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Bloggers Sound Off: Aligning Talent with Strategy

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In the previous installment of the Voices on Project Management roundtable series, we asked bloggers to share their experiences with project management career paths.

This week, they discuss project management talent and business goals. We asked: As a practitioner, what do you think talent management programs need to do to align with organizational strategy?

Marian Haus, PMP: Talent management programs do more than just increase project success rates and reduce project risks. They contribute to employees' professional development. This directly leads to professional satisfaction and contributes to talent retention.

One way organizations align talent management to strategy to gain a competitive advantage through their most valuable asset -- their employees -- is by encouraging them to follow career paths tailored for the organization. This is a win-win. Both the organization and the employees are aware of and support the goals of the applied talent management.

Mário Henrique Trentim, PMI-RMP, PMP: Some time ago, I read the book "Know-How," written by Ram Charan. It unveils the importance of talent management as a driving force for strategic management. We are facing a huge talent gap in Brazil and around the world because organizations didn't do their homework. They should have mapped their employees' competencies and created career paths  to boost talent development in-house. Building organizational core competencies involves investing in people.

To align talent management programs with organizational strategy, you have to:

  • Set organizational goals
  • Identify competencies needed to achieve short- and long-term goals
  • Create a detailed map of people's competencies
  • Identify and fine-tune career paths
  • Develop training, coaching and mentoring programs
  • Monitor and review

Lynda Bourne, DPM, PMP: The simple answer is: Yes, of course they do. If you are in the oil industry, you need skilled oil people, not skilled bakers! What's missing in most organizations is the realization that project delivery and strategic project management are core competencies essential to the future development of the organization. Most talent management programs are stuck in the era of the "accidental project manager" and need to adjust to modern reality. Project, program and portfolio management and supporting roles, such as PMO management, are critical skills that need to be nurtured to allow the organization to grow and adapt to deal with an ever-changing world. These skills need to be tailored to the organization's culture and industry, but are definable and can be mapped into career frameworks.

Kevin Korterud: Project managers represent a special case when it comes to talent management. They require a complex mix of talents -- such as understanding high-level business process, executive communications and negotiation skills -- that allows them to be effective as project managers. 

Given their broad responsibilities and business impacts in the delivery of projects, project managers need to have their level and depth of talent ready in advance of the implementation of organizational strategy. That readiness will allow them to more quickly and successfully deliver projects, which creates a competitive edge for the organization. 

Bloggers Sound Off: Project Management Career Paths

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In the first installment of the Voices on Project Management roundtable series, we asked bloggers for their thoughts on critical project management skillsets.

This week, they discuss project management career paths. We asked them: Is there a defined career path at your organization? If not, what do you think are the barriers to developing one? If there is one, how is it affecting business success?

Mário Henrique Trentim, PMI-RMP, PMP: Unfortunately, we don't have clear project management career paths at my organization. In Brazil, project management is seen as a practice, not a profession. Career paths here are usually oriented according to recognized professions, such as engineer or lawyer.

I believe the greatest barriers are cultural and political ones within organizations. It would be necessary to make organizational structures more flexible to support dedicated career paths. Moreover, senior managers and executives don't know enough about project management to understand the importance of establishing project management career paths. 

I consider myself a project management "evangelist" in that I try to show organizations, not just mine, the importance of project management. I do that by addressing senior managers and executives, because from my experience, people in lower hierarchical levels have already embraced the importance of project management. There are a lot of courses, seminars and workshops for project management professionals, but senior managers and executives usually don't participate in them.

Vivek Prakash, PMP: Having worked with IT and non-IT companies, I have observed that a project manager's role and career are quite well defined in IT companies. However, this is not the case with manufacturing and research and development (R&D) organizations. In a broader sense, I can say a project manager's role and career are better defined in projectized organizations, but not in functional ones such as many found in pharmaceuticals, biotech and manufacturing.

The main barrier in functional organizations in defining a project manager's role is the focus on management of products and patents. Today's customer is interested in buying solutions, not just products. That means there's a growing need for people from different functions to come together to provide customized solutions in a specific timeframe. 

A project manager is required to lead such initiatives. And while it is a specialized skill, coordinating among various functions and aligning them toward a single objective is taken for granted. Employees are either not capable or interested in playing the project manager's role, as there is no formal training or career path. This is causing delays and budget overruns in projects.

Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP: I've never worked in an organization with defined project management career paths. But in my past organizations, there have been succession plan processes. For example, at a previous employer, human resources would organize meetings twice a year with organizational heads of different functions (i.e., vice presidents of finance, sales, marketing, IT, etc.). During these meetings, the definition and review of succession plans took place, as well as the identification of high-potential individuals. This has provided project professionals with the opportunity to make lateral moves to business functions or to another business unit in a similar project management role.

One of the barriers, at least in the last two years at a company I worked for, was the constant reorganizations that removed and consolidated functions. The changes demanded frequent updates to job descriptions and left no time to really align these with project and program management functions -- let alone develop career paths. The business success of the organization was on track, but project professionals could not figure out their next step in their career within the organization.

Does your organization have a project management career path? If so, what impact has it had on business success?

Bloggers Sound Off: Emerging Critical Skillsets

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Talent management is a hot topic in organizations around the world. That's why, over the next few weeks, Voices on Project Management is bringing you a roundtable series on the subject. 

This week's discussion reflects on three critical project management skillsets -- technical project management, leadership, and strategic and business management skills -- as revealed in PMI's Pulse of the Profession™ In-Depth Report: The Competitive Advantage of Effective Talent Management

We asked them: Does your project experience support the growing importance of these skills? If not, how does it differ?

Mário Henrique Trentim, PMI-RMP, PMP: Yes, but we need balance between the three. 

I advise new professionals to focus on technical skills because that will make them valuable project professionals. Having a strong project management background enables you to aim for higher positions. 

It is also important to develop soft skills such as leadership and communication. Especially in projects, we deal and work with a lot of internal and external stakeholders.

Finally, every organization -- whether a for-profit or not-for-profit -- needs strategy and business management. And since projects drive business results, project professionals must understand business and strategic management and align projects with the organization's goals. Otherwise, we waste a lot of time, money and resources.

Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP: Yes. Organizations are looking to hire a project professional with "hybrid business-technical" experience. These types of professionals are in high demand, as organizations have had successful projects by aligning projects and strategy to achieve strategic goals and sustain a competitive advantage.

To foster individuals with this "hybrid business-technical" experience, organizations are implementing stretch assignments as part of the talent development. For example, the project manager may not have business skills, but as the project progresses, the project manager will acquire business skills through formal or on-the-job training, or through a coach or mentor. And other organizations are transferring project ownership to individuals with business acumen and mastery of soft skills. Organizations are then enrolling them in project management classes, for example.

Lynda Bourne, DPM, PMP: Technical project management skills have never been enough to run projects successfully. Leadership has always been a critical component of any successful manager's skillset. 

Strategic and business management skills are a different matter. Organizational leadership needs to ensure projects are aligned to strategic objectives. They must also ensure that the organization is capable of managing the processes around and supporting projects -- from innovation and portfolio selection to developing project career paths -- to generate value. There's an African saying: "It takes a village to raise a child." The same is true of projects: It takes a complete organization to achieve value from its projects.  

The project manager's role is to deliver the project "right," and this means being aware of wider organizational implications. However, senior management's responsibility is to make sure the right projects are being done for the right strategic reasons.

Kevin Korterud: The complexity and scale of projects today demands a balanced set of skills. To be effective, project professionals need to have a 360-degree view of the technical aspects, team leadership and business impacts of projects. 

As a foundation, a project manager must have some form of technical project management and be effective at leading. Since consumers receive some form of outcome from your project, strategic and business management skills are essential. The ability to translate project activities into business results requires an understanding of the business strategies of your sponsors and consumers.

At the end of the day, a project manager must provide direction on the technical aspects for the project team; fulfill the role of leader in the eyes of the sponsors; and keep in mind that the solutions you create for a consumer must have relevance to their business.

Vivek Prakash, PMP: I see a focus on training more for technical skills than on leadership, and very little for business management skills. Lack of business management skills makes it difficult for a project manager to align projects with organizational strategies. That means a large number of strategies are not implemented successfully. Developing strategic skills helps project managers connect business objectives with project objectives. 

