12-step plan for building strategic project management skills

Read time 3min 10sec

While strategic project management is widely regarded as being key to business transformation, with the Strategic Project Management Office (PMO) at the centre of the strategy ecosystems, what type of skills are required within the broader functioning PMO - and how should these be obtained?

These were the questions that delegates at the Gauteng PMO Forum held in Sandton recently grappled with. The discussion was facilitated by Dal'ene Grobler, PPM executive consultant at Project Portfolio Office (PPO) Cape Town.

Grobler notes that there were four key management practices required for the effective execution of strategy.

These were: strategic management - consisting of "visionaries" - at the top; followed by portfolio management - the translators; then programme and project management - the executors; and finally performance management - the watchdogs.

Together, these role players had to fully understand the larger organisational context in which the strategy operated, and then translate the business vision and strategy into tangible programmes and projects.

The PMO Forum is an interest group that falls under the umbrella of Project Management South Africa (PMSA) and provides an opportunity for PMO executives and leaders to network with peers across industries, and share knowledge and experience.

Grobler told delegates that the strategic PMO required a whole new set of skills and capabilities that were never really considered part of traditional project management and PMOs.

In addition to the traditional technical skills required of any project manager, such as an understanding of P3 management, business analysis, organisational knowledge, change management, risk management and knowledge of various project management methodologies, today's strategic PMO required:

  • A new style of leadership, one which nurtured and developed talent sincerely and selflessly through coaching, developing others, knowledge sharing and modelling values.
  • People-focused soft skills designed to engage and influence others, support diversity, promote internal networking, enhance decision-making, and foster communication and strategic thinking.
  • Individuals with personal characteristics of resilience, action orientation, courage and confidence, drive and energy, emotional maturity, wisdom, agility and responsiveness.

However, knowing what was required and getting there were two very different things. According to Grobler, building capability, skills and judgement through a defined career path characterised by clear professional development, accountability and retention of good people was a vital strategy to effect the right change within the PMO.

So how would one go about building these essential skills and capabilities?

Grobler offered the following 12-step plan:

  1. Conduct a skills gap assessment, and then put a formal plan in place to fill the gaps.
  2. Develop Sponsor Charters that outline what the PMO needs.
  3. Promote collaboration between change managers, business analysts, project managers and other PMOs.
  4. Partner with the HR department to include project management in the organisation's Leadership Development Programmes.
  5. Build strategic partnerships with the 'right' suppliers.
  6. Invite stakeholders from across the organisation to present their strategic objectives, plans and priorities.
  7. Establish an internal Community of Practice that encourages the sharing of own experiences and learning from others.
  8. Develop clear career paths.
  9. Implement formal coaching and mentorship plans.
  10. Create and invest in learning opportunities.
  11. Partner with HR to source and retain experienced staff.
  12. Reward and recognise experienced and high performing staff.
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