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MENTORING PROJECT MANAGERS

Mentoring Programs

One of the most effective devices to train and develop aspiring PMs (or any staff for that matter) is through a mentoring program. This device will likely achieve the fastest development of key staff and will enhance the performance of all who participate. Younger staff gain the benefit of the experience and wisdom of older hands and the more senior individuals are exposed to new ideas and techniques.

While mentoring seems to be a win/win situation for all involved, it is not always embraced in design and owner/client organizations. Depending on how extensively the program is developed, there can be sizable costs for staff time, administration, training fees, lost billable time, and many other items. Older staff may resist mentoring newcomers for fear of job security. Senior management may ask, “Why pay the higher salary of the older staff when the younger individuals can do almost the same (or the same) job?” Personality conflict can also be an issue if the assigned mentor is unable to achieve a good working relationship with the individual to be mentored.

In some situations, firms are strongly in favor of establishing mentoring programs; however, sometimes the younger staff members fail to appreciate the benefits of the program or the opportunity being presented to them. A number of years ago, as the chair of the Chicago AIA chapter Practice Management Committee, I helped to establish a mentoring program. A chief goal of the program was to match up architectural practitioners in Chicago with fourth, fifth, and sixth year architecture students at the local architectural schools. Practitioners were grouped by their spe-cialty such as design, technical areas, computer technology, and management, and students could select from their area of interest. Many practicing architects were enthusiastic about the program and readily signed up. Despite heavy promotion at the three local architecture schools, very few students applied for mentors. Sadly, this was a lost opportunity to learn a great deal about their chosen profession from those with real-world experience.

Types of Mentoring Programs

Mentoring programs exist in many forms; however, they can be broadly classified into two major groupings.

  1. Formal mentoring programs: A formal mentoring program requires a significant commitment of resources. Extensive record keeping is required, training budgets must be expanded, administrative systems for the program need to be developed, and lost billable time must be anticipated and monitored. There are typically four steps to the development of a formal mentoring program:

a) Description: Each job/position in the organization must have a written position description. Career paths must be laid out for each job grouping such as project managers. The criteria for advancing into a particular job/position needs to be described, and the criteria for performing a particular job/position must also be outlined. This step requires the organization to develop a process for mentoring. The firm must evaluate each position, staff advancement practices, training needs, and so on. It also provides benchmarks to measure performance and goal setting. For staff, this step provides a road map for advancement and improvement. Obviously, the achievement of goals must bring an appropriate reward such as a promotion or salary increase.

b) Skill assessment: Less experienced individuals participating in the mentoring process must first be assessed as to their current skill level and performance. This provides a benchmark for them and for the firm to measure their growth. Mentors must also be assessed for their capabilities in meeting the requirements of their role.

c) Mentoring: The actual mentoring process is time-consuming and continues over a long period of time. Implementation may require less experienced staff to seek an advanced degree, take other college courses, attend professional development seminars, read books, or undertake a myriad of other activities. The mentor must monitor and encourage this effort. Eventually, a mentor’s role may end and a new individual may take over as mentor.

d) Performance assessment: The success or failure of the mentoring effort must be regularly assessed. This process must be on an individual basis and for the program as a whole. The mentoring program must be continually appraised and adjusted to reflect the needs, capabilities, and growth of your staff.


  1. Informal mentoring programs: This is the most common type of mentoring program and is widely practiced in the construction industry. Informal programs occur in two types.

a) Kismet: In this type of informal program, mentoring is left to fate as younger and older staff develop friendships and working relationships. In some cases, a more experienced individual is committed to the development of junior staff and seeks to help them advance. Generally, the firm plays little or no role in this mentoring process.

b) Active encouragement: In some firms, the informal mentoring process is developed by encouraging more experienced staff to mentor junior members of the team. Activities may be planned to foster this effort, budgets may provide funds for mentoring and training programs, and a general atmosphere of concern for the development of younger staff may pervade the organization.

DELEGATION

 

Which Manager you prefer to work with?

 

OR

 

Which type of Manager are you?

 

Manager A:

“Call Tom Burton at Cavalier Computer. Ask him to give you the price list on an upgrade for our personal computers. I want to move up to Quad-core processor with 8 gigs of RAM and at least a 1.5-terabytes hard drive. Ask them to give you demonstration of the Windows 8 program operating system and Microsoft Office 365. I want to be able to establish collaboration capability for the entire group. Invite Cochran and Snow to the demonstration and let them try it out. Have them write up a summary of their needs and the potential applications they see for the new systems. Then prepare me a report with the costs and specifications of the upgrade for the entire departments. Oh yes, be sure to ask for information on service costs.”

 

Manager B:

“I’d like to do something about our personal computer system. I’ve been getting some complaints that the current systems are too slow, can’t run current software, and don’t allow for networking. Could you evaluate our options and give me a recommendation on what we should do? Our budget is around $2,000 per person, but I’d like to stay under that if we can. Feel free to talk to some of the managers to get their input, but we need to have this done as soon as possible.”

