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I'm trying to figure out if and how to help people who become Project Manager / Project Leader for the first time. Not sure if it is a good name, but I'm trying to create kind of a "mentoring system" for new PMs.

From your experience:

  • Do you know any mentoring system for new PMs? Have you tried one (either as an experienced PM or as a new one)?
  • What would you recommend: An experienced PM to work closely together with a new one for, let's say, a month, so they can discuss and / or react on daily basis? Or rather, they work separately (on their own projects) and meet once a given period of time (a few weeks?) just to talk, explain problems and provide solutions?
  • Do the potential new PMs already have some familiarity with PM concepts, either through coursework or independent study, or would they be "blank slates" for the mentors? – jcmeloni Feb 1 '12 at 14:26
  • Yes, they do have some little experience and / or knoweldge. They just haven't had a chance to manage a project before. – Zbigniew Kawalec Feb 2 '12 at 12:03
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1- Two tools I would suggest for advice on mentoring: - Manager-Tools.com has several podcasts on mentoring. Very good for a traditional style of mentoring. - Lyssa Adkins' "Coaching Agile Teams" is another excellent resource. Mentoring and coaching are not the far apart in ideas.

2- Like David says, it depends. My high level thoughts.

If you are working on long projects, that change slowly and are using traditional project management styles. Then using the Manager Tools model with weekly to monthly meetings are fine. You're focused on the PM's career long term, not the day to day.

If you are working on short projects, or high change projects, then try the agile coaching style. It starts with very high touch and then pulls back. It focsuses much more on the doing.

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I'm not a "project manager" per se, but as a youth scout leader, I often ask myself the question as to how I can help the patrol leaders in the troop become better leaders, and by extension plan for summer camp, klondike (the big competition between scout troops), and similar things.

What I've learned over the past few years I've been trying to help my fellow scouts is that the first rule is:

Tell them that if they have a question, the can just ask me (or one of the other, more experienced scouts) anything.

The second is like it:

If you notice they have a problem, talk to them at the patrol leaders council (think of it as a department meeting of sorts), counsel them - but don't take over their "project" (in the case of scouts, their project being getting ready for the next campout, planning the meetings etc). Just give them advice, and if they ask for more assistance, or tell you to shut the heck up and let them do their job, do what they say.

The third is:

Let them fail, but do help them get back up on their feet.

Dinner sucked last weekend on the campout? Well, help them get back on their feet for the next campouts dinner. Again, be there for them, help them, but don't do their job for them.

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    +1 I think this is great advice. In a way, what you're doing is a form of project management or possibly program management. Great answer! I hope you stick around and continue to participate on our site. – jmort253 Feb 3 '12 at 2:53
  • @jmort253 Thanks! And I will, I hope I have more useful answers in the future. :) – jrg Feb 3 '12 at 13:58
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I do not think mentoring a PM is any different than mentoring any other profession or trade. Nor do I think there is a one size fits all approach. This notion of mentoring really falls on a scale that could range from intensive supervision and oversight to something more like a strategic adviser, with all the points in between those two extremes. And the level of control, supervision, and frequency are tailor made based on the needs of the mentoree. I think this is one of those things you would be wise not to over think or over engineer. Let the mentor and mentoree design something that makes sense to them and satisfies their needs.

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I think it's 10% classroom training and 90% mentoring.

The classroom training gives the standards of the organization. Is it PMP? 6 sigma? Deliverables based? Standard workplace? You shouldn't skip this step but it's just an entry point.

The next step is a 6 month mentoring period. Ideally you start 3 months before the promotion, giving the mentee PM tasks under heavy supervision. Every document is explained and reviewed in detail. After promotion the mentoring is still frequent but more on an as requested basis.

The purpose of the mentoring is transmission of judgment. There is no short cut in the classroom for transmitting this wisdom.

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Mentoring is the best way for a new or junior project manager to develop and acheive his own potential and trust his own abilities. Work experience is sometimes more valuable than money in an organization. Having a mentor aslo facilitates the integration of a new employee in an compagny, I mean better and faster integration. It is easier to have more social interconnections within the system. I would built a team of your most senior project managers. They could meet everytime they witness in their work place that somebody could benefit from a mentor or ask for it. My advice would be to keep that structure very light, with no formal meeting schedule. Try to make the personalities fit too. The manager should give some time to the mentor and to the junior project manager to meet and discuss, unless the work performance pressure will end the mentor-junior project manager relationship very rapidely.

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