Learning and Developing...a work in progress

Learning and Developing…. A work in progress

 Learning and development involves the continual improvement of competence at all levels of an organisation.  Identification, application and monitoring of learning develops an individual and an organisation’s ability to deliver. Here are some thoughts on what that might mean at the level of the project, programme and portfolio…..

Learning and development needs are determined through a process of performance management that relates people’s ability to the organisation’s expectation of their performance.  These needs then typically give rise to planned interventions that enable learning commensurate with the need. Such interventions may be short term (a 1-day course) or long term (a 3 year executive masters degree).  They may be aimed at a specific job related skill set (a software tool or a management process), or at a specific project / programme or portfolio related qualification. Such interventions may also be delivered ‘on the job’ or ‘in-house’ or externally by 3rd party accredited providers. They may comprise e-learning , or they may be class-room based or a combination of the two – so-called blended learning.

Learning and development may take the form of courses that lead to professional qualifications such as APMP, or APM-PQ, PRINCE2 or Managing Successful programmes (MSP) and Management of Portfolios (MoP). Alternatively, learning and development may be a consequence of an organisation’s work-based activities. Coaching is aimed at enhancing performance of a particular aspect of an individual’s work ‘on the job’ whilst mentoring provides support and advice that may not be specific to particular work, but relates to a person’s wider development.  Providing timely feedback – formal or informal - can itself be a valuable and very low-cost form of learning and development.

Regardless of the nature, duration, content or location of such education and training interventions, Continuous Professional Development (CPD) remains an overarching principle for all P3M professionals. Practitioners at all levels must be alert to the need to undertake CPD and keep pace with changing standards, legislation, tools, techniques and methods. Learning and development therefore involves consideration and balancing of both the needs of the organisation and the needs of the individual in ensuring appropriate personal development. CPD in its most basic form involves: 

  • identifying current and future needs;
  • setting specific learning objectives;
  • planning activities to support development;
  • recording activities and achievements.

In summary, there is a wide range of possible responses to addressing the learning and development needs of organisations, teams and individuals.  The most appropriate response will depend on the nature of the need but must also take into account other factors such as learning styles, affordability and consideration of cultural difference and influence in the context of a globalised business environment. Whatever the context – project, programme or portfolio - learning and development is, and will continue to be a vitally important part of how organisations equip themselves and their people for the challenges of the future.  But what exactly does ‘good’ look like?

At the level of the project………

People deliver projects and the success of any project depends to a large extent on the way individuals and teams learn and develop. The project manager has a role in providing an environment that supports learning and development.  The specific nature of this role will depend on the organisation’s structure, the project team composition and the project manager’s own terms of reference.  In any event, the project manager has a duty to appraise project staff and to assess the skills and competence levels of project team members, to provide feedback and develop appropriate responses. 

Team members should create opportunities to share experiences and lessons learned. Teams learn more from their failures than their successes, but this requires frank, open and honest communication. This means that learning and development needs to address both ‘hard’ skills (e.g. tools, techniques) and ‘soft’ skills (e.g. team work, leadership).

A project’s scope and timescale will directly affect the nature of project-level learning and the type of development activity. For example, a personal development need involving several years of study is unlikely to be a priority for a project manager with a timescale of several months. However, the project manager must understand the organisation’s priorities and help to ensure that both the short and long term needs of individuals are understood and ultimately addressed within the project context wherever appropriate.

Regular project reviews throughout the project life cycle, and critically as part of the Post Project Evaluation (PPE) provide the project manager and the project team the opportunity to capture, document and share lessons learned. This is an important part of learning and development and one that should be considered as an essential and ongoing activity.

At the level of the programme….

Programme management involves the coordination of related projects and as such, provides an opportunity to develop an environment of shared learning between and across the related projects. The programme manager may or may not be involved in the recruitment and selection of project managers.  However, the programme manager does have a responsibility to review project manager and project team performance and will be involved in enabling learning and encouraging development over the lifetime of the programme. Individuals may be part of a programme for several years and their welfare should be managed accordingly.  This requires appropriate staff induction, career development plans, needs analysis, development and training.  All these will in one way or another involve the programme manager in consultation with project managers and business managers.

The programme manager is also responsible for establishing the programme environment. He or she must consciously seek to ensure that the projects work in a consistent way that is fully accepted by the projects and in the best interests of the business.  The programme manager therefore has a responsibility to encourage project managers and their teams to maximise the benefits of shared learning and development opportunities.  One way to do this is through the development of a ‘community of practice’ (CoP) ethos across the projects and associated business functions. The CoP concept is used by many organisations to bring together like minded individuals who have similar interests and common issues.  It is considered to be an excellent way of fostering shared learning and development but it does require the intervention and support of the programme management team if the benefits are to be realised.

Most published guidance suggests that programmes tend to be longer term ventures than projects and the risk of loss of knowledge and experience from the organisation is higher.  The Programme Management Office (PMO) can therefore provide the programme with the means to minimise this risk by capturing and sharing the lessons learned from Project Reviews to improve future performance.  The PMO can also actively support and facilitate learning and development through, for example, facilitating workshops, monitoring and documenting best practice.

And finally, the portfolio…….

Portfolio management is the selection, prioritisation and control of an organisation’s projects and programmes in line with its strategic objectives and capacity to deliver. As such, effective portfolio management enables an organisation’s senior management to better understand the ‘big picture’ and the totality of its learning and development requirement and activity. For example, the formulation of an organisation’s learning and development strategy and policy can be supported by portfolio management.

Portfolios sit between the organisation’s senior management and its programmes and projects. The breadth of portfolio management means that most, if not all, of the organisation is in one way or another affected. This provides opportunities for the senior management to foster wider organisational learning and development. In the current business environment the ability of an organisation to learn and thus improve its people, processes, performance and profitability is critical to success. An organisation’s ability to learn faster than its competitors is an acknowledged source of competitive advantage.  Portfolio management can therefore help to foster corporate learning and support the development of a ‘learning organisation’ culture, defined as: “an organisation skilled at creating, acquiring, interpreting, transferring and retaining knowledge, and at purposefully modifying its behaviours to reflect new knowledge and insights” (Garvin, 2000 p.11).

As an ongoing, business-as-usual activity, portfolio management also means that longer term learning and development decisions and investments can be made. It can identify the need for new skills to meet the future business strategy and help provide guidance and support to learning and development activities and initiatives across the breadth of the organisation.

In summary, no matter what the level you may be working, the case for ongoing learning and development is compelling. The real question is: are we making the most of that opportunity and if not, why not?

© Dr Bill Egginton

Please e-mail your comments or questions, we would love to hear your feedback. Dr Bill Egginton is always happy to respond to any questions or comments you may have.