The things I’ve learnt on-boarding project managers for our PMO

onboarding PPM methodology

Our company, Project Portfolio Office (PPO), develops and provides a software as a service (SaaS) project portfolio management (PPM) application to any organisation running and managing projects. In the last 18 months, we’ve moved from being a small organisation with highly skilled and versatile individuals (who did everything, and did it well from one office) to a rapidly growing organisation with specific teams, each with their own processes and focuses (from three offices).

I’ve spent the last 18 months as the acting manager of our implementation team to steer this growth. Made up of strong project managers, turned consultants, the team provides consulting and implementation services to new and existing clients to get their project offices and PPM software running smoothly (this team is thus our own internal PMO).

Increasing the number of consultants in our team by over 200% has been a fun, rewarding and painful 18 month journey going through this change (but then who said change and growth is easy?). During this period our consultants have helped over 40 organisations successfully implement PPO’s PPM application, while we also (in the background) implemented a full PPM methodology. Starting with the touch point with our sales team and ending with the process of transferring the client to our customer success management and support teams. Our PPO implementation methodology includes standardised monthly internal EXCO reporting, monthly SteerCom and weekly progress reporting (to our clients) as well as quarterly lessons learnt sessions and reviews (internally amongst the team). We’ve identified 4 different types of projects and use a single PPM methodology with different governance requirements for each type.

Our first project to help support this growth strategy was our “On-boarding & Competency Assessment Project”.  We developed a comprehensive 3-month project template for all new project managers which was run as a project from day 1 to day 90 of their journey at PPO. This project was aimed at ensuring that there was an organised and structured process to their first 3 months. This included a combination of classroom, self-learning and on-the-job training. At the end of every month we sat down and did a formal review of their progress (against a defined list of competencies) and celebrated their success and achievements during the month (SteerCom).

To support the users, we leveraged PPO’s standard lifecycle functionality which allows for any methodology to be displayed within the PPM tool. We agreed very early on at PPO that all processes would be captured and stored in the lifecycle (PPO allows for multiple methodologies in a single instance). Our teams run their initiatives as projects (marketing campaigns, product releases (using Agile), strategic projects, annual BEE and financial audits etc.) and all processes are accessible. This was crucial to our growth and on-boarding as the entire PPM implementation process is visually displayed with links to the required templates and guidance on each step in the process. Project managers can literally click on each step in the implementation process and see what happens when and by who. In addition, the team could explore the PPM processes that touches on other business processes (monthly invoicing from finance, sales handover or quarterly account reviews). This allowed us to provide the new project managers with a username and password to our PPM application and they could explore the methodologies themselves.

Each consultant started day 1 of their on-boarding as the project manager of their own project. The entire process was run on our PPM tool and was our way of giving them a “soft landing” of running a real project, using our methodology and tools in our environment.  PPO’s usage logs allowed us to see how often they made use of the tools and methodology and it was positively scary. Most had worked through the PPM methodology on their own before the day 3 training re-affirming that most project managers want to learn! They completed the requirements of the PPM methodology and produced the required reporting (including a weekly project status dashboard on day 5 at PPO). We created a supportive environment and weekly reviews of these projects to support their learnings. By week 4 every project manager that we’d on-boarded understood our process and reporting requirements as they were using it themselves, for real!

We knew that being a successful project manager at PPO meant you needed to understand our whole business. I believe, that to be successful at running projects in any organisation, you need to understand as much of the organisation as possible. Our on-boarding project allowed our project managers time with each of the teams in our business (finance, product, devops, support, sales, marketing etc.) which ranged from 2hr to full day (come sit on the support desk for a day) sessions. Our team leads provided the project managers with an understanding of the goals and objectives of their team, their processes and most importantly how they contributed during the implementation projects. This served a secondary objective in allowing our project managers to get to know the other teams, their leaders and build relationships across PPO and not just in our PMO (implementation team).

As part of the on-the-job component, each project manager was assigned a coach (not their line manager). This was typically another project manager in the team that was given capacity to spend time coaching the new project manager. The trainee typically joined their coach on other implementations and the coach had specific focused sessions to provide training at the office before and after the real client facing sessions. The coach was accountable to move through the competencies required each month and prepare their trainee for the formal assessment (with their line managers). This served numerous purposes; it kept the project manager and the coaches accountable for the formal completion of the learning but also gave each new project manager an immediate friend at PPO.  Over time we learnt that this approach yielded lots of additional benefits to the coach and the trainee. It helped our project managers understand our culture quickly and there is nothing like a coach fighting for the success of their trainee! It grew our team and boosted our skills quickly!

By the end of month two of their journey at PPO, each new project manager was allocated their own implementation project. Using our sales data, we knew what the average time to close was, so we learnt quickly when new projects would start. We made a concerted effort to employ 2-3 months before the projects would start. This gave the project managers time to get going and become competent. Throwing a project manager into a real implementation project on day 1 doesn’t work. The focus for the first two months is on competency building and they need time to settle.  Spending the time coaching and sharing knowledge resulted in them exceeding their time to meet value targets by the end of month three.

It’s important to note that permanent staff and contractors were not treated differently. And since their on-boarding, we’ve taken two of the contract project managers on as permanent staff, with no impact down the line.

The success we’ve had in growing our team has been awesome for PPO and our clients and the key lessons I’ve learnt have been:

  • Ensure your PPM methodology is documented and easily accessible (including templates) to your project managers;
  • Give project managers full access to the PPM methodology and tools quickly;
  • Let them run real projects from day 1 using the tools and PPM methodology (even if it’s their own on-boarding projects);
  • Give them a full view of the business and introduce them to as many key managers and leaders as practically possibly to help grow their relationship and network outside of the PMO;
  • Don’t employ when the need is already there, give them time to settle in and become competent;
  • Formalise the on-boarding and coaching by doing formal monthly reviews to ensure the time spent up front is valuable;
  • Allocate a coach (and friend) to the project manager for their on-boarding;
  • Treat contractors and permanent project managers the same in terms of on-boarding; and
  • Celebrate monthly success and project completion.

If you’re planning large growth or have problems on-boarding project managers, I hope this helps. If you’re keen to see our template project plans and competencies contact me, I’ll be happy to share.

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Author: Guy Jelley

Guy is one of the founders of PPO and is the company’s CEO. He is very passionate about the Project Management industry, and through this also very driven. Guy is a husband & father of 2, loves jazz, soccer and is a huge Spurs fan.

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