This startup can grow metal like a tree, and it’s about to hit the big time

Paul Ritchie:

Cool beyond words!

Originally posted on Fortune:

A Seattle startup has found a way to grow high performance metals in a cheap and energy efficient way, marking an important breakthrough for industries like construction, automotive, and oil and gas.

You can already find some of the metals from seven-year-old company Modumetal on oil rigs off of the Australian and African coasts, as well as the U.S., off of Texas. Those metals can withstand the ocean’s corrosive power for up to eight times longer than conventional materials, according to the company.

On Tuesday, Modumetal took a big step towards its goal of gaining a bigger market for its innovative recipe. The company said that it had raised $33.5 million in funding that will go to increasing production and sales along with developing new uses for its metals.

The funding was led by the Founders Fund, the firm co-created by Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel that has previously invested…

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Winning with Talent Management: Three Real-Life Examples

The wrong person in the wrong role costs real money.  Studies suggest bad hires cost 250% of the role’s salary. In other words, a bad $100K hire will cost you $250K! And when it comes to  the cost of a bad project manager, look at it this way: , what was the size of your last failed project: $1 million, $10 million, $100 million?

You win the talent game with the best talent. But how do you identify “best”? PM College has a tried-and-tested Competency Assessment Program that helps you find and develop the best project managers. Three of our leading clients are using it to get a competitive edge:

“We want to offer learning and development that our talent really needs.” Talent development and training are two critical drivers of job satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement.  These are the sweet spots for our assessments: to develop and sustain superior project management performance.

PMO leaders at a long-time client need to target their training, thereby eliminating unnecessary training programs. The PM College assessment program will do this, ensuring more return from their learning investments. They also want the assessment to  not only discover project managers with the most potential, but also to inform job assignment and development opportunities.

“We need to make sure that new hires can deliver our projects.” Bad hiring decisions drive eighty percent of employee turnover. Another PM College client requires absolute on-time delivery for every project: a hour late is a crisis; a day late can be a national disaster.  Their project managers need to be the best of the best … from Day One. Catching a single bad hire before the offer letter will provide a huge and immediate payoff.

We are working with this client to develop a profile of the ideal candidate, based upon assessments of their current staff. PM College will also use this profile to develop a set of interview guidelines to evaluate candidates on the most critical personality and knowledge topics, in order to target development plans for current project managers.

“We work in an emerging, fast-growing industry.” Organizational agility defines today’s most admired and innovative project-driven organizations. We are working with a global client to extend our standard assessment to cover two additional competency areas: industry and organizational knowledge. Just as PM College can deliver custom learning, we can also create custom assessment packages at a great value. This client will use the results to verify that its current – and future – project managers can keep up with its explosive growth and unique culture.

Are you ready to find, develop, and hire better project talent? Contact PM College now

What Specific Training Do You Suggest for Increasing Leadership Skills?

NOTE: I’m cross posting a PM College blog piece from Debbie Crawford from our recent webinar on the PM Skills Benchmark. –

What specific training efforts do you suggest for increasing leadership skills?

This is a great question, but one that does not have a “one size fits all” response. The first thing you need to do is decide what leadership looks like in your organization.

“Leadership” is one of those concepts that is extremely variable from organization to organization. In some contexts, it can mean showing bold, entrepreneurial behaviors; in others, knowing how to create a warm, supportive teaming environment. Still other companies simply need leaders to somewhat sternly ensure compliance with processes—for example, in situations where safety comes first. Defining what leadership means in the context of your organization is a critical first step in improving competency in this area.

What would such a definition look like? It needs to be precise. We think of leadership, like any other competency area, as being made up of three domains: knowledge, personal attributes, and demonstrated behaviors. So to define it, ask:

  • What knowledge do our leaders need to possess?
  • What personal attributes will help them succeed in the role?
  • What specific behaviors can we look for to determine if and when an individual is showing leadership?

Once you have defined leadership in context, review the roles where you expect people to take a leadership stance. The next step is to assess whether the people who presently fill those roles   have the requisite knowledge, attributes, and behaviors. Knowledge is relatively easy to measure or record. You may look at what education or certification individuals possess, along with their level and breadth of experience. Attributes and behaviors are trickier and are best assessed using a 360-degree  or similar evaluation to see if the individual’s workplace performance demonstrates them.

Once the performance gaps have been identified,  you need to establish a development plan, which should include some structured learning for knowledge, and some mentoring and coaching for the behaviors and performance.

