A misconception about improving project management competency is that it can be achieved by simply staffing one or more project manager roles.
Hiring experienced project managers can help to improve the probability of success of the projects to which they are assigned, but unfortunately, few companies have the luxury of hiring enough project managers to manage all the change initiatives that are likely to be active at any given time. Beyond the fiscal and organization structural challenges of hiring so many project managers, such a staffing model would also result in an atrophy of critical change planning and implementation skills within other roles or areas of the organization.
Given this, there is the need to develop project management knowledge and skills across multiple roles in most companies, whether or not those roles are ever responsible for directly leading a project.
Functional managers have multiple responsibilities for project success hence they need to be sufficiently project management savvy. The traditional role of a functional manager on projects is to allocate and support team members from their departments. This requires them to be able to review and challenge their staff’s work estimates, assist junior staff in work decomposition or activity sequencing, and act as the primary point of escalation for issues involving their staff.
Functional managers are also often called upon to serve as project sponsors and if they do, they should have sufficient judgment to be able to know when to prioritize their sponsor role higher than their functional management one. It is all too common to see functional managers who will protect their staff to the detriment of a critical project which they were supposed to be championing as the assigned sponsor.
Finally, for both local and cross-functional change initiatives, functional managers should have the confidence to execute their organization’s project management practices if they are assigned to lead a departmental or cross-functional change initiative. This last responsibility can often be the most challenging as they will have to overcome their natural bias in favor of their division or department by adopting a true cross-functional view.
Team members also need to possess sufficient project management acumen to be able to effectively support the project manager. They should have enough planning skills to be able to decompose their assigned work packages, sequence the activities, and estimate the effort required to complete these activities. They should also be able to objectively evaluate progress towards completing their assigned activities and to proactively identify and effectively communicate issues and risks. Too often we are assigned team members who are unwilling or incapable of defining and sufficiently decomposing their work or tracking its progress.
Providing foundation-style project management training is a good place to start, but experiential learning is equally important. After an individual has been on a project management course, it is important to provide them with an opportunity to exercise the tools and techniques they’ve been exposed to, otherwise real learning won’t happen. As I had written in an earlier article, for functional managers, this could be accomplished by having them manage one or more projects each year. It is also cruical to frequently reinforce the benefits of project management to team members and functional managers since without that, their support is likely to fade over time.
Multiple articles have been written about the need to have executives who have first hand knowledge of project management, and if we want to truly see this profession institutionalized as a critical enabler, the same will need to happen with other roles.