Martin P Wilson


Ideas, Innovation, Inspiration, Insight, IT

Facilitation and Mentoring for Success.

HE04006 Old Sheep ClippersWhatever the tool good craftsmen achieve much more with them than the average user. They demonstrate a facility with the tool of which most users can only dream. The same is true of project managers and their use of project tools provided by methodologies such as PRINCE 2.

All too often organisations train staff in the use of PRINCE or other methodologies and expect them to be equipped to run projects. Often such people have never worked on a project prior to such training and as a result do not really understand what is involved. I faced such a situation when I took over a major government change programme.

I inherited more than a dozen “project managers” each with responsibility for major workstreams within the programme. During initial discussions with each individual it was clear that they had no idea how to plan or scope a project. They all had PRINCE certificates so were aware of the documents required by the methodology but with no appreciation how to create or use them as a project manager. In reality they were senior subject matter experts (SME) seconded from the frontline service. In methodology terms they were equipped to be senior user on a project board rather than the project manager.

They had, very unfairly, been put in an impossible situation so before I could get on with managing the programme I had to grow them from a low level of project management skills. I really needed to get to grips with a critical £100+ million programme that was already behind schedule. Before I could, I had to create a serious of project management training workshops to give my team some skills and knowledge of basic project management. I had to cover such things as basic project planning, work breakdown, budgeting and such matters as dependencies, risk identification and mitigation, and project software. All this had to happen even before I was able to explain how to control a project once it was up and running.

The lesson is that staff who are to manage a project for the first time need more than simply training in a methodology such as PRINCE. Before that training they should have some experience of projects, perhaps in the case of my “project managers” they should have spent time on a project as a subject matter expert, and thereby developed some feeling for the dynamics and characteristics of projects. This would then have allowed them to put the methodology into a real world context. Instead it was just a strange bureaucratic process they believed to be “project management”.

This is particularly important in the current climate where people have to take on roles for which they have had no experience or even exposure. When adopting the approach described in Austerity as Opportunity the development and support of the individuals has to be tailored to their particular needs. It also stresses the value of providing them, and their managers, with an experienced and capable mentor to act as sounding board and guide. It should be someone who can also provide oversight to pick up issues; experience, which such teams lack, is the key to spotting problems early before they cause major difficulties.

The important message is that methodology should be layered on basic project management expertise; not the other way round. Methodology makes no sense without understanding projects.

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