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Statistic on impact of negative people in an organization.

 

It is often than not that there are negative people who subtly creates a negative environment in our work place. And there are team members in a project that would demoralize other team members by bringing up some negative thoughts to an issue without giving any solutions to overcome it or by giving a lot of excuses for not wanting to move forward on the works which have been planned. Let’s see the statistic on how this behavior impact an organization as a whole:

  1. 4 in 5 employees believes that a toxic employee is “extremely debilitating” to team morale.

  2. 80% of employees believe organizations are somewhat or extremely tolerant of toxic employees.

  3. 17% of managers’ time is spent dealing with subpar employees- almost a full day each week.

  4. The most common traits of negative employees are:
    1. 41% Bad attitudes
    2. 11% Blames others
    3. 10% Gossips
    4. 6% Laziness

Sources: Toxic Employees Survey, Fierce Inc., 2015: Society for Human Resource Management, 2015

Be careful, we might be one of the bad apple. Therefore, to understand the situation and the impact of the negative behavior is the first step of our self-improvement and project delivery success.

 

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Dealing with Delays

In some cases, project sponsor or the board of directors might not want to extend the end date of a project since it will be resulting in losing potential revenue or losing investors expectation. Therefore, project manager will need to choose the next step of action to meet the date line or else, your career reputation will be on the line. Here are options that you could take based on project condition:

  1. CRASH IT
    Crashing can help you to get back on track, but you must consider the availability and cost of resources. The main risk of this option is whether your project has enough budget to do crashing and whether the resources needed are available at the course of action. And not to forget, whether the manpower has enough skill and experience to execute the crashing activities.

  2. SET NEW PRORITIES
    In this option, you need to reprioritize activities that are critical for the project success. These activities can be identified in the critical path of a schedule. Delaying a single activity in critical path will result in delaying the whole project.

    Another method is to reprioritize the requirements. Sometimes it is better to have a working system with limited functionality than waiting for more time to have a complete system. The project delivery can be divided into different phases with the functionalities of the system are improving in every phase, until it meets all of the stakeholders requirements. This of course will need the project manager to get a buy in form the stakeholders.

  3. GET AGILE
    When a project is behind the schedule or at risk of a critical delay, turning to an agile approach is a good way to accelerate the timeline. First, analyse the scope that is at risk and divide it into smaller, tangible parts. Set a very short daily meeting or call with the key leaders of the delivery team to closely monitor progress. Dashboard can be used to track the progress of each scope, with proper tagging (not initialized, in progress or completed) in order to improve the coordination and communication with all team members.

  4. DIVIDE AND CONQUER
    Make a list of the causes of the delay, then identify which causes are internal and which are external. Internal items are within your groups control and therefore you need to coordinate with your team closely, preferably co-located team. Prioritize and fragmentize the problem into smaller parts which easier to be solved.
    For the external items that are usually undertaken by the supplier or vendor, they also need to do the same thing. Focus and prioritize on their own work to achieve the dateline. The external party can see what they need to do and that we are doing our part to get back on schedule.

  5. MINIMIZE DAMAGE
    When you detect a deviation in the project schedule, you must act quickly and decisively. You need to determine whether the damage occurs at the critical path of the project. If it is, then you can opt for adding more human resources to increase the pace of work while minimizing damage to the budget. If the team cooperation or client cooperation is the main issue, you will need to present possible solution, where usually it is either change request for confirm completion of missing items and time or reducing the project scope.

  6. MEET THE TEAM
    It is hard to find a project that move forward exactly along schedule. Every project is bound to have minor slippage on the time progress. To resolve the delay, it is necessary to bring all the involved parties to the table. The participants, timing and duration of these meeting depends on the root cause of the delay. It may take one meeting, a series of meetings or even bringing everyone to the site (co-location) to get project back on track. Getting everyone on site allowed us to have a long discussion, exchange ideas and ultimately recover the delay.

How to bridge the communication gap?

Often in managing projects, we made assumption that people would understand the information and the context of the information that we are trying to communicate with them. We are blissfully ignorant that people might be interpreting the information wrongly based on their distinct experience and knowledge. Here is the quick remedy for overcoming such situation:

  1. Provide clear context of the project so that people (stakeholders) are in the same page. Executive summary would be helpful.
  2.  Clarify the specific terminology, acronyms and preferred vocabulary
  3. Avoid terms that can be interpreted differently by different people.
  4. Always reiterate the project ‘s context which includes project assumption and intended outcomes.
  5. Phrase things in a simple and accurate manner
  6. Avoid using colloquial words in the meeting when there are people from different background and ethnicity.
  7. Encourage questions
  8. Ask some people to paraphrase or repeat your point, to gauge their understanding. This is usually done when you are the boss.

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