The second step is to identify the root cause of these symptoms. Projects often run into difficulties because of unclear scope and objectives, lack of business focus, poor estimation, inadequate risk management, and lack of engagement from key players, including the project sponsor and senior decision-makers. Tellingly, the report The High Cost of Low Performance shows that despite it being a top driver of project success, fewer than two in three projects have actively engaged sponsors! Research also shows that over 80% of high performing organizations believe that the most important skill for project managers to manage complex projects is leadership. Mastering project management processes is necessary but insufficient when it comes to delivering successful projects.
How do these findings stack up against your own experiences? Are the project management issues in your organisation related to lack of tools, techniques and processes or are they concerned with poor leadership (by either the project manager or sponsor) and an insufficient ability to influence and engage the stakeholders and the team?
Depending on your assessment of the situation you will need to invest in a programme that addresses several of the above aspects. Traditional classroom training is a good way to train people in conventional project management disciplines such as planning, estimation and risk management, but less efficient when it comes to people skills and leadership. If a project manager is to become better at leading people, overcoming resistance to change, motivating the team and influencing senior stakeholders there is a need to work with deeply rooted behaviours. This is best done with small action-learning groups and one-to-one coaching sessions that allow the underlying attitudes and behaviours to surface.
In addition, your organisation may need to train their senior managers, as project sponsors need to understand the importance of their roles and what good sponsorship looks like. If the sponsors aren’t investing sufficient time in the projects they are accountable for it will have a direct and negative effect on the outcomes.
I suggest that you develop a programme for your project managers and sponsors that contain the following elements:
Classroom training to improve your project managers’ competence around defining, scoping, planning, estimating, tracking and managing risks of projects. Go into as much depth as required, but remember that the techniques must be practical and user friendly if you want people to adopt them.
Small group and one-to-one coaching to improve your project managers’ people skills and leadership behaviours. These sessions should be run by a trained coach and typically last for 60-90 minutes to allow for sufficient depth. It would be ideal to offer a monthly session to each project manager over a six to twelve months period.
Sponsor workshop to improve senior management’s understanding of what it means to be a sponsor and how they can best contribute to successful project delivery. Keep the workshop short (e.g. 3-4 hours) and focused on the specific behaviours and responsibilities of the executive sponsor’s role.
On-going mentoring for continued development and support from inside the organisation. Pair your project managers up with more senior managers from other departments and encourage them to meet on a monthly basis to learn from their mentors.
When you implement the pillars of this powerful development programme, you will find that your project manager’s abilities to lead successful projects increase – not least with the support and buy-in from senior decision-makers.
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