Project Team Member Development
By Bruce McGraw
One of the most rewarding aspects of a project manager’s job can be team member development. Helping and watching individuals grow and mature is sometimes our greatest accomplishment. It can also be trivial and useless if not taken seriously. Which side of the coin you reside on depends on how you do it and the attitude you bring to the process. In my experience, the best PM’s are committed to developing team members because it improves the individual, the team, and the organization.
What is Team Member Development?
Team member development has two parts. The first is helping an individual become a more effective contributor to a project. The second is helping the individual achieve personal career goals while furthering organizational goals.
New project managers often get their first exposure to thinking about team member’s career development when they are involved in personnel reviews – you know that activity that is part of human resource management. The evaluation process includes rating the employee’s skills and performance against an idealized standard. Any skill or behavior considered less than acceptable or only “good” points to areas for team member development.
Helping an employee achieve longer-term goals requires understanding what the employee desires as well as seeing how his potential can be shaped into skills required by the organization. The formal performance review may serve as a catalyst for a project manager to think about the career development of team members. However, it should not be the only time. Team member development must be an ongoing process that effects assignments, training, and feedback.
For example, let us say that there is a project task to evaluate new software testing tools. It may be tempting to give that assignment to the lead testing engineer or a senior developer who the PM knows can do the task quickly and correctly. A no-brainer, huh?
Alternatively, consider the task assignment from the perspective of team member development. In that case, a PM may assign the task to a less senior team member who could achieve the same useful result, perhaps a bit more slowly, while learning skills that would be useful to him and the organization in the future. Make no mistake, in this scenario the PM takes a risk on an untried performer and may need to provide more support or coaching to get the job done than going with a senior staff member. However, that task will still be done and the PM may find that the developing employee took the software evaluation more seriously and tried harder because she viewed the assignment as an opportunity, not just another task.
Why is Team Member Development a PM Task?
Project managers are well positioned to foster the development of team members. They know individual capabilities, work attitudes, and skill gaps through frequent direct contact and observation. They know the skills needed because of their project planning responsibility. In addition, project managers have a broader view than team members of corporate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats possibly because of the vision and planning meetings they are required to attend. Here are a few ways a PM can positively influence team member development:
- Make assignments designed to build skills through experience and opportunities to work closely with seasoned professionals.
- Ensure that in house or external training is consistent with career goals as well as project requirements
- Use one-on-one feedback meetings to help employees make an honest assessment of their skills and improve understanding of the skills needed in current and potential positions
- Include career planning in performance reviews and create a career development plan with each individual
- Offer development opportunities such as rotating work assignments, cross training, or special projects that have wide corporate interest
- Make sure the employee knows about company training and educational assistance programs.
- Provide suggestions on courses or seminars that you found useful
- Work cooperatively with other project and program managers to recommend individuals for assignments that offer advancement opportunities or learning experience even if that means you will have to fill the project gap
Project managers who do team member development successfully (and enjoy it) are often those who were coached and mentored in their own career by senior managers with a vision of what their future could be. They appreciate the guidance, role modeling, and support they received in their career development and want to be part of helping others achieve.
Hope this gives you some good tips on the role of assisting in team member development.
Bruce A. McGraw is COO/EVP for Cognitive Technologies, a WBE/DBE consulting firm delivering project /program management, collaborative processes, and organizational effectiveness to commercial and government clients (www.cognitive-technologies.com). Bruce has been a program manager for over 25 years and has experience across multiple industries. His ability to craft pragmatic solutions to meet project goals, coupled with experience in all aspects of project management, enables him to meet customer expectations with on-time, within-budget deliveries. Bruce is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and is an active member of the Project Management Institute. Bruce authors a project management blog at Fear No Project and can be contacted at (512) 380-1204 or Bruce.McGraw@cogtechinc.com.
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