How Do I Hire The Right People?

NOTE: First posted at the PM College blog.

We had a great webinar on project, leadership, and business skills. We got some great reviews and I hope you enjoy it. To check it out, you see/hear the recording here (registration required). In the next few posts, I’m going to cover the key questions that were asked during the webinar. I will start with one that got to the heart of the challenge:

Are there good assessment tools available for [looking at whether candidates have the right skills]? Especially for new hires. Would hate to make a bad hiring decision.

Absolutely…and it’s one of the most value investments you can make. As we mentioned in the webinar, we just looked at a study (quoted in this post) that notes that 80 percent of employee turnover is driven by bad hiring decisions. That same post goes on the highlight the cost per bad hire: two and one-half time the role’s salary. In other words, a bad $100K hire may well cost you $250K!

PM College has a tried-and-tested Competency Assessment Program that directly addresses this need. Continue reading

Better Leadership + Business Skills = Better Projects

What drives project success? Research has consistently shown that it’s having an effective project manager. Results from PM College’s latest research, “Project Manager Skills Benchmark 2015,” confirms this, showing that organizations with highly skilled project managers get significantly better project results.

This result is hardly a surprise, but the magnitude of the outperformance is. Project managers at high skill levels outperform those with project managers at low skill levels – almost 50% better. In addition, high-performing organizations appear to emphasize skills beyond project management tools and techniques. High performers’ project managers excelled at leadership skills, especially displaying integrity and honesty, building relationships, and building trust and respect.

LeadersAndPMsDiffer

There is a lot more insight in the report but let me highlight one key finding.  As one might expect, project managers in all organizations need to improve across all areas of the talent triangle: leadership, business, and project management skills. Their skills are good to excellent in 15% of organizations and inadequate to fair in 30%.

However, senior leaders are far more likely than project managers to see benefits realization, project alignment with strategy, and poor communication as challenges. This perception gap extends to skill improvement priorities (see graph). Note that the biggest gaps are in leadership, business, and strategy skills: project managers

The study is available for download now. Stay tuned for an invite to our upcoming webinar to review and discuss these results. Hold the date and time: 18 June (2 PM Eastern).

Here’s A Quick Way to Measure Learning Impact

We ask for client feedback on nearly every class or workshop we hold. It’s the way we ensure continuous improvement, instructor/client culture fit, and client satisfaction. It also opens the door to other opportunities; many students express opinions about what they want to see next.

However, a number of clients get stuck when it comes to justifying training spend. Senior leaders know that talent development is critical, but they want to see results. And as I noted in my last benefits realization post, if you don’t go in with a measurement plan, you’ll struggle to find those benefits.

Here’s my advice: pull together a simple assessment tool to provide a “before-and-after” look at training’s impact. Such a survey establishes a performance baseline, against which you then can measure impact. I’d keep it simple: a “Net Promoter” question, followed by just a few focused questions. Below is a set of questions that I’ve used in other contexts:

  1. How likely is it that you would recommend ORG UNIT to a friend or colleague?
  2. How often does ORG UNIT meet its deadlines?
  3. Which of the following words would you use to describe ORG UNIT? Select all that apply. (attributes like high quality, quick, unresponsive, etc.)
  4. What changes would ORG UNIT have to make for you to give it an even higher rating?

If you’re familiar with Survey Monkey, you will find it easy to replicate these questions. Once I have this template together enough to share, I’ll share it.

Do you have practical suggestions about measuring learning impact?

Why Project Management Expertise Isn’t Enough: Lessons Learned from Security Breaches

How many times have I heard that “a good project manager can manage any project?” Too often for my taste. My biggest issue with the claim is that it begs the question: he statement assumes we all agree that any project manager with a mastery of the profession’s tools and techniques can succeed anywhere.

We’ve finally learned better, and PMI has acknowledged this in its new requirements for PMP continuing education. As PMI itself puts it:

As the global business environment and project management profession evolves, the [certification] program must adapt to provide development of new employer-desired skills…. The ideal skill set — the PMI Talent Triangle — is a combination of technical, leadership, and strategic and business management expertise. (PMI 2015 Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) Program Updates)

Our pending research on project skill gaps (stay tuned for a webinar invite) shows that executives and senior managers understand this much better than project practitioners. They emphasize strategy, business, and leadership improvements, while practitioners don’t.

