Need for PM Training & Certifications

Traditional learning model

Despite the fact that here is a lot of buzz in business about importance of project management skills in resources aligned in delivery of projects, the trend of formally trained individuals is quite small or insignificant. Few years before (when PMP or Prince2 credentials were not as sought after as today) professionals as well as organizations did not feel the need to have formal training for PM professionals. Rather it was more likely that these resources gained ‘hands on’ knowledge and skills while performing the jobs in their day today work life & going through company’s existing processes, procedures in use and learning from mistakes made in the live environment. It is quite obvious that many learned the tricks & techniques with historical tried and tested ‘trial & error’ method possibly unknowingly at the organization’s expense!

PM Training becoming mainstream

It is also evident that due to lack of structure and infancy of the discipline the failure rate of projects were higher that what they might be today. make no mistakes, I am not suggesting that improved success rates of projects today compared to a decade earlier is primarily or solely due to acceptance of formal training and certifications of professionals in the industry, the must have been other factors at play as well such as improved tools and better awareness and knowledge around techniques and off course increased level of maturity of the performing organization. Over the years awareness about value of formal Project Management training has been recognized by the industry and this reflected in the fact that now there are large numbers of training schools/colleges offering variety of training programs for varying levels of needs.

What drives people for credential

Even with much greater emphasis on requirement for industry recognized credentials, the key aim of individual for gaining PMP, Prince2 or similar badges is more to do for financial benefits & due to peer or organization pressure rather to really gain additional subject and process knowledge for practical application purposes. I do believe that going through the process of preparation for the certification does help in the way that individual gains basic level of subject knowledge and terminologies, which in itself has remarkable value.

Why Skill disparity still remains

What actually is used in day today practice is mostly to do with framework established by the performing organizations which depends again on the level of maturity the organization is working. So what it means is that even though 2 individuals with same level of experience and industry recognized credentials may have quite different level of expertise in Project Management knowledge area due to the exposure and practical use will defer based on the adopted practices by their organizations. Credentials & formal training in professional fields act as minimum level of knowledge/skill expected by the Industry from project management professional, this is still an excellent value, given this is what expected out of these programs.

Shyam VermaPMP, ITIL v3
IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11
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Running effective Meetings

In a typical day, being a PM, how many meetings you attend or organise? Well it may depend on the nature of your project and your managing style but meetings do take quite a significant part of PM’s time. And if you spend your valuable project hours, these hours better be well spent! Believe me, effective meetings would surely go a long way in helping your project be better organized and executed. Here are few useful tips to get most out of your daily meetings!

  1. Define meeting objective: Don’t set up that meeting only for the sake of meeting. Before scheduling that team meeting, define the objective of the meeting & how meeting would help in that. Ask if you need this meeting to communicate or update team about something important or routine developments. See if an email would do for the same & it might do if the meeting objective is to keep the team abreast of the latest project developments. If the meeting objective is to seek ideas or gather feedback or individual inputs quickly, you may need that meeting. Typically meetings face to face help in building team consensus & confidence. Once the need is clear, invite only those who really need to be there to participate and contribute. Let people skip the meetings if their inputs are not critical for the objective and they can spend their time better on assigned tasks. 
  2. Communicate meeting agenda: This is a basic rule still highly ignored one! I see several managers, supervisors and sr. executive skip the agenda when calling for the meeting. This not only confuses people about the objective. The meeting agenda should tie & take forward the meeting goal. It’s better to distribute the agenda prior to the meeting so participants are fully aware and prepared to share what is required of them. You may also indicate agenda owners & duration in your communication if they need to present this to the group. This is especially helpful in a meeting that has large number of participants. You should have someone to keep the time to ensure presenters don’t stretch the meeting duration longer than planned. Meeting organizer should appoint someone as notes taker. 
  3. Take charge: Better meetings are a result of a good leader & affect organization culture. Statistics show that, “Nonverbal Communication,” only 7 percent of communication is what we say — the rest is how we say it. Pitch, volume, and rhythm carry 38 percent of a message, while body language, facial expressions, and eye movement account for a whopping 55 percent” If you are the organizer of the meeting, it is your responsibility to take charge of the meeting goal and drive it effectively to accomplish the meeting goal. You can do that by being attentive; keep the discussion relevant & useful. Don’t hesitate to remind people why they are there in case discussion strays from the topic.  Secondly, ensure that all participants are prepared for the meeting, if some homework was expected. It may be better to call off the meeting or re-schedule if earlier action items are not worked on. Finally, to have an effective meeting, you should start & end on time. This would give a clear message to all and they won’t be late next time. Having said that, if there are people who are senior to you or of your rank, be diplomatic by reminding with them in advance about meeting time. 
  4. Ensure equal participation: only a few people dominating the discussion are very common during meetings. As a leader you should see that all participate and contribute in healthy discussion to have everyone’s view point and comments. This helps in boosting motivation of less active team members to open up & share with others their opinion. In addition, if you invited the right people for the meeting you must have their involvement! So don’t be circumspect to pitch in and give relevant direction if you find that only certain individuals are hijacking the discussion. 
  5. Close with action items: Summarize your meeting outcome and clarify if something is missed out. Spell out the action items to take forward the meeting goal. In fact, each meeting must end with action items clearly specified and distributed. The action items again should be time bound and owned by individual people e.g. what’s expected of them and when — by the end of the week, the end of the cycle, or the next meeting. If the ownership is on a certain group, you should name the group leader. There is a saying, if all are responsible, effectively no one is responsible! So make sure all understand what is expected of them as next step.
  6. Follow up: ideally send out meeting minutes to all participants and people owning the action to keep track of what was decided and what assignments everyone agreed to take on, so you can follow up and keep things moving. Set the reminder threshold e.g. weekly, 2 days before next meeting or a day before action due date. On critical issues, it may help to keep your supervisor or department heads in loop.

