatest barriers are cultural and political ones within organizations. It would be necessary to make organizational structures more flexible to support dedicated career paths. Moreover, senior managers and executives don't know enough about project management to understand the importance of establishing project management career paths. 

I consider myself a project management "evangelist" in that I try to show organizations, not just mine, the importance of project management. I do that by addressing senior managers and executives, because from my experience, people in lower hierarchical levels have already embraced the importance of project management. There are a lot of courses, seminars and workshops for project management professionals, but senior managers and executives usually don't participate in them.

Vivek Prakash, PMP: Having worked with IT and non-IT companies, I have observed that a project manager's role and career are quite well defined in IT companies. However, this is not the case with manufacturing and research and development (R&D) organizations. In a broader sense, I can say a project manager's role and career are better defined in projectized organizations, but not in functional ones such as many found in pharmaceuticals, biotech and manufacturing.

The main barrier in functional organizations in defining a project manager's role is the focus on management of products and patents. Today's customer is interested in buying solutions, not just products. That means there's a growing need for people from different functions to come together to provide customized solutions in a specific timeframe. 

A project manager is required to lead such initiatives. And while it is a specialized skill, coordinating among various functions and aligning them toward a single objective is taken for granted. Employees are either not capable or interested in playing the project manager's role, as there is no formal training or career path. This is causing delays and budget overruns in projects.

Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP: I've never worked in an organization with defined project management career paths. But in my past organizations, there have been succession plan processes. For example, at a previous employer, human resources would organize meetings twice a year with organizational heads of different functions (i.e., vice presidents of finance, sales, marketing, IT, etc.). During these meetings, the definition and review of succession plans took place, as well as the identification of high-potential individuals. This has provided project professionals with the opportunity to make lateral moves to business functions or to another business unit in a similar project management role.

One of the barriers, at least in the last two years at a company I worked for, was the constant reorganizations that removed and consolidated functions. The changes demanded frequent updates to job descriptions and left no time to really align these with project and program management functions -- let alone develop career paths. The business success of the organization was on track, but project professionals could not figure out their next step in their career within the organization.

Does your organization have a project management career path? If so, what impact has it had on business success?

Posted by Voices Team on: June 28, 2013 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Bloggers Sound Off: Emerging Critical Skillsets

Categories: Talent Management

Talent management is a hot topic in organizations around the world. That's why, over the next few weeks, Voices on Project Management is bringing you a roundtable series on the subject. 

This week's discussion reflects on three critical project management skillsets -- technical project management, leadership, and strategic and business management skills -- as revealed in PMI's Pulse of the Professionâ„¢ In-Depth Report: The Competitive Advantage of Effective Talent Management

We asked them: Does your project experience support the growing importance of these skills? If not, how does it differ?

Mário Henrique Trentim, PMI-RMP, PMP: Yes, but we need balance between the three. 

I advise new professionals to focus on technical skills because that will make them valuable project professionals. Having a strong project management background enables you to aim for higher positions. 

It is also important to develop soft skills such as leadership and communication. Especially in projects, we deal and work with a lot of internal and external stakeholders.

Finally, every organization -- whether a for-profit or not-for-profit -- needs strategy and business management. And since projects drive business results, project professionals must understand business and strategic management and align projects with the organization's goals. Otherwise, we waste a lot of time, money and resources.

Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP: Yes. Organizations are looking to hire a project professional with "hybrid business-technical" experience. These types of professionals are in high demand, as organizations have had successful projects by aligning projects and strategy to achieve strategic goals and sustain a competitive advantage.

To foster individuals with this "hybrid business-technical" experience, organizations are implementing stretch assignments as part of the talent development. For example, the project manager may not have business skills, but as the project progresses, the project manager will acquire business skills through formal or on-the-job training, or through a coach or mentor. And other organizations are transferring project ownership to individuals with business acumen and mastery of soft skills. Organizations are then enrolling them in project management classes, for example.

Lynda Bourne, DPM, PMP: Technical project management skills have never been enough to run projects successfully. Leadership has always been a critical component of any successful manager's skillset. 

Strategic and business management skills are a different matter. Organizational leadership needs to ensure projects are aligned to strategic objectives. They must also ensure that the organization is capable of managing the processes around and supporting projects -- from innovation and portfolio selection to developing project career paths -- to generate value. There's an African saying: "It takes a village to raise a child." The same is true of projects: It takes a complete organization to achieve value from its projects.  

The project manager's role is to deliver the project "right," and this means being aware of wider organizational implications. However, senior management's responsibility is to make sure the right projects are being done for the right strategic reasons.

Kevin Korterud: The complexity and scale of projects today demands a balanced set of skills. To be effective, project professionals need to have a 360-degree view of the technical aspects, team leadership and business impacts of projects. 

As a foundation, a project manager must have some form of technical project management and be effective at leading. Since consumers receive some form of outcome from your project, strategic and business management skills are essential. The ability to translate project activities into business results requires an understanding of the business strategies of your sponsors and consumers.

At the end of the day, a project manager must provide direction on the technical aspects for the project team; fulfill the role of leader in the eyes of the sponsors; and keep in mind that the solutions you create for a consumer must have relevance to their business.

Vivek Prakash, PMP: I see a focus on training more for technical skills than on leadership, and very little for business management skills. Lack of business management skills makes it difficult for a project manager to align projects with organizational strategies. That means a large number of strategies are not implemented successfully. Developing strategic skills helps project managers connect business objectives with project objectives. 