Now at last we are back to your question: what training do I recommend? Well, based on the leadership profile for your organization, we have numerous options.

How to Lead a Team

  • 2 days
  • Team members, functional manager, customer, sponsor
  • Uses SDI; covers conflict and communications, especially with difficult people

Strategies for Effective Stakeholder Engagement

  • 2 days
  • Stakeholders and other team members
  • Uses Blake-Mouton Managerial; how to evaluate, analyze, prioritize stakeholders, determine expectations, communications plans

Managing Virtual Teams

  • 2 days
  • Virtual team
  • Managing all aspects of virtual teams, collaboration, structure, alignment, leadership

Managing Relationships for Project Success

  • 2 days
  • Stakeholders and team
  • Managing stakeholders, creating action plan, roles and responsibilities, difficult conversations

Managing Cross-Functional Teams

  • 2 days
  • Team Members only
  • Uses SDI to determine, manage and motivate when projects and good and when conflict occurs; team dynamics

Leadership in High-Performance Teams

  • 2 days
  • Workplace simulation on project team leadership
  • Based on Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Challenge and Larson and LaFasto’s Teamwork; develop skill through simulation practice

PM College works with training clients to customize courses to fit the culture of your organization, and provide training experiences that deliver the competencies that make sense within your environment.

[Editor’s Note: Join Debbie next week as she discusses how to identify individual skill gaps and develop targeted training. Meanwhile, a full discussion of identifying requisite competencies can be found in our book, Optimizing Human Capital.]

Benefits Realization: Demonstrating Initiatives’ Value

Debbie Crawford just taught a refreshed version of our Benefits Realization class. The topic is one that bedevils PMOs, largely because it takes a while to figure out that it’s not a closing phase task. In other words, it has to be planned, executed, monitored, controlled, and delivered…just like any other initiative deliverable. Below is an overview of the class:

Benefits are not just another dimension of portfolio management, but are the basic rationale for any investment of funds.  As such, benefits should drive those investment or change decisions from initiation through implementation and beyond. It is the methodology needed by any organization intent on effectively demonstrating that desired benefits are achieved in practice.

This course, built on a wealth of real world experience and lessons learned, will engage the participants in achieving:

  1. Increased organizational ability to forecast benefits which are complete, realizable, and represent real value for the money. In other words, we are investing in the right things and getting them done.
  2. Realize forecasted benefits in practice by ensuring the required enabling, business, and behavioral change takes place; ensuring that the performance of the benefit matches the business case promise.
  3. Realize benefits as early as possible and sustain that realization for as long as possible.
  4. Capture and leverage emergent or unplanned benefits (and minimize any dis-benefits) to optimize the benefits realized and the value for money is achieved.
  5. The organization’s ability to demonstrate the above – not just as part of the framework of accountability but also so that we learn what works as a basis for continuous improvement.

Meet The New PMCollege.com!

If you haven’t explored pmcollege.com lately, you’re missing a lot! We’ve made the site much easier to navigate, especially on mobile devices. We also keep the PM College blog hopping with new content. Moreover, we have new PM College courses and services:

  • Spotlight Course: Managing Multiple Projects prepares project managers who need to step up to leading more than one initiative, but who can’t rely upon the structure of an overarching program to organize priorities and stakeholders. This course just received a content refresh and has received great reviews:

“Recommended for project executives who need help in the following areas: tendency to micro-manage, inability to communicate workload constraints, difficulty saying no, prioritizing, relationship management, confrontation, managing common risks across multiple projects.” –  Fortune 100 global diversified industrial firm

“[The PM College instructor] did a great job of involving the class and insuring that we were following the material, which can sometimes be difficult with web training.” – Fortune 50 global aerospace company

“The tools were shared and PRACTICED so we knew how to use them.” – Fortune 100 global diversified industrial firm

“Entire course was excellent. Most I participated in a class.” – State government construction agency

Finally, don’t overlook our talent strategy, assessment, curriculum, and customization services. Along with our courses, we revamped our service offerings to sustain your needs throughout the talent lifecycle. These services are our “secret sauce” for delivering project, leadership, and business training excellence … and can be yours.

NOTE: Originally published on the PMCollege.com blog.

How Do I Interview for Soft Skills?