Perhaps an example from the current headlines will help. As most of you know, security breaches have wreaked havoc on a number of prominent firms: Target, Home Depot, Sony are simply the most well-known. The sad thing is that the most famous failures could have been prevented.

One of my new favorite podcasts is from Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm. My most recent listen was an interview with Orion Hindawi of Tanium. I recommend listening to the whole thing — it’s less than 30 minutes — as Orion provides some great color to what, where, why, etc. on security attacks and vulnerabilities. The summary hits his sobering message on the head:

The paradox of security is we pretty much know what we are supposed to do most of the time — but we don’t do it. If you examine all the recent high-profile attacks, somebody in the organization knew something was wrong before it happened. They just didn’t have the ability to escalate the problem, or the ability to raise a flag that people took seriously.

In other words, we don’t lack the technical understanding of security risks, or the tools and techniques to mitigate them. We lack the leadership and business savvy to confront the challenge of communicating the risks, then deploying and using our toolkit effectively. The last two sentences show how these skills gaps drive the root causes:

  • Ability to escalate the problem” is a leadership challenge. This suggests that “somebody” wasn’t connected, articulate, or brave enough to get to decision makers.
  • Ability to raise a flag that people took seriously” is a symptom of weak strategy and business skills. If the threat isn’t framed, articulated, and understood in terms serious leaders get, then such warnings are ignored…or even worse, viewed as counterproductive scare mongering.

Where Did The Money Go? — Making Project Benefits Happen

OK, you saved your receipts. You may be able to show what you spent it on. But can you really show what you got for it? Not just some shiny new SAP modules, or a fancy app, but what higher margins, market share, or tangible benefits can you prove?

Benefits realization has been a theme of mine for years: here, here, and here. In fact, I’d move it to #1 in the list I gave to Michael Krigsman about the threat marketing IT poses to the CIO. If your PMO or function can’t show that it delivers value, then how can you expect it to be a strategic player? PM College just created a new course on benefits realization and the subtitle says it all: how to create tangible value against your business case.

The biggest misconception about benefit and value management is that the process happens after the project. That approach simply does not work. You can’t decide after the project: “gee, we need to show the boss the benefits…let’s figure out how to collect, measure, and present them.” As the course description says:

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.

In other words, benefits realization has to embedded in the project plan from its very start…or you too will find yourself asking Hoyt Axton’s question: “Where did the money go?”

Sportsfolio Management: What Project Executives Can Learn From the Draft

Rich Hill is one of my favorite Twitter sports follows — @PP_Rich_Hill — though I only now realized I hadn’t been following via @crossderry until recently. He does a great job of melding a fan’s perspective with his analysis. The result is well-reasoned, yet approachable opinions and projections of football drafts, rosters, and of course, game performance. He’s also a Pats fan, so he must be a man of honor and distinction!

I like to use non-traditional examples to illuminate our more mundane dilemmas. Rich’s recent post on the allocation of NFL Draft capital got me thinking. Draft picks are indeed capital. They are assets that can be traded. Also, just like your production line, SAP ERP installation, or facility, the players selected provide capabilities to their organizations over time.

Value — expressed as capabilities over time — drives the worth of the assets or initiatives in a portfolio. And as you can imagine, the trick is to pick the most valuable asset available during your draft turn. How should you approach the problem? Rich breaks it down the essence of the choice:

The question with the draft is asking how a team can best game the talent in order to maximize the value of their draft picks, or draft capital. A simple breakdown is by position, where there are clear premiums for, say, a quarterback versus a punter. Taking the best quarterback in the league in the 1st round is way better value than taking the best punter in the 1st.

And of course, draft position by round, and within rounds, matters as well. You shouldn’t expect a 100th pick to be as valuable as a first pick. So position — both on the field and in the draft — drives relative value. Therefore, to value one’s options for a particular draft pick, one must, as Rich says: “look at a position’s expected value compared to others in the draft.”

