Viewing Posts by Dan Furlong
Who's in Your Bullpen?
Recently I had the privilege of working with staff from my local county government as part of a two year training program they host for “emerging leaders.” Over the first year their emerging leaders attend half-day sessions on various leadership topics, and my workshop was the last in the series. Then, during their second year of the program they are assigned liaisons as they break into teams and run county-wide projects while continuing to meet together monthly to compare notes, share lessons learned, and grow as a leadership team. Each team member is assigned work in areas outside of their current work area in order to further develop their knowledge of the county and how they conduct their business.
Coming from a healthcare background, I compare it to a fellowship program where administrators and physicians serve in various areas of the hospital for a year to help guide them toward the area where they are best suited.
I asked one of the program leaders what led to this initiative, and he reported that a sharp analyst discovered that over 30% of the county’s current leadership is eligible to retire today. That is nearly 1/3 of their leaders! Fortunately for them (and us, as county residents), our county council agreed to support a program whereby current county employees, who have shown a propensity toward leadership, would be trained, mentored, and groomed for future leadership positions within the county.
Our county is developing a bullpen…leaders who, when the time comes, can step up to the mound and assume control of the game.
We have a similar approach at my employer, although it is not purely a leadership program as much as it is a staff development program. Over the past year our leadership in IS (IT, analytics, and informatics) has observed that we have a vast pool of highly skilled workers that we are overlooking – our interns and administrative fellows. We have interns in our department every year, but we have never been allowed to invest in training for them. Once they graduate, our assumption is that they will leave our department and find full time jobs. Although several of my interns have been hired by our department, it was not due to any structured approach to helping them find a fit but rather that they just liked what they were doing as an intern. I have been lucky, as one third of my PMO staff are former students who served as interns with me prior to graduation.
But, we can’t just depend on luck! So, we are now developing a more formal internship program within our department, investing training time and dollars in their development, encouraging them to work in multiple areas over their internship with us, with the goal that a higher percentage of them will want to continue working with us after graduation. And not because of dumb luck, but because they have had a chance to experience real work and grow as employees through training and experience we offered.
Part of this program will include administrative fellows, those masters’ prepared students who work in our operations areas of the hospital for a year before deciding on their chosen career path. This year the organization offered them a two-day course in the fundamentals of project management, and they are scheduled to attend a follow-up two-day course that will give them hands on experience using such basic tools and techniques as multi-voting, conducting a lessons learned, performing a risk assessment, and developing a WBS. After that, they will be working on projects with the PMO where they will be able to experience the benefits of managing a project using the many tools and techniques that we find valuable.
We are building a bullpen for our PMO…staff who can step into a job upon graduation that they know they will like (because they have tried it out), and that they can do (because they have done it), and are ready to be successful (because we have trained them and they now have experience), and, of course, to make our PMO be successful.
Do you have a development program to ensure a continuity of talent for your leaders, for your project managers?
So, I ask you again, Who’s in Your Bullpen?
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I Couldn’t Care Less…
…about understanding specific requirements and success criteria
…about collaboration and cooperation
…about the integration of systems, processes, and data
…about learning new ways to improve my work
…about allowing changes to the project
…about communicating with others on a daily basis
…about teaching others ways to improve their work
Too frequently I hear statements such as, “Managing projects is easy” or, “The PM can take the minutes. Isn’t that why they are here?”
These statements typically precede the speaker’s next statement, where they decide that one of their analysts, database administrators, field engineers, or assistants should be assigned as the project manager for their mission-critical project.
How do you overcome these types of stereotypes about project managers and as importantly, our chosen field of expertise?
There is never a silver bullet to overcome stereotypes, regardless of the target of the bias, but you can whittle away at it by patiently educating our leaders and staff about the value that project managers bring to the organization. This can be accomplished through several methods, including (but not limited to) following our own processes, demonstrating that you really do care (through our actions) about the elements listed at the start of this post, and by coaching the accidental project managers to improve their project outcomes.
Following Your Own Processes
It is critical that as the figurehead, spokesperson, or evangelist for project management within your organization that you actually follow the practices, processes, and workflows that you define for others. Whether you are the PMO or a staff project manager, you should always be considering what impact you and your actions will have on project management, as a discipline, at your organization.
It is difficult to “sell” the value you bring to the organization if you simply run projects using the same half-hazard techniques as those without training or experience. Following your processes should also improve project success rates, but if they do not then you need to review if your tools and processes are actually improving the project outcomes overall. If not, do not be stubborn about finding ways to improve upon them, even if the advice or suggestion is coming from those with less experience.
