“Shadow a PM” Project Training Technique
By Dick Billows, PMP
I’ve written all my books so the reader’s experience resembles “shadowing a PM” as the PM does his/her work. My own training as a PM came from “shadowing” experienced PMs. That is, I followed a PM all day as he/she:
- attended meetings with the sponsor and stake- holders
- planned the project
- made assignments to the team members
- interpreted and analyzed data and information
- developed and delivered presentations
- answered executives’ questions
- solved problems
- decided which technique to use in each situation.
I practiced and enhanced the skills I learned throughout my career. I was a portfolio manager in a Fortune 200 company and later was a partner in the fourth largest management consulting firm in the world. I wrote my books to duplicate my “shadowing” experience. My goal is to help PMs understand and master the processes, tools, techniques and work products of a professional project manager.
I also want PMs to be able to select the right technique for each situation and the unique personalities involved. Dealing with the people and applying the techniques are inseparable. They’re the keys to becoming a great project manager. So it’s best to learn them together. I use that approach in the examples and stories in all my project management books. They are described below.
Learning Technical and Political Skills to Persuade EXECutives With Data
I wrote these project management books using the shadowing approach I mentioned above. The PMs who read the books don’t gain just technical skills. They also acquire some political savvy in dealing with clients and executives. They have a better “feel” for how to present the technical information to management and team members. The reaction to this approach has been positive. Here is how my books work .
They start with the basic tools and techniques for managing smaller business projects. They cover planning, gathering requirements, estimating, scheduling and tracking progress. They show you the actual schedules, reports and PowerPoint presentations to use on these projects. People remember the stories as well as the formulas, tools and techniques. And the best part is you don’t have to memorize it.
I have also written a book for managing larger business projects. It covers more advanced techniques and tools like risk management and five different techniques for estimating time and cost. It also includes stakeholder management and earned value analysis for tracking large projects. It has chapters on persuading stakeholders and making effective presentations for the different personality types in an executive group.
Driving Projects from Business Value
My clients wanted the same project management methodology tailored to their unique worlds of Information Technology, Construction, Healthcare and Consulting. So I wrote the books listed below. Senior managers like the quantification of business value built into my planning process and the definition of every deliverable. It lets them hold people accountable. They also find it easier to make project priority decisions by comparing the business value each project promises to deliver. The alternative is basing project priorities on power politics and that is never a successful strategy.
The success of the basic Information Systems project management book justified producing an advanced-level text with chapters on estimating, risk and managing user expectations. It’s challenging to change the existing planning focus from producing lines of code to generating business value for the users. I altered the methodology to include three elements that are vital to producing business value: training, process improvement and new systems implementation. It’s important to recognize that creating the new software by itself does not produce business value for the users. You must remember two things: the project’s business value must be defined in the user’s terms and every project task must be a measured deliverable, not an activity. Here’s an example. Activity – “Produce user friendly interface.” Measured deliverable – “Operators can enter 100 invoices an hour with 98% accuracy.” A measured deliverable is an outcome with business value defined in the users’ terms. You should always engage the users’ personnel in the process redesign as well as the new systems implementation to ensure success.
I also made changes to the methodology to fit the unique construction and engineering projects. Using business value as the definition of success (rather than just “built as planned”) requires a different type of thinking during the project planning process. To deliver the business value the client requires, you can’t stop planning when the structure receives its certificate of occupancy. The process continues until the structure is operational and meets the client’s performance specs. Through stories and examples you will learn techniques for managing sub-contractors and holding them accountable for measured deliverables, not just activities. Techniques for managing and and making money on change orders are also included.
The healthcare version of the methodology is substantially modified because of the dual structures (medical and administrative) in most healthcare organizations. That structure requires the ability to deal with the different project objectives of the administrators and the medical staff. If you don’t know how to resolve those differences, the project won’t produce value for the organization. You will learn techniques for dealing with the differences between the administrative and medical organizations in managing every aspect of the project. Techniques for managing teams composed of both care-givers and administrative decision-makers are included. So are tools for addressing the unique risk management issues. You will learn through examples and stories.
The most recent adaptation of my methodology is for consulting projects. The principal addition to the methodology is on change control. You will learn techniques aimed at getting paid for changes to the project plan. You will master how to achieve this goal while maintaining positive client relations throughout a continuing flow of projects. The examples and stories in this book teach you how to do it.
I have written two additional textbooks. One addresses
the management of multi-project programs and portfolios. It focuses on the best practices for organizations to use. It covers project initiation, planning, setting project priorities and allocating resources based on those priorities. I also cover techniques for evaluating a portfolio of projects and balancing it to fit the corporate strategy. There is a heavy focus on techniques for persuading executives to adopt those best practices even at the cost of restrictions on their ability to start new projects.
The other is a reference book of the methodology and all the tools and techniques. It has 132 scenarios of project situations and explains how to apply the methodology to each one. These are real project situations. I wrote this book as a reference for project managers encountering common and unique situations.
Example of story-based learning
All of my books use story-based learning. For example, you learn about the critical path technique in the context of a real project aimed at cutting delivery times. The executive sponsor has promised customers a two-week delivery time starting on June 1. The project manager has calculated that without changing the budget, staff and/or scope the project team can’t deliver that service level until July 1. You’ll read how the project manager assesses the situation, calculates the schedule options, and subtly guides the sponsor to a good decision in this real project situation.
Click a link above to read a few pages of any of the books and see if story-based learning works for you.