My last post in this series responding to questions asked by participants in our recent PM Skills Webinar (the webinar recording itself is here, registration required) covered whether employers were really looking for leadership and business acumen. The next question came from a PMO leader, asking for:

Suggestions on interview techniques or questions to find those “soft skills” from a PM applying outside of your organization?       

First, formal talent assessment tools will refine and focus your new hire interviews. We are deploying an assessment for a technology firm to give tailored answers to this question. If your organization struggles to hire the right project management talent, PM College assessment services are just the ticket.

I gave a few questions in my last post, so here I will focus on technique. My experience is that behavioral techniques are the best way to get to soft skills. For example, ask the candidate to put himself or herself back in a situation: “How did you resolve a situation when you didn’t have enough resources?”

In this case, how candidates answer that question gives a feel for how they approach stakeholder engagement and influence without authority. How did the person work the stakeholder plan to drive buy-in to the need to provide resources? Did he deploy influencers to drive that buy-in, or did she reach for the escalation stick too quickly? How would this person’s approach match your organization’s culture?

Also, look at the quality and depth of the answer. Another suggestion is to have multiple people ask the same question. See if the person can give multiple examples for the same question. Was the answer crisp and concise, with appropriate detail, or did the candidate hem and how his way through an unfocused reply?

If she addresses these questions to your satisfaction, then you have some comfort that the candidate has strong command of the topic and its techniques.

One last note: hypotheticals sound like a good technique, but they are problematic. Hypothetical situations often demand or introduce domain knowledge that is not relevant. In some cases, people are good as confecting plausible scenarios for imaginary problems. Those people, however, may not be so good at crafting a solution to a real world challenge.

NOTE: This post is adapted from a series posted on the PM College blog.

Are Organizations Hiring for Leadership and Business Skills?

I am continuing with my series on the PM Skills Webinar we just held (the webinar recording itself is here, registration required). My first post discussed how to hire for the right project, leadership, and business skills. That is the essence of our research findings: how do we make sure that we have the right skill mix. The second answered a natural follow-on question: do job descriptions really address this skill shift?

Today’s question carried this line of thought into the hiring decision itself.

“Do you see any significant shift in hiring skills from the practitioner skill set to leadership and strategy?”  

First, I believe that our findings strongly imply this is happening. Senior leaders and practitioners differ on both the relative importance of these skills, as well as the skills that need improvement. It makes sense that leaders will – or at least, should – hire for these skills.

Leaders-and-PMs-Differ

This question hit on why PMP continuing education requirements will soon change. The requirements for the PMP have always included the kind of experience that would bring leadership and strategy to the table. That may have been true 15 years ago. However, where the PMP used to signify total project management excellence, it now signifies tools and techniques mastery.  Project managers who simply run projects without reference to their larger leadership and business environment are becoming a commodity. As I related during the webinar, even PMI recognized that the PMP – and by extension project management skills – was only “table stakes.” It allows you in the game, but nothing more.

A Global Executive Council counterpart of mine told a story that laid out the problem in terms of experience. He had to counsel a project manager who was very itchy to advance but was perplexed that his PMP hadn’t taken him further.  The council member put it to him bluntly: “A PMP is worth about two years of experience in our organization, which is something … but it isn’t equivalent to leading and delivering a multi-year project or program.”

Speaking for myself, when I interview a candidate, I most of my time probing about whether he or she understands how to think about business. I will, of course, ask a few questions about key project management topics. Even then, I focus on the areas where I believe leadership and business savvy come most into play. For example:

  • How do you think about the different elements of the triple constraint and their relative importance? Provide an example where you had to drive tradeoffs among time, scope, and resources.
  • How do you go about evaluating scope elements and how they fit into the strategic intent of the project? Tell me about a project where you or your team had to navigate a dispute about project or product scope.
  • Describe the last change control process you ran on a major project. What were the most challenging aspects managing change control on that project?

I found that the best candidates could give solid and convincing discussions around these three topics. A solid grasp of the leadership and business issues involved bring clarity to the tradeoffs, negotiations, and communications inherent in project management. As we have found in studies of project failure, beware the project manager who seals himself off in a room with a MS Project schedule or dives into issue resolution. Those activities are never – at least in my experience – the root cause of project success or failure. Poor leadership engagement, ignorance of key contracts, or misunderstanding the strategic framework behind the project are much more likely causes.

Note: This is adapted from a post originally posted on the PM College blog. This is the third of a series of posts based on questions asked during our latest webinar covering the newly released research report, Project Manager Skills Benchmark 2015.

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