“Shadow a PM” Project Training
By Dick Billows, PMP
When I was a project manager, then a program and portfolio manager, there were no textbooks or courses that dealt with practical project management. They all focused on theory and memorizing dot point lists. My training as a PM came from “shadowing” experienced PMs. That is, I followed a PM all day as he/she attended meetings, interpreted and analyzed status data, then developed and delivered presentations. I asked a lot of questions and learned the technical skills. I also learned how to present information to executives, sponsors and team members with different personality styles. That included answering their questions and providing the appropriate level of detail.
In my portfolio management position, I knew that developing the project managers I worked with would be the foundation of my (and their) success. The Fortune 200 company and the consulting firm where I was a partner demanded consistent project success. And strong project management skills made that possible. So I spent a lot of time developing and honing project manager training materials for my PMs. My focus was on duplicating the learning process I had in “shadowing” an expert PM. I wanted people to understand the processes, tools, techniques and the work product of a project manager. I also wanted them to be able to select the right technique for each situation and the people involved. My experience taught me that dealing with the people and applying the techniques are inseparable. So it’s best for project managers to learn them together. That’s the key to developing great project managers and I use it in all my project management books. They are described below.
Learning Technical and Political Skills to Persuade EXECutives With The Data
I started using this shadowing approach with my own staff but quickly ran out of time because I needed too many project managers. So I wrote project management books using the shadowing approach. The results were excellent. The PMs who read the books didn’t gain just technical skills. They also acquired some political savvy in dealing with clients and executives. They had 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 basics required to manage smaller business projects. They cover planning, gathering requirements, estimating, scheduling and tracking. They also 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 including risk management and five different techniques for estimating time and cost. It also covers 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
I had clients who wanted to use the same project management methodology tailored to their unique worlds of Information Technology, Construction, Healthcare and Consulting. Senior managers liked the quantification of business value built into my planning process and the definition of every deliverable. That let them hold people accountable. They also found it easier to make project priority decisions by comparing the business value each project promised to deliver. The alternative was basing project priorities on power politics.
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 was 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. It’s important to recognize that creating the new software by itself does not produce business value for the users. I stressed two things to remember: 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. I always engage the users’ personnel in the process redesign and improvement to ensure success.
I made changes to the methodology to fit the increasing number of construction and engineering projects I was managing. Using business value as the definition of success (rather than just “built as planned”) required a different type of thinking during the planning process. To deliver the business value the client required, I couldn’t stop planning when the structure received its certificate of occupancy. The process continued until the structure was operational and met the client’s performance specs. I also added techniques for managing sub-contractors and holding them accountable for measured deliverables, not just activities. How to manage change orders is also included.
The healthcare version of the methodology required substantial modification because of the dual organization structures (medical and administrative) in most healthcare providers. That requires the ability to deal with the different project objectives of the administrators and the medical staff. I had to know how to resolve those differences or the project would produce very little value for the organization. My focus on measured deliverables continued but I had to deal with the differences between the administrative and medical organizations in managing every aspect of the project. The issues I addressed in the risk management process were also different. So are the team management challenges because teams are composed of both care-givers and administrative decision-makers.
The most recent adaptation of my methodology is for consulting projects. The principal addition to the methodology is on change control. Specifically, my techniques are aimed at getting paid for changes to the project plan. I achieved this goal while maintaining positive client relations that included a continuing flow of projects. The 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.