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
Program & portfolio mgnt professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter:Shammy11

Beyond Project management certification

I recently flip through a few employers’ career sites out of curiosity for what they expect from a PM candidate for their projects. Some of these companies were top level IT consulting and Outsourcing firms while some others were in retail and manufacturing domains. What I found was on expected lines or nothing new: more and more firms now believe a PM certification is more desirable in the candidates. While few years back it was a preferred criterion, now this is more of a default qualification!

While we know that merely passing the PMI exam is not the only thing employers are looking for, it does give them a sense of assurance of the basic understanding of the discipline in the candidate. As importance of project management grew up to ensure success of project initiatives during last decade due to emergence larger and more complex projects fueled by greater rate of technology adoption and globalization, more and more IT Directors/managers across the globe preferred to entrust their projects to experience and trained PMs. As per Standish group’s latest report as many as two third of them regarded these credentials ‘desirable” while more than one third felt this to be mandatory for the prospective PMs. This is higher than 10 percentages from the 2005 figures.

Being myself a project manager and programme manager, I feel having a certification really helps PMs in two ways. One, it instantly establishes your credibility and evokes respect from the stakeholders. Second, it opens more professional opportunities for them including prospects of higher pay! For the employers, though it brings them a sense of assurance having a capable hand on their project, though it need not translate in the anticipated project success. The reason being, each project has unique circumstances and product. There are cases of failed projects despite having some of the best project managers working on them. These projects failed due to reasons normally not under PM controls e.g. change in technology, lack of resources and change of client requirements/priorities.

As an example: several projects that saw budgetary cut back in 2009 are tottering at the verge of failure, delayed closure or sizable cost run up making them un-viable. Also there is no guarantee that conceptual knowledge gained by certified PM from Certification/Training is actually used in the project or not. Project success is a combination of multiple factors contributed equally by the individual and organization. As mentioned in my earlier article, even organization culture can have a deeper effect on project success. Typically the first person to get blamed for the failure is project manager, however an organization with low process maturity may not command higher project success rate despite having certified project managers because PM as an individual will have to follow the established processes and will have lesser influence on the organization processes.

One more thing that I want to emphasize is that even for the certified Project managers, it is not the end of learning. Actually they should bear more responsibility to bring best practices in their projects and mentor juniors e.g. project leads to imbibe these practices. In another word, is that PMs should strive for spending more time in self learning and passing on the knowledge to the organization. In fact, PMI makes it a qualifying requirement to engage in ongoing learning & knowledge imparting process to be re-certify after 3 years. Not doing that can lead to certification expiry

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
Program & portfolio mgnt professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter:Shammy11

Developing team members

Project managers are well positioned to foster the development of team members. They know individual capabilities, work attitudes, and skill gaps through frequent direct contact and observation. They know the skills needed because of their project planning responsibility. In addition, project managers have a broader view than team members of corporate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats possibly because of the vision and planning meetings they are required to attend. Here are a few ways a PM can positively influence team member development:

  • Make assignments designed to build skills through experience and opportunities to work closely with seasoned professionals.
  • Ensure that in house or external training is consistent with career goals as well as project requirements
    Use one-on-one feedback meetings to help employees make an honest assessment of their skills and improve understanding of the skills needed in current and potential positions
  • Include career planning in performance reviews and create a career development plan with each individual
    Offer development opportunities such as rotating work assignments, cross training, or special projects that have wide corporate interest
  • Make sure the employee knows about company training and educational assistance programs.
    Provide suggestions on courses or seminars that you found useful
  • Work cooperatively with other project and program managers to recommend individuals for assignments that offer advancement opportunities or learning experience even if that means you will have to fill the project gap

Project managers who do team member development successfully (and enjoy it) are often those who were coached and mentored in their own career by senior managers with a vision of what their future could be. They appreciate the guidance, role modeling, and support they received in their career development and want to be part of helping others achieve.

(From fearnoproject)

Kaizen impact

Very few people may know that the famous quality improvement technique ‘Kaizen’ actually evolved and contributed from work of Americans who helped rebuild Japan post world war!Word Kaizen in English typically means simply improvement and not necessarily continuous improvement. It refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small.

Kaizen is a daily activity, purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, if done correctly, eliminates overly hard work and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work rationally and learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. It has tremendous impact on the efficiency of the organization and its people in short to long term. I personally have felt this in my stints working with some of the well known Japanese conglomerates in Japan and India. The very nature of Japanese people to work at smaller improvements on daily basis leads to great results.

The beauty of Kaizen is that people at all levels of an organization can participate in Kaizen, from the CEO down to external vendors e.g. Japanese Auto giants. Kaizen methodology includes making changes and monitoring results, then adjusting. The Toyota production system is known for kaizen & probably is most efficient production system in Automobile industry leading to most cost and quality competitive.

At the foundation of Kaizen rests elements such as Team work, Personal Discipline, Improved morale, Quality circles, Suggestions for improvement.5S framework which enables Kaizen success and helps in controlling wastes (Muda) and increases productivity includes, Seiri – tidiness,  Seiton – orderliness, Seiso – cleanliness, Seiketsu – standardized clean-up, Shitsuke – discipline.

While Kaizen being hugely successful in manufacturing and industrial firms, also has had some critics who claimed that even though it works perfectly fine at the low level improvements, it does not encourage high level of creativity. However a valid viewpoint, we must remember that biggest room in the world is room for improvement and it needs to be applied both at the top for creative ideas for quantum results and Kaizen like techniques at the bottom level for the real desired impact!

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
Program & portfolio mgnt professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter:Shammy11