Learning pm is an organisational journey not a credential

by Simon Harris, CEO of Logical Model / 4/11/2018 3:09:21 PM

Organisations in all sectors are increasingly touched by external change. Ever greater integration intensifies the threats poor responses cause while also opening great opportunity for those who respond well to change.

It is the integration that is driving challenges to project success. The response should be to integrate the education of the organisation.

Individual Credentials might be necessary, but they are Insufficient

When project management capability development is addressed simply by a qualification in burn-charts or earned value that is studied by individuals we are not developing the skills to coordinate across the hierarchy of lead, manage, develop and operate.

To thrive (or sometimes just survive) requires capability to respond to irresistible external forces with organisational change competencies from a broad range of organisational role holders.

The traditional project manager’s remit, ‘deliver an output’, falls short of enabling a flow of benefits The likelihood of benefits reduces even more when we are faced with overlapping changes permeating the fabric of the whole organisation.

The significance of this capability gap is growing.

An Organisation’s Journey

Last year I was approached by a global engineering company who had concluded that the answer was not ‘better project managers’ but couldn’t quite express what they needed. What they wanted was better response to the pressures of change.

Enabling organisations to respond well to change requires a skill set that follows on from project management competencies – it is not just ‘the same but better’. What they now develop are Transformation Leaders (TLs). People whose competencies start earlier, end later and reach out more widely than a project manager’s.

Mobilizing The Culture of the Organisation

Management thinker Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Our TLs address the culture and facilitate for others to be successful by involving a wide personal network. Success relies more on sociology than scheduling and needs leadership added to the pursuit of ‘better’ management.

There are definitions of program manager that fit but often the program manager’s role description is also short of what they were trying to reach. The aim was beyond ‘collection of projects’ and into routine future ‘how we do business’ is a stable new normal.

Developing A Capability in the Organisation

Initial discussions from that commission made several points clear early on.

►It isn’t realistic or meaningful to train the whole organisation in project management but we need non-pms to be following good pm practices during times of change,

►the role models in the company who succeeded where those with wide networks so competency development must facilitate network building*,

►our candidates were such that we were unlikely to teach them much in a classroom, and to emphasise that point

►their strengths, skills, interests and future skill development needs where all personal and different

►they had a breadth and depth of experience and skills between them that it was desirable to share,

►their development needs would be best served if met on- or near-the-day-job and collaboratively.

*the interested reader should search variously for Structural Holes, Boundary Spanners and Weak-Ties” in the academic literature.

We set up a development path using the well known 70-20-10 approach that aims 70% of development to occur from work experience, 20% from relationship and 10% external guidance. It might be fair to say our ratios were designed to be more 50-45-5.

The Steps Were

  1. Set-up the program – For this I built a procedural framework with steps, criteria, roles, timescales etc defined.

An illustrative framework is at https://www.logicalmodel.net/competencytool but it needs the video guidance identified below to introduce it.

In addition we had to engage and brief three key stakeholder groups: Senior leaders, Candidates line managers and mentors/ coaches. Effective engagement was a leaning point – see below.

  1. Recruit candidates via a Readiness Self-assessment, As-Is/ To-Be Skills Profile, Current/ Future Assignments Profile and Manager/ Referee’s Assessment and recommendation to a selection panel.

The competency framework links to the assessment spreadsheets I created

  1. Candidates from around the world and other relevant participants got together for a three day orientation and team forming session.
  2. Candidates, coaches and mentors progressed a Sand-Boxed near-the-job simulation over a number of weeks – the purpose being to cross pollinate their own skills to each other. Each candidate’s ‘take-aways’ reflected their as-is and to-be skills profile while their contributions varied by the needs of colleagues and the contributor’s interests.
  3. Candidates (with their mentors) also progress their own specific Self-Directed Learning
  4. Candidates recorded their journey as Learning from Experience reflections that were shared, reviewed and scored by their peer group. These LfE reflections were also shared via the PMOs for ‘Giving back’ contributions to the wider project community. Scoring criteria are in the competency tool.
  5. When candidates had amassed sufficient LfE scores and their revised As Is development profile met their future work assignment needs then they applied to graduate from the development program.

A committee-based Assessment Authority of senior management reviewed graduation readiness via a presentation from students of their contributions to the simulation, future work profile and revised current capabilities.

Graduation was a formally recognised celebration but not the end of the development path.

  1. Candidates follow On-Going Continuous Learning
  2. New groups of candidates start at 2 above on a roughly 6 monthly basis.

Organisational Journey

A key purpose of the simulation activities was to build a peer support community that outlives the development program’s duration. The community created is both cross-functional and cross-hierarchy and remains in place to help participants reach out when taking responsibility to deliver a response to the adaptive pressures affecting the organisation.

The simulation posed a realistic and relevant business transformation challenge that the candidates pursued as a group and took through the gates of the organisations standard governance process. There were two anticipated side-effects from this:

► One the process was challenged and improved as a result and

► Two The candidate’s simulation activities were supported by access to senior leaders and that participation helped develop those leader’s project governance decision making skill – a virtuous side effect.

A Caveat and Something Than Expected

Improving organisational ability to respond to change is quiet a challenge. Unsurprisingly the nature of a solution equal to the challenge means the approach has quiet a few components and participants. Briefing everyone was hard enough that we had to create a number of video components to enable a virtual road-show to bring people up to speed on how to support and participate in the program

Creating an assessment tool proved fairly easy after surveying the common ones such as those from GAPPS, IAPM, PMI and others. Consistency of assessment of and by candidates was pretty variable though! Even after we provided scales aimed at establishing benchmark descriptions.

Context, Conduct and Commitment

The program needs enough candidates in each cohort for  at least two competing teams can be formed to act as project team and steering committee for each other. The teams thus provide challenge throughout the simulation’s governance cycle and experience being on both sides of the governance processes.

The organisation’s commitment in terms of staff-effort approximates to 20 days per candidate over 4 to 12 months to participate in the assessments, orientation and simulation plus another 20 hours or so as simulation gate-review participants.

Candidate’s mentors and coaches need sufficient time to be responsive. Its typically several hours per candidate in the early weeks and at least 40 hours over the whole period if participating in the simulation as a steering committee member. Program coordination also took an overall development program owner from the L&D community. The effort required ran in peaks and troughs depending on the stage of the candidate’s journeys.

Recouping the investment was easily axpressed as a percentage of the portfolio budget. Costs, including staff time invested in the program suggest if you have a project portfolio of a mere £1/2m across 6 people then an 8% improvement would repay costs. While a £6m total portfolio repays developing 15 people after just a 1% improvement!

You can model the cost profile yourself with the spreadsheet >>>here<<<.