I believe that leadership skills are the most important of the three. The project manager's primary role is to get the work done by the team. Often pressure techniques are used, but leadership skills help project managers play the role of facilitator and create a productive environment. 

In my opinion, interpersonal skills are even more important. They are the basis for acquiring leadership skills and help project managers get buy-in from other stakeholders. Therefore, developing interpersonal skills for project managers should be the top priority of any organization.

To Learn or to Execute? That Is the Question

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If you've ever been in a corporate training session, chances are you've noticed fellow project managers coming in late, or not at all. The excuse is often, "There is so much pressure on the project that it's very difficult to make time for training."  

In my experience, project managers who choose work over training often expect the same from team members. So when a project is running, learning all but stops. But here's a thought: Upgrading skills and project execution can -- and should -- take place in tandem.

Consider these two scenarios:

  1. Project manager focuses on execution and ignores training
  2. Project manager focuses on execution and training
In today's fast-changing world, it is necessary to continuously upgrade skills beyond what you can learn on the job to overcome future challenges. In the first scenario, the project manager consistently misses opportunities to upgrade skills. After some time, the organization finds it difficult to provide better and more challenging assignments due to lack of skills. The organization will very likely lose a frustrated project manager. In the long term, both the organization and project manager are in lose-lose situation.

In the second scenario, the project manager not only focuses on efficient execution but also prepares himself or herself and team members for current and future challenges. Due to time constraints, this is the hardest option for a project manager, but it's also the most rewarding. The key is developing a plan that combines learning and execution. 

For example, a project manager might enroll in a training session that pulls him or her away from the workplace. This forces the project manager to delegate his or her tasks to team members. In turn, that gives team members an opportunity to lead during the project manager's absence -- and experiment and learn what they will do in future. The net result is a positive cascading effect that upgrades the skills of everyone on the project.

Here is a simple plan to get you started:

  1. Evaluate your team members' roles and responsibilities -- yours included -- six months or one year down the line.
  2. Identify the skills that are required to perform those roles and responsibilities. 
  3. Map the existing skills and identify the gaps for everyone on the team. 
  4. Prepare a training plan for each member. 
  5. Build a main training schedule that addresses individual absences as team members complete their training. This schedule should plug in the skills gaps left by the absent team member.
With a firm training schedule, you and your team members can feel at ease to attend trainings. And since training sessions directly enhance skills for all roles, everyone can feed their newfound knowledge into the project.

Do you prioritize training over execution, or vice versa? How are you ensuring you advance your skills in the face of project work? 

Learn more about how organizations can recruit, train and retain talent in "Mind the Gap," a PM Network® online exclusive.

Smart Organizations Sync Talent With Strategy

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For all the talk of an economic recovery, many organizations continue to obsess over headcount. But a smaller (and smarter) group is focusing on getting the right people on the right projects -- positioning those people and the organization itself to grow. 

The payoff can be huge, according to PMI's Pulse of the Profession™ In-Depth Report: Talent Management. On average, 72 percent of projects meet their original goals and business intent at organizations with significant or good alignment between their talent management and organizational strategies. Now put that up against the 58 percent rate at organizations with moderate or weak alignment. 

Despite the potential ROI, only 10 percent of organizations report significant alignment. That stat takes on added significance when you consider what's shaping up as a true talent crisis. 

Pulse data revealed four in five organizations report difficulty in finding qualified project management candidates to fill open positions. Some organizations are resorting to some serious poaching -- check the battle for project talent between Silicon Valley tech titans Apple, Google, Yahoo! and Facebook. China Road and Bridge Corporation is adopting a more long-term approach, according to China Daily. Looking to build talent in a strategic market for its projects, the company is sponsoring a group of Congolese students to study engineering and project management in Xi'an, China. 

In this case, organizations that align talent management and strategy have an edge, reporting less difficulty in filling open positions. 

Organizations that align talent management to organizational strategy are also more effective at implementing formalized career paths, with 83 percent moving new hires to advanced project management positions. Among organizations with weak alignment, that number drops to 62 percent. 

The MD Anderson Cancer Center, for example, clearly outlines the path up. It requires 10 years of experience (including five years of project management) and a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential for senior project managers who manage highly complex strategic projects that span three or more organizational boundaries. Establishing a career path not only makes employees feel like the organization has a vested interest in them, it also helps the organization spot -- and close -- any skills gaps that might prevent it from delivering on its business goals.

