Tag Archives: Mentoring

The Art of Mentoring

Mentoring is a vital tool that helps project and program managers advance their careers; whilst we also gain much from the process. But before signing up, understanding how the relationship works will help you decide if the journey is one you wish to undertake, and help you achieve your objectives.

We believe the following factors are crucial to achieving a positive mentoring outcome:

  1. Both the mentor and mentee should do thoroughly prepare for the process, take time to understand the other person and pay proactive attention to building early chemistry and engagement with each other in the first two to three meetings.
  2. The mentee needs to take ultimate responsibility for setting robust objectives and goals that will materially assist his or her career. You may not know the details of how to get you’re your desired outcome but you must have an objective that is specific and measurable so you know when it has been achieved.
  3. The mentor takes the ultimate responsibility for establishing an environment of strong trust, candour and confidentiality, but also one characterised by his or her active listening to the real needs of the mentee. The mentoring assignment needs to be characterised by common values.
  4. Both parties need to set a program of meetings every month, or at least once every six to eight weeks, and be willing to re-set meeting dates to avoid cancellations.
  5. The mentoring process should involve loops of preparation and negotiation to facilitate the confident application and trial by the mentee of strategies and desired practices formulated in the mentoring sessions, followed by reviews and reflective learning.
  6. These loops should be evaluated and enhanced or re-tried as appropriate at subsequent sessions. Any perceived failure to trial, or avoidance, needs to be pursued vigorously by the mentor – the objective is to set stretch assignments to the mentee and help him/her succeed. A mentoring relationship without a bit of ‘tough love’ in the advanced stages is unusual, and unlikely to produce material benefit in the mentee.
  7. The hallmark of a positive and productive mentoring assignment is a well established level of dialogue characterised by patient probing and powerful questioning by the mentor and non-defensive consideration, responses and reflection by the mentee.
  8. The ultimate test of a mentoring relationship is whether it reaches the goal set by the mentee and he or she not only achieves the outcome, but is also confident in their ability to handle it into the future.
  9. When all of the key elements of the ‘goal’ have been reached, the mentoring has done its job and both parties should move forward independently.

As with every relationship it takes two people to make it work and you also need the time and energy to commit to its success. We undertake a limited number of mentoring assignments each year, where we feel the chemistry is right and we can make a real difference, a brief outline is on our website at: Executive PM Coaching & Mentoring  – then if you feel this is an option you would like to follow up, the next step is seeing if the ‘chemistry’ works and setting some mutually agreed objectives.

Alternatively, to see how mentoring fits into your team development efforts see: Developing your team.

High Performance Project Management

I have just seen some information on a 2007 survey undertaken by the PMO Executive Council (part of the Corporate Executive Board: http://www.executiveboard.com/). This snapshot survey, Attributes of a High Performance PM – 2007, found very little correlation between project management certification and project management effectiveness, or the number of years a person has been in project management roles and project management effectiveness.

The survey found the drivers for project management effectiveness were behavioural attributes such as problem solving and the ability to relate effectively with key stakeholders. Whilst many people may initially want to disagree with these findings, they are consistent with many other trends and on reflection quite logical.

Firstly, the survey did not look at the PM’s track record, merely the time the PM had been in project roles. It is reasonable to assume highly effective PMs will have a relatively short PM career and then move on and up the organisational hierarchy. Less effective PMs are likely to stay in their PM role focused on process and technology.

Secondly, whilst PM credentials such as PMP remain very effective tools in the job market; passing your PMP does not make you an effective project manager (see more on PMP). The PMP knowledge framework gives you the knowledge to be an effective project manager. Being effective requires you to become a competent project manager.

Competency has three aspects, knowledge, skills and behaviour:

  • what you know,
  • your ability to apply the knowledge (essentially personality traits) and
  • your willingness to use the skills effectively (essentially behavioural traits).

Qualifying project managers based on behavioural competencies is in its infancy. The Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) has recently moved its professional certification program (RegPM) from a procedural view of competency (eg, do you have a project schedule – the artefact?) to a behavioural view of competency (how effectively do you manager the schedule on your project?). This is ground breaking work.

PMI have adopted a different, but similar approach in their program management certification (PgMP) with a 360 degree review testing how effective the candidate is in the workplace. These trends have a long way to go but are likely to be the next step in project certification.

Of more direct interest in the short term is the demonstrated link between how effectively a project manager engages with his/her key stakeholders and high performance outcomes. These skills are a core element in a number of workshops we run including Successful Stakeholder Management and The Science and Art of Communicating Effectively, and are supported in part by our Stakeholder Circle® methodology and tool set.

Learning how to apply the skills in the workplace though is not quite as simple as attending a workshop or buying a set of tools. Soft skills are very hard to acquire and use. My feeling is they are called ‘soft’ because they change shape and texture depending on the environment they are being applied within. The calculations for EV or CPM are universal; the best way to engage a senior stakeholder is totally dependent on the culture of the organisation. Some elements remain consistent (eg, the need for an effective relationship) but the way this is achieved varies.

Developing these advanced skills that are the attributes of high performance project managers requires context sensitive coaching and mentoring rather then formal courses (see: Executive PM Coaching & Mentoring). Ideally organisations seeking to develop high performance PMs will move beyond certification towards implementing internal mentoring systems – it’s the best way to ensure they are contextually relevant.

However, where we differ from the survey findings is that we believe certifications such as PMP are still relevant. Passing a PMI credential such as PMP or CAPM (see more on the PMI credential framework) is a positive demonstration of the initial knowledge component of competency; it’s just that knowledge alone is not sufficient.

Achieving this next level of high performance PMs will also require organisational competence in at least two domains. Process competence measured by tools such as PMI’s OPM3® framework and relationship management maturity measured by tools such as my SRMM® framework.

These are definitely interesting times for our profession.