Project Management Maturity

The first step in learning project management maturity

In my previous blog (link>>) I mentioned the resistance to learn. This resistant to learn has several causes and several consequences on which I want to build up a conceptual model that will enable us to create organizations with the ability to learn from their mistakes. Organizations that will become more capable in managing their projects. The model I will lay down for you will boost your project management maturity.

The first major obstacle

Often we see, the more senior people become, the less they want to change their world view. This is one of the reasons that some of them resist the powerful change that the Agile movement is bringing to project management. Some of the seniors are still very skeptical. What they fail to see is that project management throughout its history has always adapted to new situations. There used to be a time that the Master Builder and the Project Manager were one and the same person. Therefore I made the statement that we have never been classical and always been agile.

This lack of agility in learning has a severe negative effect on the development of project management. The problem with becoming more experienced, more senior, is that ‘you know’ more. Through trial and error you have learned, and you have succeeded. You have invested a lot of your effort into becoming a successful project manager, not without sacrifice. You have built up a self-image.  In the meantime the world around you is slowly changing and the effectiveness of ‘your ways’ is slowly diminishing. But whatever happens, you feel the need to defend your self-image. It is hard to admit that your way is not any longer the way.

A new generation of project managers

New people, with different ideas are now entering the project management scene. Suddenly we have program managers, portfolio managers, project support officers and scrum masters. It seems that they preach a different gospel. The senior feels uncomfortable and tells it is old wine in new wineskins. Perhaps he’s right, but nobody believes him anymore. The momentum of the new ways can be overwhelming, the senior is in denial. This psychological process is called cognitive dissonance and it prevents us from learning. Every human being is subjected to it, and it increases the older you become. That’s why a lot of elderly people are so conservative. But take care the transformation is inevitable, and at some point in time the senior becomes obsolete. Because the language he speaks isn’t spoken any longer, and with it the communication stops.

The problem with this, is that valuable lessons learned are not transferred from one generation project managers to the next. The ‘youngsters’ will have to reinvent solutions for problems that were solved long time ago. Also there is a new generation of decision makers that are facing these issues. Both become vulnerable to the guru or the account manager of the training institute that is selling some ‘disruptive’ new methodology. The oldies in our profession mumble that there is nothing new, and partially they are right, but nobody is really paying attention to them anymore. Just because they don’t speak the new language.

I have been more than 30 years active in project management. I’m an addictive reader about project management. I have studied many of the old ways. I’m amazed by the number of solutions I have seen that were found during the history of project management, and our failing to harvest what’s already available.

The old generation of project managers

When the senior resists the new ways of thinking he stops communicating. At a personal level this can become disastrous, but he alone is the one that has to face these consequences. It bothers me more that the old and the young don’t communicating any more. The transfer of experience will stop, and this should be a major concern of any organization, because this destroys the investment that was made in development of the senior.

We need to set up programs in which experience is exchanged. The seniors will coach the junior in becoming strong and stable personalities to withstand the powers that are exerted on them. The young will teach the senior to understand the new language. This needs in a new type of training program, which focusses more on exchange that on knowledge. On learning to learn project management from your peers, but it supersedes the traditional peer-to-peer exchanges. Exchange is just a part of it.

In my own experience one of the most rewarding experiences in becoming more senior is to pass it on to the next generation of project managers. That’s why I became trainer, and started to write books. Just to secure the flow of exchange. The assumption that a 50-year-old project manager doesn’t have to learn or to develop is an egoistic attitude. We all stand on the shoulders of those that have shown us the path. The senior need to take on responsibility to take care that the old ways are integrated into the new. This is true innovation.

Experience echange between senior and junior project managers will enhance the project management maturity in your organization.

This idea can be applied on each organizational level. In the organization as a whole, and in a specific project for which you are the project management. The first step is identify the seniors and the juniors, and bring them together and facilitate the learning process.

You need to be aware that this is the first part of a learning concept. The next components will be exposed in the following blogs.