We recently worked at a major oil company where the global IT Director was concerned about past project failures. Like many organisations there had been numerous ‘project failures’ including some expensive, cancelled projects. As an oil company with deep pockets, these project failures cost tens of millions of pounds. Therefore it was decided, as a matter of urgency, to improve the project capability of the organization.
An edict was issued instructing all project managers to gain a PRINCE2 or PMP qualification. We can all see the logic here. If a project manager has passed an industry-recognized, professional qualification in project management, the project capability of the organization would be improved.
While the logic may be clear to see, I do not think that a training course in project management necessarily improves project management capability. Indeed some of these courses seem to teach people how to pass the exam and not how to be a better project manager. So, is there a better way of improving project management competence rather than this type of training?
Having run many projects and transformation programmes, I have worked with a great many project managers. Some have run IT projects and others business projects. While training does have its place in up-skilling project managers, I think a far more effective way of improving your project management capability is by mentoring.
Mentors can be senior project managers within your organisation or provided by an external company. Both have their own merits and disadvantages. An internal mentor knows the organization which is clearly an advantage. On the demerit side, an internal mentor may not have sufficient time to be a mentor when this mentoring is actually needed.
An internal mentor may have a political motive which may not be a good thing. An external mentor may not know the organisation, although over time they will, but they can bring a wealth of experience from other organisations. They should, hopefully, be free from political interference.
Having worked as a consultant at many organisations, I am still surprised how few of them value this type of mentoring. It is often seen as a bit intangible and an easy cost to cut. Measuring its effectiveness can also be difficult. Having a measure of ‘all project managers who have passed PMP or PRINCE2’ is a simpler metric.
We should, however, focus on the outcome which should be: improved project management capability and improved project delivery. I do realise that this can be hard to measure, but that does not mean we should not try.
Our PMO tool, PM3, has the ability to measure project and programme delivery against the original budget, schedule, and value. Over time you can see if your project capability has improved.
In my view, a training course for a professional qualification in project management does not use your current project as a case study in a course. If things have moved on, and I am wrong here, please email me.
What is great about mentoring is that a project manager is in a phase of a project and he or she can discuss the situation with a mentor who can act as a sounding board and help the project manager with a particular problem or situation.
This type of mentoring can also give the project manager confidence and can accelerate the learning as you are dealing with a real-life situation and can get advice and guidance from someone who has had a lot of experience and has probably come across a similar situation in their career.
I know it is great to learn from mistakes but even better is to have a mentor point out these mistakes before they happen. This is better for all concerned.
It is really valuable to learn from an expert who is working with you on your current project. This is also a faster way to get improved project management capability and delivery than passing an exam. I’m not saying that passing a PRINCE2 exam is a waste of time as this should help, but a more effective and faster way to improve project management capability is by mentoring.
For information on project delivery and PMO tools, please visit our PM3 and PM3time pages.