Got Projects, Get Mentoring

13 December

Think about some big name athletes; Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter come to mind. As skilled as they are each has a coach, a quarterback and hitting coach, who observe their performance and provide feedback to help them remain at the top of their game.

Now think about those ‘accidental’ project managers that I talk about who venture into the ‘unknown’ territory of project management and are accountable for executing an organization’s strategic projects. Chances are the people leading your projects haven’t had any project management training and are struggling along without understanding their role in the project enterprise. They are probably not aware of the project management processes that need to be followed to be successful nor are they equipped with any tools, tips and techniques to deal with the complexity of managing cross organizational teams.

In the areas of leadership and development, “coaching” has had a reintroduction into executive suites.  If executives receive coaching and mentoring why not your ‘accidental’ project managers? Providing project management coaching and mentoring will provide the following benefits and help develop management and leadership skills:

Improve project delivery.

Reduce the learning curve.

Provide a cost-effective way to upgrade skills, enhance retention and increase job satisfaction.

Facilitate personal and career growth and development.

Enable a new staff member to function effectively within the context of the organization’s systems and culture.

Improve professional and personal networks

A mentor teaches you faster than you can teach yourself. The stories, wisdom, and guidance that they provide give you the benefit of understanding the world before you’ve actually lived through it. And the emotional support and reassurance that somebody who has “been there, done that” can offer to a novice is comforting as you navigate your way through new experiences. Professional development, as with the process of age maturation, is best served when someone is there to lend support. You need someone who cares what happens to you; someone who knows when to hold on and when you have become strong enough and wise to stand alone.

‘Accidental’ project managers need a trusted individual who can help them understand and navigate through the more subjective aspects of organizational success: how to manage a team of people over which they have little formal authority, how to sway opinions of particular decision-makers, and how to deal effectively with cross-functional teams whose work often puts them at odds with one another. While all of these skills are vital to professional success, they are not intuitive and they typically do not appear in the company handbook. They must be groomed into

the organization’s less-experienced employees.

Project managers typically do not have the luxury of a staff dedicated to a specific project or projects. They need to coordinate activities through a matrix reporting team, which requires excellent communication skills. And they need to control the expectations of their team, the organization, stakeholders, and users about what the project will and won’t produce. It should be noted from the beginning that this communication, coordination, and control cannot be accomplished through e-mail, however easy that may be. Nothing takes the place of face-to-face interaction.

What is critical for managing a project, communication, is also critical for teaching and learning project management principles. Because most project managers don’t have a four-year degree in project management or a PM certification, the best and fastest way to learn project management is on-the-job-training from a mentor. The role of a project management mentor encompasses friendly advisor, coach, and teacher. A good mentor works with project managers in different ways, as each project differs in scope, challenges, and people. In all cases, the best way for a mentor to teach good communication skills is to model them.

Just like having someone believe in us more than we believe in ourselves can compel us to live up to higher standards, so too, the mentoring relationship can propel individuals to reach new heights. Project management mentoring can provide immediate boost in skills and confidence resulting in improved project outcomes.

Mentoring is one of the most significant statements a company can make to an employee about the company’s value for the worker’s future. A protégé knows that the chances of success are considerably enhanced by being assigned to an individual whose skills and knowledge have been endorsed by the organization. Mentoring programs are particularly important to young professionals who may otherwise experience difficulty accessing institutional knowledge, sponsorship and constructive feedback vital to one’s development.  What could be greater than to provide your accidental project managers with the guidance, counsel and advice through a mentoring program to improve their effectiveness and the outcomes of your strategic project investments?

And as a mentor you can also get something back by giving back. The brighter the student, the more the teacher learns. There’s no better way to learn, or re-learn, something than by teaching it. And by taking that bright young woman or man under your wing, you’ll not only be helping them out but you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve learned over the years!

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