I believe that leadership skills are the most important of the three. The project manager's primary role is to get the work done by the team. Often pressure techniques are used, but leadership skills help project managers play the role of facilitator and create a productive environment. 

In my opinion, interpersonal skills are even more important. They are the basis for acquiring leadership skills and help project managers get buy-in from other stakeholders. Therefore, developing interpersonal skills for project managers should be the top priority of any organization.
Posted by Voices Team on: June 14, 2013 02:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

To Learn or to Execute? That Is the Question

Categories: Talent Management

If you've ever been in a corporate training session, chances are you've noticed fellow project managers coming in late, or not at all. The excuse is often, "There is so much pressure on the project that it's very difficult to make time for training."  

In my experience, project managers who choose work over training often expect the same from team members. So when a project is running, learning all but stops. But here's a thought: Upgrading skills and project execution can -- and should -- take place in tandem.

Consider these two scenarios:

  1. Project manager focuses on execution and ignores training
  2. Project manager focuses on execution and training
In today's fast-changing world, it is necessary to continuously upgrade skills beyond what you can learn on the job to overcome future challenges. In the first scenario, the project manager consistently misses opportunities to upgrade skills. After some time, the organization finds it difficult to provide better and more challenging assignments due to lack of skills. The organization will very likely lose a frustrated project manager. In the long term, both the organization and project manager are in lose-lose situation.

In the second scenario, the project manager not only focuses on efficient execution but also prepares himself or herself and team members for current and future challenges. Due to time constraints, this is the hardest option for a project manager, but it's also the most rewarding. The key is developing a plan that combines learning and execution. 

For example, a project manager might enroll in a training session that pulls him or her away from the workplace. This forces the project manager to delegate his or her tasks to team members. In turn, that gives team members an opportunity to lead during the project manager's absence -- and experiment and learn what they will do in future. The net result is a positive cascading effect that upgrades the skills of everyone on the project.

Here is a simple plan to get you started:

  1. Evaluate your team members' roles and responsibilities -- yours included -- six months or one year down the line.
  2. Identify the skills that are required to perform those roles and responsibilities. 
  3. Map the existing skills and identify the gaps for everyone on the team. 
  4. Prepare a training plan for each member. 
  5. Build a main training schedule that addresses individual absences as team members complete their training. This schedule should plug in the skills gaps left by the absent team member.
With a firm training schedule, you and your team members can feel at ease to attend trainings. And since training sessions directly enhance skills for all roles, everyone can feed their newfound knowledge into the project.

Do you prioritize training over execution, or vice versa? How are you ensuring you advance your skills in the face of project work? 

Learn more about how organizations can recruit, train and retain talent in "Mind the Gap," a PM Network® online exclusive.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: April 19, 2013 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Smart Organizations Sync Talent With Strategy

For all the talk of an economic recovery, many organizations continue to obsess over headcount. But a smaller (and smarter) group is focusing on getting the right people on the right projects -- positioning those people and the organization itself to grow. 

The payoff can be huge, according to PMI's Pulse of the Professionâ„¢ In-Depth Report: Talent Management. On average, 72 percent of projects meet their original goals and business intent at organizations with significant or good alignment between their talent management and organizational strategies. Now put that up against the 58 percent rate at organizations with moderate or weak alignment. 

Despite the potential ROI, only 10 percent of organizations report significant alignment. That stat takes on added significance when you consider what's shaping up as a true talent crisis. 

Pulse data revealed four in five organizations report difficulty in finding qualified project management candidates to fill open positions. Some organizations are resorting to some serious poaching -- check the battle for project talent between Silicon Valley tech titans Apple, Google, Yahoo! and Facebook. China Road and Bridge Corporation is adopting a more long-term approach, according to China Daily. Looking to build talent in a strategic market for its projects, the company is sponsoring a group of Congolese students to study engineering and project management in Xi'an, China. 

In this case, organizations that align talent management and strategy have an edge, reporting less difficulty in filling open positions. 

Organizations that align talent management to organizational strategy are also more effective at implementing formalized career paths, with 83 percent moving new hires to advanced project management positions. Among organizations with weak alignment, that number drops to 62 percent. 

The MD Anderson Cancer Center, for example, clearly outlines the path up. It requires 10 years of experience (including five years of project management) and a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential for senior project managers who manage highly complex strategic projects that span three or more organizational boundaries. Establishing a career path not only makes employees feel like the organization has a vested interest in them, it also helps the organization spot -- and close -- any skills gaps that might prevent it from delivering on its business goals.

Recruiting and retaining top talent will only get organizations so far. They need to measure results, too. Across the board, organizations with strong alignment are more likely to measure outcomes such as staff turnover, learning development, and employee engagement, retention and productivity. 

U.S. space agency NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), for example, tracks the effectiveness of its professional development courses by assessing enrollment numbers and feedback from senior leadership. Armed with that information, the PMI Global Executive Council member knows what's working -- and what's not. 

No doubt, creating a talent management program comes with a hefty price tag. But consider the danger of skimping: On a US$1 billion project, organizations with significant or good alignment of talent management programs to organizational strategy put US$50 million fewer dollars at risk than organizations with moderate or weak alignment.  

With those kinds of numbers on the line, the bigger question is: Can an organization afford not to make the investment? 

Posted by cyndee miller on: April 08, 2013 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The power of accurate observation is often called cynicism by those who don't have it."

- George Bernard Shaw