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.

Do PM Job Descriptions Address the Skill Gap?

My last post addressed the first question from our webinar: how to hire for the right project, leadership, and business skills. The webinar recording itself is here (registration required).

As I noted, that question is at the heart of sustainable talent management for your project managers. Even while we answered that question live, we received a follow-on question that was on point:

Do job descriptions for project managers reflect these gaps in skills between high-performing and low-performing organizations?

My experience is that job descriptions themselves are reasonably good. Even the role descriptions I have inherited have been workable. The most common adjustments I made were to prioritize skills and experience by reordering the document: the most important move up top, the nice-to-haves go below. When I need more content, there are plenty of good models available. I relied on J. Kent Crawford’s book, Project Management Roles & Responsibilities to help draft the role descriptions for my staff … and for myself!

However, this approach begs the question. It assumes that I – or my external sources – know what’s right for these roles. Unfortunately, what we write in our job descriptions, what we say we should do, then what we do, are not always coordinated: “For I do not do the good I want to do.” We get a better alignment between words and deeds when we verify these job descriptions by looking at the knowledge, behavior, and performance profiles of top performers.

SustainableTalentMgmt

Role definitions must be embedded in a sustainable talent management process (as shown in the graphic above). They should be addressed up front, when looking at strategic alignment. Continue reading

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?

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