Recruiting and retaining top talent will only get organizations so far. They need to measure results, too. Across the board, organizations with strong alignment are more likely to measure outcomes such as staff turnover, learning development, and employee engagement, retention and productivity. 

U.S. space agency NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), for example, tracks the effectiveness of its professional development courses by assessing enrollment numbers and feedback from senior leadership. Armed with that information, the PMI Global Executive Council member knows what's working -- and what's not. 

No doubt, creating a talent management program comes with a hefty price tag. But consider the danger of skimping: On a US$1 billion project, organizations with significant or good alignment of talent management programs to organizational strategy put US$50 million fewer dollars at risk than organizations with moderate or weak alignment.  

With those kinds of numbers on the line, the bigger question is: Can an organization afford not to make the investment? 

Manage The Knowledge Gaps

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To be great in project management, we can't only be familiar with our role as the project manager. We must be educated about other roles in the profession, as well as most, if not all, knowledge areas.

But project managers often do the work they like and are familiar with, rather than work that needs to be done. Even if it's work that contributes to a project's overall success, I find that many of us focus on tasks that we're familiar with or that we already know we're good at.

Regardless of how great I am with some tasks, I know that I must fill in my own knowledge gaps with team members' expertise. Because in addition to being a good project manager, the real trick to getting things done is surrounding myself with a capable, well-trained project team.

Instead of trying to learn everything and being everything to everyone, I accept that I won't always know it all. I ask for input from the team on a regular basis. This makes the team feel needed and appreciated for their contributions and makes the project execution more efficient.

Do you tackle the tasks you're good at rather than those that need to get done? How do you balance your own expertise with that of your team members?

Start With Acknowledging Yourself

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After my last post, I received a thoughtful e-mail from a project manager in Barcelona, Spain. Because she was constantly criticized growing up, she said she had difficulty acknowledging others.

One's ability to acknowledge is an interesting and important topic. Although it focuses on our personal issues regarding whether or not we were acknowledged in our families, our schools and in our early jobs, we are all people first and project managers second. Therefore I would like to address the heartfelt question that was raised, as it has importance for all of us.

A person's ability to acknowledge others freely, generously and sincerely is linked to the way we're raised. If we were encouraged and praised as children, we're likely to grow up with a deep sense of self-worth and confidence. If we were constantly criticized, we have more work to do to gain a sense of self-worth.

We have to become our own support system, which can be hard. And it's even harder to acknowledge others when we've feel like we have not been acknowledged for who we are and the contributions we make. If that's true for you, then you will have to push yourself more to deliver acknowledgments that may come to mind but that you may have trouble carrying out.

We as human beings crave acknowledgment. Receiving acknowledgements releases a chemical called dopamine in our brains that makes us feel good, perform better and work harder to get more of what's called "the dopamine drench," per an article titled "In Praise of Praising Your Employees" published in the Gallup Management Journal.

So here's my advice if you were underacknowledged in your earlier life: Start by taking stock of who you are and what your contribution is to your workplace, your family and to the world. Then you can exercise the muscle on the underside of your right arm, as you reach up and over to give yourself a pat on the back!

In my courses, we always start by telling each other something special and unique about ourselves. I invite all of you to do just that--share something special about yourself with a friend or coworker--and send me an e-mail telling me about it. With your permission, I might even post it.

Show Your Appreciation

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Acknowledging people for the contribution they make to a project team or to their organization is such a simple matter. It's something I say repeatedly wherever I can get on my "soapbox": We can acknowledge people at any time, at no cost, without having to buy anything, install software or study an instruction manual.

Last night my soapbox was a live webinar attended primarily by project managers from all over the world, including Hong Kong, China, India, Brazil and the United States.

During the seminar I asked participants, "How do you feel when you complete a project that you put your whole heart, soul, body, mind and spirit into for the past several months, the users love the end result and your manager gives you nothing more than a quick 'thank you?"