Demonstrate the Value of …
…understanding specific requirements and the project’s success criteria
…high levels of collaboration and cooperation
…integration of systems, processes, and data
…learning new ways to improve my work
…managing changes to the project
…communicating with others on a daily basis
…teaching others ways to improve their work, and
Of course, you must demonstrate how focusing on the above can improve the success of your projects. For example, even the executive sponsor will appreciate that any changes that they suggest must follow a defined change approval process when you show them the value this control will bring. Note that you must be careful that the change control process does not take more time than the change itself would have required to implement. This does not mean you skip the process in these cases, but it does mean that your process should be efficient, adaptable, and tailored to the type/size of change being requested. In all cases the change process must include an analysis of the impact the change will have on resources, scope/requirements, risk, schedules, budgets, and staffing, otherwise it will be no different from someone winging the change.
You must be sure that while proving value of the above elements that you are actually adding value by doing them. Frequently we apply a technique, follow a process, or fill out a form because it is part of our process. We need to be more adaptable if we are to survive as a profession, and improve our processes when they no longer can prove value.
Coaching the Accidental Project Manager
Frequently when we are told that a non-PM will be assigned as project manager we get a bit defensive. Our first response may be to walk away and hope that they fail, if for no other reason than to prove our value to the organization. However, a better approach may be to offer to coach and mentor that newly assigned non-PM so that they can be successful.
Aside from protecting the assets of the organization (part of your job!), you are earning the trust of that new non-PM and perhaps building another advocate for the value of project management. Even if the mentee does not become that advocate that you hope for, you are growing the profession by spreading knowledge. This will also help you grow as a professional, and help you determine where there is fat in the process as helping others follow a process they are not familiar with will invoke questions about the value of certain steps.
Come See Us at the 2017 PMI Global Congress
Have questions about a practice, technique, tool, or process that you want to ask?
Want to share a story or some great tips with us that you have learned?
Please come visit us at the upcoming Congress, where you can schedule 1:1 sessions with a variety of subject matter experts in a variety of areas of Project Management. You can schedule as many meetings as you wish with our Group of Nine! To see more information, please visit https://www.pmi.org/global-conference/career-series
Although we recommend scheduling a time slot, you are also free to just drop by and chat! I look forward to meeting you!
You can find me in our booth during the following times:
Saturday, October 28: 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Sunday, October 29: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Sunday, October 29: 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Monday, October 30: 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
In late October 2014 many of us will be gathering in Phoenix for the PMI Global Congress 2014 - North America.
And I can't wait to get there! Hey! Why should I have to wait? Why can’t we have the Congress tomorrow?
Like all good things, this Congress will come in time! And, it is the "wait" that makes it worthwhile.
It is during the "wait" that speakers are lined up, topics chosen, and events planned.
It is during the "wait" that lecture content is developed, and powerpoints created.
It is during the "wait" that presentations are rehearsed, and delivery skills polished.
It is during the "wait" that white papers, the intellectual property that propels our profession to new highs, are written and published.
And so it is with any project that we are asked to tackle. We are always excited (ok, maybe not always) to be given a new challenge, and naturally we immediately want to jump in, dig around, pull together a team, and start the project.
But is this the best approach? Shouldn’t we “WAIT” to ensure that the team is really ready to begin the project?
I would suggest that we have done a good job, as a profession, in slowing down enough to do more planning before we jump into the work itself. However, there is still something missing before we even start the planning, which has the potential to greatly improve upon our planning and execution efforts.
If you study the PMI Project Management Framework there is a process buried under the Executing Process Group – Develop Project Team – that is often incorrectly considered something we do later in the project due to its placement on the framework. Yes, I know that physical placement on the framework has nothing to do with practice, but it is just hard to think of a process that sits smack dab in the middle of the framework to be something you must do from day one!
But it IS something that must begin doing on day one.
The best time to train your team is at the start. As Maria from the Sound of Music would say, “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Why? Because you need the team to move from forming to storming to norming to performing as quickly as possible, and the earlier you begin the journey the more quickly they will become that rock-star-team you always dreamt about.
Surely we can all agree that there is value in building your team before they are expected to perform as a team. And, that there is value in training your team before they are expected to use their new skills. And, that there is value in having your team know, and understand, the project management tools, techniques, and processes before they are expected to use and follow them.
But every project is unique, as is every project team, and therefore they require tailored training based upon the experience, diversity, knowledge, aptitude, and attitude that the members bring to the group. But it is possible to develop one training program that can be used across multiple situations, and it is plausible that this program can deliver 80 to 100% of the training required for any given project team – with the remaining training needs being fulfilled from a toolbox of “session plug-ins” as needed.
How would you design such a training program? What should it include, how long should it last, how much detail should it attempt to deliver, and in what format should it be delivered? Does the team really need to understand the tools and techniques you will use or is it simply enough that the project manager does?
My advice is that the next time you are ready to jump in and start the work (even if it is just planning), remember to STOP! WAIT! TRAIN!
And then be rewarded with a stronger team!
[Bookmark this page as over the coming weeks we will discuss potential answers to the above questions, and, include examples of successes and failures regarding pre-project kickoff training. In the meantime, I would be interested in knowing your thoughts about this concept, as well as your experience in this area, so that your ideas can be incorporated into future postings here.