For many years Project Managers learned their trade by experience, typically an Engineer would be promoted to the role of Project Manager and if they succeeded in delivering their first project they would be rewarded with larger more challenging projects (almost until they failed). Organisations, however, found this ‘learning by experience’ approach very expensive, because mistakes made early in a project (such as poor definition of scope or failure to understand risks) can have dramatic consequences during implementation. Since the 1990’s project management has become more recognised as a profession, with widely recognised bodies of knowledge (APM, PMI & Prince 2 methodology) and associated training and certification. An understanding of these frameworks provides organisations and individuals with a structured process for the planning and execution of projects and organisations. Project Management Training has made it their business to provide class room training to teach these methods and support individuals often linked to certification. However organisations and individuals still find the ability to delivery projects successfully challenging.
The aim of this paper is to look beyond training and to the implementation of a learning culture within a world class project delivery organisation.
Training is defined by the CIPD as ‘an instructor-led and content based intervention leading to a change in behaviour’; it often involves time away from the work place in a classroom or equivalent. In many organisations this is the primary form of development for employees.
Learning is defined as ‘a self directed, work based process leading to an increased adaptive capacity’, it involves equipping individuals with the ability to ‘learn to learn’ and possess the capabilities that employers need to build and sustain a competitive advantage. In a learning culture, individuals actively seek to acquire the knowledge and skills required to deliver the organisations objectives. Most individuals learn best from experience and this learning can be triggered by a wide variety of learning interventions which are integrated within the normal workplace. Along with knowledge management, ‘learning’ most definitely holds its place in supporting the longer term development of Project Delivery competence.
Training Companies could develop a wide range of learning interventions, including:
The individuals identify a particular project problem, for which they take ownership and define the steps required to resolve it. Colleagues work in learning sets (or groups) to provide support and to challenge each others approach. This provides significant benefit in identifying and addressing specific weakness within the organisation. It can free up inflexible thinking and generate radical solutions. However, clear sponsorship is needed from within the organisations and the solutions can be threatening if radical solutions emerge. Project Management Training Companies can offer support for the facilitation and formation of learning sets within an organisation, providing advice and steering in order to ensure the group maintains momentum.
It is becoming increasingly more recognised that individuals learn best in small chunks of two to three hours, (school lessons have always been 30-45 minutes). Blended learning, which usually includes e-learning, enables individuals to access information in smaller chunks. Training Companies is proactively evaluating the development and deployment of both generic and bespoke e-learning solutions.
Mentoring and Coaching
Coaching is a one-to-one method of enhancing performance and skills. Coaching is usually organised as a number of short one-to-one sessions over a period of several months, in which individuals are paired with an appropriate coach. Training Companies’s coaching model is a four step process including 1) Setting goals based on reality, 2) evaluating options for development, 3) committing to action and 4) reviewing outcomes. Project Management Training Companies have pilot one-to-one coaching programmes running within Transport for London. We need to evaluate the benefits of these programmes and potential market.
CPD – Continuing Professional Development
Continuing Professional Development supports the ongoing education of project managers ensuring individuals remain up to date. Within the project management community, the APM and other bodies arrange regular CPD events aimed at enhancing an individual’s knowledge usually focussed towards specific knowledge areas (such as Risk, Managing Project Teams etc). Training Companies arranges their own industry specific, regular PM seminars delivered by Guest Speakers and Training Companies’s own consultants. These events generally last for half a day and encourage individuals to share ideas and discuss issues within their own industry.
Within an organisation PM forums can provide a powerful way of debating and discussing issues relevant to the PM community. This can range in duration from 1 hour (‘break and learn’ lunchtime sessions to half day events. Highly bespoke forums can form ‘surgeries’ providing a safe environment for Project Managers to discuss issues.
Development (or assessment) Centres
In a development centre, individuals take part in a number of job simulations and tests observed by Consultant assessors who evaluate their performance against pre-defined criteria. The APM Practitioner Qualification is one form of assessment centre offered by Training Companies, however the feedback is based on the APM BOK and can be limited and indirect.
Some clients prefer bespoke development centres/job simulation events which focus on the key behaviours important to their own organisation, often involving senior managers from within the organisation as the observers and/or contributors. Training Companies can work with partners who have significant experience developing and delivering management development centres and these will have a pivotal role in any ‘learning’ solution.
Knowledge management systems encourage individuals to store, retrieve and make available information which supports the successful delivery of projects. Systems can range from template documents, lessons learned and discussion on key topics, access to key Project Management portals, websites and on-line forums. Project Management Training Companies does not currently support knowledge management systems but is investigating systems to support an alumni community which would have access to such a shared resource.
Class room based project management training is a significant improvement to ‘learning on the job’, providing individuals and organisations with a structured approach to project management. Looking to the future, successful project delivery will require individuals to take the learning out of the class room and apply it back in the day job. In this paper we have identified a number of learning interventions that support the shift from training to learning. Several of these will require significant development effort both in terms of approach and infrastructure. Project Management Training Companies need to seek a client partner to work on these assessing the feasibility of these approaches and define the scope of any Training Companies.