PROJECT MANAGEMENT TRAINING FOR A NEW AGE

In my last post I talked about how the job of project management has evolved into one that requires project managers to use their influencing and persuasion skills to obtain resources for their projects. And with this change comes a requirement for training to provide managers with those additional skills.

When I think about this problem I visualise two different kinds of project managers: a campaign project manager and an administrative project manager. And when I visualise the battle for resources I think of it as being like a political campaign, where the campaign project manager is like the sponsor’s chief of staff, ensuring the sponsor achieves their goal – in our case, rather than an election victory, that goal would be the acquisition of resources for a successful project. And the administrative project manager is the person who keeps score – who runs the charts, musters the resources and measures the project’s progress. The only problem I see with this way of thinking is that the administrative project manager – despite their job being as critical as any other – may resent the title “administrator” being attached to them.

Up until now it has been adequate to teach administrative project management and assess managers’ competence using paper evidence, without the project manager being exposed to actual project management scenarios. This needs to change. The demands on project managers today require a higher order of skills than those taught for administrative project management. Project management is one of the few professional disciplines that needs to weave through the organisation and develop its own connections and leverage points. A period of internship – of professional placement alongside an experienced campaign project manager – would allow new project managers to experience a variety of working cultures and practice the soft skills required to function effectively in the role. We can look to law, medicine, accounting, engineering and architecture for models of how to achieve this.

Administrative project managers and campaign project managers are not usually the same types of people. People traditionally attracted to project management have been detail orientated with a high regard for process, administration and order. They typically reject ambiguity and try to produce plans with little need for change throughout the project. These skills and attitudes are excellent when focussed on following the project and keeping the records straight but not useful in front-line negotiation roles.

For campaign project management we need to attract and recruit people who are willing – and able – to live with ambiguity, invest time in developing relationships and communicate in a way that inspires credibility. They need to become ambassadors for the sponsor and gain the trust and cooperation of both resources and the people to whom those resources report. These tasks are difficult but they are needed, and success brings real opportunity. At the moment, these types of people end-up on a path towards senior management, entrepreneurship, or frustration in roles to which they are unsuited. We have the opportunity to open a new career path for these types of people and support it with appropriate training and education.

As the pace of change within organisations accelerates the discipline of project management needs to adapt to keep pace. As influential practitioners in our field we need to acknowledge the changing face of projects and create demand for, provide resources to and participate in, teaching new skill sets to our peers, and those who will come after us. So I put the challenge out there to educators to recognise this need and address it.