Monday, July 4, 2022

Building project management competencies

This article is a continuation of “developing the right competencies for a successful project manager”.

The last article covered the knowledge competencies which largely require the project manager to undergo some classroom training to acquire the body of knowledge facilitated by an accredited trainer.

As emphasised in the last article, having acquired the knowledge does not translate into a competent project manager! Am sure we have all seen people with degrees, masters’ programmes and other certificates but with little to show in work place performance.

It is highly important that the knowledge be augmented by performance and personal competencies which can come through natural leadership skills, experience or on the job coaching and mentoring.
The symptoms of such in competencies normally show in many ways; Unclear project objectives, executing a project without an approved business case, poor management of project teams, poor communications, unclear project scope, poor project documentation, poor risk management, the list goes on…

A competent project manager therefore needs to have the right knowledge, skills, aptitude and behaviors to be effective.

She/he needs to be able to apply the skills in terms clarifying the project objectives and scope without any grey areas on the project. They also need to be able to schedule the work of the project in terms of tasks, deliverables, milestones and associated budgeting and tracking of variances.

The project manager needs to be able to engage stakeholders, internal and external, executives and project team members on project progress. Issues and risks elevated in a timely fashion with well-structured advocacy where required. Importantly, like any other organised systems involving people, the right leadership skills by the project manager is a critical component.

Projects can be very complex, very rough environments with conflicts between team members, subject matter experts, suppliers, contractors, sub-contractors etc. The project manager needs to be able to guide, coach, mentor, counsel, inspire and focus the team on the end goals as defined in the business case document.

To be a good manager and leader on a project means that the project managers need to have the understanding of the bigger picture, have lateral and strategic thinking skills. He/she needs to be able to understand the context of the project and its external interfaces. Shortage of such a competency typically results in the projects that become white elephants, over designs, poor systems utilisation, and unhappy stakeholders amongst others.

A good project manager communicates widely on the project using different channels and is always “execution focussed”. Good planning is at the heart of any project and the project manager should develop and understand the project plans (scope, time, cost, HR, quality, risks etc.) with clear evidence of these plans available and approved in the project office.

As expected of any leader the project manager needs to set high performance standards for all project role players. It follows that he/she needs to lead with integrity and professionalism.
At times during the heat of the project, some project managers decide to ignore best practice and start taking short cuts either in desperation to meet a deadline or to please some stakeholders.
This can be disastrous to the project and the project manager needs to be disciplined in consistently applying good tested practices in accordance with the acquired knowledge. A good project manager can confidently engage executives on project issues without being derailed.

You may be asking; “How do we achieve such competencies in Botswana with such a shortage of experienced project managers?” We first need to accept that we are appointing inexperienced project managers who do not make the grade and sometimes for good reasons as there is a shortage.

We cannot continue doing things the same way all the time and expect different results! Once we truly accept that we have competency problems in our projects then we are more likely to start taking action.

Most degree programmes historically do not include project management modules and that is why we need to find ways of bridging the gap. This starts with ensuring the project managers we appoint have the knowledge through appropriate classroom training interventions.

The next steps are much more difficult in building the right aptitude and behaviors on the project. This however can be addressed by ensuring the organisation adopts a comprehensive methodology for managing projects as this will support the project managers in embedding the discipline through compliance to the methodology adopted.

Another increasingly important approach is to appoint internal or external coaches and mentors to the project managers. This will be the subject of the next article.

*Oabona Kgengwenyane is the Managing Director of InnoLead Consulting and X-Pert Group offering Management Consultancy and Corporate Training solutions. He can be contacted on 3909102/ 71303682 and [email protected]

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