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Project management education, more than training

Gary Yorke
March 17, 2011

During a regular catch up, the executive sponsor and the PMO manager were discussing ways to get more improvements in project delivery capability. “I think better education across the company of how projects deliver on strategy will have a significant impact,” said the PMO manager.

“Well, we’ve put a lot of your staff through project management courses and I’d like to see the return from that before we do any more training. Don’t worry about the rest of the business, I want to know how your ‘experts’ will get those last few projects back on track,” was the reply from the executive.

The PMO manager sighed; clearly the need for education about projects extended to all levels in the organisation.

Education and learning is more than just training. One definition is that education is the process by which accumulated knowledge, skills and values are transmitted from one generation to another. In the organisational context it is about developing the collective understanding of how and why people do what they do. It helps knowledge retention and the transfer of wisdom from more experienced staff to juniors. Education is, therefore, a vital component of any change to culture or way of working: in other words, programs and projects.

Education is also a means to develop the organisation’s capabilities and capacity for delivery through adopting a structured approach to learning, and should recognise that effective learning is made up of three components:

  • 70% from real life and on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving. This is the most important aspect of any learning and development plan;
  • 20% from feedback and from observing and working with role models; and
  • 10% from formal training.

This 70/20/10 learning concept was developed by the Center for Creative Leadership and has now gained acceptance in many leading organisations.

The role of the PMO

So where do PMOs fit into organisational education? By combining frameworks and methodologies with the sharing of experience, demonstrating best practice and providing targeted training, PMOs can deliver more value to the organisation.

Unfortunately, PMOs often fail to deliver an integrated approach to education. They might focus on defining standards, methods and tools without checking if the organisation has the capabilities to use them effectively. How many times have you seen document templates provided without an explanation of how to use them, or relevant examples already completed? And how much easier is it when someone sits with you and talks you through the templates?

By having a practitioner spend 15 minutes with business staff, who know little about project management, explaining the purpose of a work package and how to complete a work package description, staff go away with the understanding needed to deliver effectively, as well as being reassured there is someone there to help if they have questions.

Facilitating lessons learnt activities is another way PMOs support education within projects. By providing the opportunity for teams to take a step back from the ‘doing’ in a project and reflect on how they performed, project team members are able to plan more effectively and make better judgements in future.

Finally, PMOs can support education by ensuring project managers have the right skills and experience to deliver projects, as demonstrated by the major bank that implemented an Enterprise Capability Management Office to support a number of PMOs. By measuring individuals’ capabilities and matching PMs to project risk profiles, it could target personal development and education and significantly reduce the risk of projects failing.

PMOs might not know everything or have all the right answers, but they can be central to corporate education and building capability of a business.

Gary Yorke
Gary Yorke is a senior consultant at MetaPM and chair of the PMO special interest group for the Victoria Chapter of the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM).
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