This was the response via text chat:

Thomas: discouraged
Tanya: feel used
Srikrithiga: not interested to work
James: discouraged
Suganthi: Discouraged
James: feel indifferent
Sanjib: feeling of being empty--what was I doing all the time?
Ravindra: No motivation
Tanya: I won't give my best effort
Linda: lack of loyalty
Linda: feeling insecure, not as interested in working so hard
Fabricio: lack of motivation
Jade: feel not being valued, lack of respect

Then I asked, "How do you feel if your manager tells you what a difference your work made to the project team, how your contribution made the project a success, how much the users loved it, that she was getting wonderful feedback on it, and that the next time you would get more resources so you didn't have to work so many nights and weekends?"

And they answered:
James: I would feel appreciated; that motivates me
Shelley: Motivated...willing to give an even greater effort
Linda: enthusiastic
Ravindra: I would make extra efforts
Mariano: I would feel like a giant
Jade: more loyalty
Linda Benedict: my confidence would be boosted by the acknowledgement
Srikrithiga: I would give 200% for work

Performance, loyalty, engagement, confidence, motivation, self-worth are all functions of acknowledgment rather than compensation.

Especially during these challenging economic times--when everyone is working harder and having to do more--let's do our best to create a culture of appreciation in which people know their value and their worth.

There could be nothing simpler and more satisfying and with greater results.

Skills Shortage in South Africa

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Talent management is a big issue for organizations around the world--especially when it comes to the project management profession. While companies in some parts of the world are dealing with budget cuts that lead to people cuts, others are dealing with a shortage of the right people.
    South Africa is one country experiencing major problems from the latter. An article on AllAfrica.com declares:
    "Project Management is now regarded as the fastest-growing form of management worldwide, with its multidisciplinary skills in particular demand in [South Africa], which is in the throes of the biggest infrastructure development programme in its history. ...   
    In the current South African climate, critical skills shortages are being experienced both in the public and private sectors. A recent study showed that the crisis is compromising competitiveness and spurring poorer service, inhibiting [South Africa] from responding positively to changing market conditions both locally and abroad.
    Many of the infrastructure developments are a direct result of the country being named as host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Earlier last week, the South African government allotted another $140 billion for the event preparations--pushing the budget even further past original estimates made in 2004.
    But with skilled project managers being lured to other locales with the promise of better pay, are there any positive signs for project management in the country? According to that AllAfrica.com article, colleges are seeing an upswing in the number of students going through the project management program.     

The Talent Value

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Okay, after lots of discussion around the preliminary results of PMI's Researching the Value of Project Management, I think we can all agree that project management does indeed bring value to the organization. But we haven't really talked about the people delivering that value--and where companies are going to find them.

Developing economies like India and Latin America are struggling to find enough people while established economies like Europe and the United States are struggling to find the right people. Indonesia, for example, is expected to be 12,000 project managers short in the oil and gas, mining, IT and telecommunications industries over the next five years.

At PMI's recent Latin America Congress in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Ricardo Viana Vargas, PMP, gave a great example that pretty much summed it all up. He recalled getting an e-mail from an Australian colleague with only three sentences: "I need a specialist in iron ore projects to work here. I need it now. Don't worry about the cost."

So what's a company to do? "The Great Talent Shortage," a January 2008 article in PM Network, provided some solutions. Here are a few:

"Call it sharing, stealing, enticing--we all have to go to the same pool to get people. You have to raid your competition, and they do the same."
--Yahya Khader, CEO, Clough Zuhair Fayez Partnership, Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia

"It's extremely important to hire a certain proportion of new project managers from outside your industry. It's the only way you can get fresh thinking and a new look at how you do business. Yet, human resource departments tend to always advertise in the same place and look for the same characteristics as the previous employee."
--Uma Gupta, Ph.D., PMP, senior advisor to the provost at the State University of New York, Buffalo, New York, USA

"Organizations are being more responsive to offering longer leave periods, better parental-leave provisions and a far greater proportion of performance-based payments. Measuring workplace satisfaction is becoming more common, with companies looking at their main employment brand attributes and developing programs to address gaps through benefits, mentoring, or training and development."
--Paul Bell, managing director, Fanselow Bell, Nelson, New Zealand

Of course, all of those things are often easier said than done. Companies have to make the commitment to not only recruit and retain the cream of the crop, but also to groom the next generation of project management leaders.

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