How can you best develop, mentor and support new project managers in your organisation?
One of the key challenges many organisations face is developing in-house project delivery capability whilst continuing to maintain a successful operation.
New project managers pose a quandary: at some point a new project manager must be developed and brought up through the ranks yet few sponsors want a ‘developing’ project manager in charge of delivering their projects.
Whilst most sponsors want an experienced project manager on their project, businesses who take the time to develop, mentor and support new project managers running their first projects can actually yield a substantial benefit to future successes during in-house project delivery.
So how can your organisation get better at developing and mentoring great internal PMs?
Be Very Strict on the Fundamentals
The core fundamentals of project management are critical for a new project manager to get right, starting at a project’s inception and sustained throughout the duration of the project.
Being disciplined with core fundamentals has a twofold effect: it instills good habits that hold a project manager in good stead for the future and, more importantly, serve to build confidence within the wider stakeholder group that the project is well managed.
For example, project deliverables that should be followed to the letter include:
- Crisp, on-time reporting across all project KPIs (scope, financials, risks etc)
- Detailed schedules that are regularly updated
- Key project meetings held regularly
- Timely production of minutes
- Strict change control processes for scope changes
Experienced project managers can and do look to cut corners with project fundamentals depending on the environment and the project challenges they face. Not every project is a paint-by-numbers exercise and with a risk-based assessment approach, experienced project managers can find time and cost savings during delivery. A typical example may be discontinuing a project forum that is not adding value or scaling back certain reporting requirements for example.
Picking and choosing which project fundamentals can be scaled back is not a luxury an inexperienced project manager can enjoy. They should – at all times – be adhering to the key project fundamentals and executing them diligently.
You Can Delay – but Not Avoid – the Fiery Furnace
Interestingly the most recent update to PMBOK (5th edition) has finally included Stakeholder Management as a stand-alone core competency of project management. It could be argued that stakeholder management is at the heart of good project management – get it wrong and all the fundamentals in the world will not save the project manager.
We believe the elevation of Stakeholder Management to a core competency of PMBOK is long overdue and recognises successfully managing projects is not just about following processes but also managing people, some difficult and often much more senior than the project manager.
Whilst the PMBOK guide and other relevant project literature can help prepare a new project manager to become a successful stakeholder manager, it cannot replace real-life experience. To gain experience in stakeholder management the best way is to be thrown into difficult and challenging situations.
New project managers should be encouraged to attend not avoid difficult stakeholder forums, meet the challenges of dissatisfied stakeholders head on and take some knocks along the way. It is this scar tissue that built up over time (known as ‘experience’!) that is essential to the development of a project manager.
Keeping a new project manager out of the firing line may make tactical sense for the current project but it will hinder rather than help their longer-term development.
Give them some of the ‘A’ team
Projects cannot be delivered successfully without good people on the team. A new project manager may not have the experience to discern who on their team is pulling hard in their direction or is perhaps disengaged or lacking core skills. It is therefore critical to make sure new project managers have good, experienced people within some of the key project roles to support them.
This may be a challenge for the PMO, as typically inexperienced project managers are not given the high profile or risky projects and thus miss out on having access to the best delivery personnel.
But if the aim is to nurture and develop a new project manager then thought must be given to surrounding them with a few excellent operators, who will not only help show what good delivery is but can also be used in a mentoring capacity as well.
A Longer-Term View of Project Management Capability
The payoff of to future successful project delivery can be substantial to an organisation if they can mentor and develop project capability in-house. Like any competency project managers need time and support to develop their skills when entering the profession.
Whilst not exhaustive hopefully the above list provides a few practical pointers to organisations when considering how best to mentor and develop new project managers internally.
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