A project management mentor is the influential person who supports the development of the protégé’s personal and professional maturity. Effectiveness comes through a mentor’s capacity to provide relevant information and inspiration in a manner that can be immediately understood and easily leveraged by the protégé. The following are some tips for mentors to keep in mind when mentoring less experienced project managers
Alignment issues: Many projects have issues with priority and resource alignment that must be addressed however ‘accidental’ project managers who have little project management experience, lack knowledge of how to resolve misalignment issues and have an aversion to ‘rocking the boat.’ In other words less experienced PM’s are not asking any ‘hard’ questions. Being a boat rocker means being a catalyst for change, and is needed for leading a team and project forward. Communication is a key tenet of leadership. Therefore, project managers need to take active control of the project through upward communication.
Mentor’s solution: Provide an overview of portfolio project management to the project manager explaining how the PPM process helps to address alignment issues. Work with the project manager to have the project sponsor clearly state the organization’s vision, how the project’s goals align with the vision and what level of resource commitment he/she expects from team members. Have the project manager communicate to the project team the expectations of the sponsor and the commitment of resources the sponsor expects from the team to achieve the expectations. This should sort out any alignment issues and participation and cooperation will usually follow.
Lack of knowledge: Many people who become project managers are functional experts. They rise up through the ranks because of their knowledge in a specific area; but they may have limited experience in effective project communication and documentation, not to mention project management tools and processes. Additionally, resource shortfalls in experienced project management personnel often force functional experts to take on another hat and become ‘accidental’ project managers by default. Mentor’s solution: The mentor’s job is to provide new project managers with the opportunity to learn the concepts behind project management and to experiment with new behaviors. This can be accomplished through mentoring, direct support, or finding specific project management skill classes to augment capability gaps. One effective on-the-job technique is for the mentor and project manager to establish improvement opportunity objectives for the project manager to accomplish during the project. Achievable milestones should be set for example; the first goal should be accomplished in one month, the second in a quarter, the third in six months. By starting out with achievable but increasingly difficult tasks, the project manager will grow in knowledge, confidence, and success.
Personality and Communications: Communication issues often come down to the project manager’s personality, communication style, and comfort in dealing with the other personalities and communication styles within the team. If the project manager does not like social interaction and talking to people face to face, is non-confrontational, reserved, or fearful of assigning accountability and providing rigorous oversight—the project may be heading for a disaster.
Mentor’s solution: The mentor must be sensitive to the introverted project manager, making every effort to share tools and techniques, such as active listening, to increase successful communications. Start by educating the project manager about different personality types. Collaborate with the project manager to discuss the value of different ideas and the challenge of integrating differences into a viable solution. Mentors need to actively demonstrate to the project manager how the project manager’s and team’s input contributes to the overall success of the project. Counsel the project manager that each team member brings individual strengths to the team. Good solutions typically aren’t formed in a vacuum or in a lonely cubicle. Team solutions mean team buy-in to the project manager’s direction in attaining project goals.
To address accountability issues, mentors can suggest brief, informal meetings on a daily basis, versus impersonal e-mails. E-mails do not encourage ownership. Sitting down with someone and asking him or her to perform a specific task is far more likely to bring about engagement. In addition ensure the project manager establishes the rules of engagement at the outset of the project and clearly communicates that holding people accountable to meet commitments is standard project management practice.
Inform the project manager that they can not be too busy to communicate. Uncertainty creates a void. Unless you, the project manager, fill that void with clear and positive communication, people will assume the worst and act accordingly. Fear and negativity will creep in and dominate their thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Don’t let your busy schedule get in the way of taking the time to talk with your team. In fact, you should make communicating a top priority on your list each day.
As PM mentors we have a responsibility to create better and better project professionals. We must lead by example and I strongly believe that we as project managers have a mission to expand the knowledge and best practices of project management through our actions and behaviors in ways that benefit not just the mentee and the project but the organizational community as well.