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Our company is facing a challenge regarding the project management organisation. We already have our own working group on this topic but I'd like to get some external opinions in. It's a very specific case.

First I need to provide background information on our company and current project management organisation:

We're a professional services company with focus on software engineering which operates in heavily matrix- & remote-organised projects but with an underlying organisation that supports employees in execution of the projects. Roughly 600 people of which 70 are active as project manager. The revenues streams are generated within client portfolios. A client portfolio manager has the responsibility on several projects with his clients. The project managers are managing these projects and are together with the client portfolio manager fully accountable / responsible. The project manager is the glue with the remaining organisation and gets via a centralised staffing-unit all experts from other disciplines on his projects to conduct a project, e.g. visual designer, programmers, consultants, UX experts.

Some details on how our project managers are organised:

We had a company-wide reorganisation 4 years ago and are on a continuous journey to develop us further. Our culture is very open and most of the organisational changes are initiated & happening bottom-up. The main outcome from the reorganisation back then for the "Project management department" was to introduce a so called "Project Management Cluster". Basically a pool of project managers. This cluster was further split up in to Skill Groups:

  • Traditional Project Management
  • Agile Project Management
  • Programm Management

Every project manager in the cluster had to be in at least one of the skill groups. The skill groups are the professional home for a project manager and identify usually the skill focus and expertise of an employee. The skill groups are mainly responsible for exchange and creating new standards. Also topic specific trainings and onboarding of new project managers is conducted mainly in these skill groups (e.g. Agile Management conducts Scrum Master trainings).

Current challenge:

We saw the significance of introducing agile standards back then and with creation of a dedicated skill group to agile topics we made fast progress. There were project managers active in multiple skill groups to share knowledge but mainly the skill groups were silos.

Then a market effect hit us in the past 1 - 2 years: Currently 80% of the projects are done agile thus the other skill groups became less significant and we had lots of project managers that adopted the agile skills in the agile management skill groups by joining trainings, doing exchange, collaboration on creation of new standards.

We're now in a situation where the initially created specialised silos with these skill groups are getting more and more together and there is a spillover of many "traditional project managers" in the agile management skill group. On the other hand there are also "agile only project managers" that are lacking knowledge of traditional conducted projects since we have no demand in doing these projects from the market.

Aspects to take into consideration:

  • our company is still growing and I expect to have the Project manager count in 5 years at around 100 people
  • we'd like to be as effective and efficient as possible but understand that because of the size there must be an underlying standard & structure. A discussion some years ago was to form a project management office that supports the "front facing" project managers in their daily work
  • we'd like to standardise trainings in the cluster, basically a training offer independent from the skill groups setup but are unsure who & how will conduct these trainings (an idea was to have a dedicated sub-structure: "PM training center")
  • culture-wise we'd like to come close together again and gather the project managers in more global events / conferences for exchange

As highlighted it's a very specific situation. Do you know of best practices or success stories that can help us?

Thank you very much.

  • To summarise: Should you train all your PMs (groups #1 and #3) in Agile and then group them (#1, #2, and #3) with some other criteria? Is that correct? – Danny Schoemann Jan 14 at 13:02
  • Training is a big challenge in our organisation with that many people on different seniority levels. Currently the skill group "agile management" (#2) is creating and conducting Scrum Master or Product owner trainings. On the other hand the "traditional Project Management" skill group is responsible for conducting "PM basics" (according to the IPMA standard). We made up some ideas around a "Center of Excellence" or "PM Boot camp", like a fixed team in the PM cluster that will be responsible for standards & trainings for the whole PM group. – Andre Meier Jan 14 at 13:37
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    Not really an answer per se, but in my experience, traditional project managers bring a lot to the table in agile. They just need to switch their mindset from one of control to one of adapting. – Daniel Apr 27 at 20:27
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Just right from the top of my head I would create a train the trainer concept. For both agile and traditional I would create two different course paths. For each course I would – including an expert:

  • Start with an internal workshop to define the objectives, contents & deliverables for the given path.
  • Create training materials.
  • Training for first set of people which have the highest trainer skills and practise the new training.
  • Then take (2!) two people from the first training and let them teach the next course.

Depending on the time pressure you have, you can repeat this quite often. But please be aware the training skills are lower in each level (after each training).

To catch a quality loss, create for each training group a second training which includes the optimized training materials.

This should drive you through a first round of trainings. This is just a summary and there are many possible variants of this concept, but this is one thing I did years ago personally and it was very successful for 1000 people in 4 different courses.

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For an organization your size I would expect at least some would be members of PMI. They have certifications for Agile project management, and the PMBok (version 6) has an Agile appendix taken from the Scrum Alliance.

Not everything in the PMBok is applicable to Agile, or any project for that matter, but it has most of the tools to do most of the jobs most of the time.

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Hard truth is - project management skills works as any other professional skills. There are areas where knowledge evolves slowly; there are others - specially in software development - one can become outdated quite fast.

Let's use an analogy with development. Let's assume you have a specific group of very good, seasoned mainframe developers. They have worked for years with software development, knows how to handle tuff clients and those specific test cases most junior members overlook. You also have very good front end developers. You might have not as many seasoned Angular v8 developers as you have mainframe ones.

You may find yourself in a situation where there's less demand for mainframe. What can you do? The underlying problem is the same:

How to keep professionals up to date with market needs?

This is a question every software company might face at a given moment... Some often than others.

What can a company do?

Raise awareness

Your professionals must understand what the market needs. In some cases, it's not necessary to raise this awareness, as the professionals themselves are constantly looking at the market to understand its trends.

Support the ones willing to align themselves to the market needs

That's the key support a company can do: offer any training, book, workshop your professionals are asking (Needless to say, it should be aligned to market needs. Cooking workshops are nice for weekend dinners... But usually don't guarantee new contracts). Besides, you must appreciate the people looking for keeping up to date. On it, there's a very good talk by [Victor Kuppers] (https://youtu.be/nWecIwtN2ho) (in Spanish) defining that everyone is made of KAA (CHA in Spanish) : Knowledge, Ability, Attitude. What truly defines especial people is attitude. And searching for improvements is a good, positive sign of attitude.

Let go the ones that are not willing to change

Some people may not want to dedicate energy to recycle themselves. That's fine. There's places everywhere needing all sorts of skills.

Once the above exercise is done...

Invest in Communities of Practice

Avoid creating PM-specific training groups. Leadership training sessions are very powerful, but don't restrain them to PM only. Same as agile communities. Sponsor timely sessions where people interested in agile matters to debate about their project challenges, to exchange experiences and growth as a group. PMs are highly welcome on these groups, but potentially no longer (only as) as "Project Managers". Same on other aspects. If there's enough market demand, a more traditional community of practice could be created, although I personally believe there isn't much to debate on traditional management (IMMV, consider your reality).

Bottomline: Focus people empowerment by areas of knowledge, not by silos. There's much more knowledge to be obtained when sessions are composed by heterogeneous groups.

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