He gives a couple of examples in his post — which has some clear graphs — so read the whole thing. Here’s one quick quote about how expected and relative value works. In this example, analysis uncovers interior offensive linemens’ expected value doesn’t decline evenly through the draft rounds.

What this means is that a player selected in the top 40 would have an expected value of an All Pro caliber player. Players selected 40th-90th have an expected value of a top tier starter. By the shape of the graph, interior offensive linemen selected from 90th through the end of the draft all have roughly the same expected value, that of a rotational depth player.

So if the Patriots are interested in an All Pro guard, they would likely have to use their first round pick to increase their odds. But if they would be fine with a top level guard, they could use their third round picks in the 90s to receive roughly the same expectation as if they took the player 50th overall.

This “lumpiness” allows for differentiated draft tactics. And differentiation is the heart of breakthrough strategy.

But this is just the foundation: choosing among alternatives of the same type of capability. We portfolio and initiative leaders must, of course, select alternatives across capability types. In my next post, I’ll leverage more of Rich’s work to illustrate how to approach that problem.

Find Your Best Project Leaders

My last post noted that filling gaps, improving skill mastery, and driving behavior change are the improvements that organizations need. But how can you design these objectives into your talent improvement program? If you have had a program in place, how do you know you have the right mix? And how do you  measure its impact on the organization?

Who are the truly competent initiative leaders in your organization? And how do you know?

Any competency improvement plan starts with identifying what the “truly competent” project or program manager looks like for the particular organization. We intuitively know that more competence pays for itself. And there is strong evidence for that intuition: it’s in our Building Project Manager Competency white paper (request here). But lasting improvement will only come from a structured and sustained competency improvement program. That structure has to begin with an assessment of the existing competency. Furthermore, the program must include clear measures of business value, so that every improvement in competence can be linked to improvements in key business measures.

My experience with such programs is that PMO and talent management groups approach the process in a way that muddles cause and effect. For example, a training program is often paired with PMO set-up. Fair enough. However, if the training design is put into place without a baseline of the current competence of your initiative leaders, then that design may perpetuate key skill or behavior gaps among your staff.  You may hit the target, but a scattershot strategy leans heavily on luck.

In addition, this approach will leave you guessing about which part of your training had business impact. You may see better business outcomes, but not have any better idea about which improved skills and behaviors drove them. Even worse, if your “hope-based” design and delivery is followed by little improvement, then your own initiative may well be doomed.

So how should you fix your program, or get it right from the start? We at PM College lay out a structured, five-step process for working through your competency improvement program.

  1. Define Roles and Competencies
  2. Assess Competencies
  3. Establish a Professional Development Program with Career Paths
  4. Execute Training Program
  5. Measure Competency and Project Delivery Outcomes Before and After Training

These steps were very useful for structuring my thinking, but they’re more of a checklist than a plan. For example, my PMOs almost always had something to work with in Steps 1 and 3. Even if I didn’t directly own roles and career paths, I had credibility and influence with my colleagues in human resources.  However, the condition of the training program was more of a mixed bag. Sometimes I would have something in place, sometimes I was starting “greenfield.”

The current state of the training program informs how I look at these steps.

  • Training program in place: My approach is to jump straight to Step 5, and drive for a competency and outcome assessment based on what went before.  I assume steps 1-4 as completed – even if not explicitly – and position the assessment as something that validates the effectiveness of what came before. In other words, this strategy is a forcing function that stresses the whole competence program, without starting anew.
  • No training program in place: I use the formal assessment to drive change. As PMO head I have been able to use its results to explicitly drive the training program’s design. More significantly, these results are proof points driving better role and career path designs, even if HR formally owns those choices.

PM College has a unique and holistic competency assessment methodology that looks at and assesses the knowledge, behaviors, and job performance across the project management roles in your organization. As always, if your organization would like discuss our approach, and how it drives improved project and business outcomes, please contact me or use the contact form below. We’d love to hear from you.

FYI: For more reading on competency-based management, check out Optimizing Human Capital with A Strategic Project Office.

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