Friday, 14 October 2011

Coaching for Project Managers

I have carried out several coaching sessions this week for project managers who are under pressure to deliver against very tight deadlines. Although they feel they have so little time they have decided that it is worth spending an hour with me to review their project and to decide on next steps, which has made me think about the benefits of hearing the views of an independent, objective observer.
1.       Someone with no specialist knowledge about your project can be very useful in assessing whether or not the objectives, scope and intended deliverables of the project described in the project brief are as obvious as the project manager believes them to be:
a.       When I am given a project brief to read I invariably have questions about what I think the project is going to deliver which surprise the project manager because they  think they have been so clear. This week I was reviewing a project which changes the way customers submit applications to a licensing body. By not knowing any of the detail I asked very basic questions which identified that the project had failed to include any acknowledgements back to the customers or any updates about the progress of their applications
b.      A lack of specialist knowledge makes it easy to spot risks because I don’t have the technical expertise to make me believe things won’t go wrong and there is no voice in my head telling me ‘that would never happen’
c.       Because I am not caught up in the enthusiasm for the project that helped get it off the ground in the first place its easy for me to ask ‘why are we doing this’ and be honest about whether I think the benefits are strong enough. I always ask two things: Would I spend my own money on this? Would I allow my staff to spend time working on this? No to either of these tells me that the benefits need to be strengthened. That means asking questions about whether this is a ‘vanity project’ i.e. its being done because its subject is important to someone with enough authority to authorise the work or whether the project is solving a problem that doesn’t really need a solution, because the problem is not that important or does not affect enough people.
2.       An experienced project manager who is not responsible for your project can provide a useful quality check for your project plan:
·         Identifying tasks that you may have forgotten but that they know are essential enablers to getting other things done. I looked at a project that is reworking how an organisation calculates pricing information for its sales team. The plan assumed that pricing information was pre-checked by the finance department, but there were no tasks involving the finance department in the plan – so it appeared on paper as if the pricing information magically appeared!
·         Questioning whether all the interdependencies have been captured. I know that asking my project managers simple questions about the inputs to a particular task quickly identifies that the activity to create those inputs has been left off the plan.
It is not always possible to recruit a project assurance resource or hire an external consultant to provide this objective viewpoint, but its worth considering if other project managers in your organisation could act as the critical friend for your project if you return the favour.

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