Project Management Ambassadors: Why we need them?
It might be well known to many, but perhaps not documented well-enough that project management (PM) is the economic engine that often underpins the growth and prosperity of an organization, a country /society or a nation. A recent report by Association of Project Management corroborates such an understanding in relation to United Kingdom (UK) economy suggesting that “project management contributes £156bn to the UK economy & employs almost 1 in 12 workers”, which is much higher compared to contributions made by other professions such as marketing and Law (APM, 2019).
Despite the importance and significant contributions to organizational survival and growth, the dilemma is, PM is not the core business activity of most of the organizations, and realistically speaking that is perfectly fine. It is safe to say that majority of the organizations (globally) neither exist/operate to execute projects as the core work activity nor they have (or can afford to have) a projectized organizational structure (unless an organization is a full-fledged project-based organization).
Such a situation, in hindsight, leads to cherry picking or a lack of focus on PM capacity development within the organization, which could adversely effect the growth and progress of the organization as well as significantly effect the developments in PM profession as a whole. Without going into the debate on the impact of the situation on PM profession, here we try to look at the possible solution and focus on the question ‘what can or should be done to help PM gets the focus it deserves?’
Though a number of initiatives can help, as a starter one way to overcome the challenge is to develop and install PM Ambassadors. For the purpose of building an understanding of the scope of the term, we define PM Ambassadors as “the designated/assigned multi-purpose individuals in an organization (which could be a PM body, a commercial business organization or a non-profit organization) who not only serve as gate-keepers to bring-in PM knowledge, but also strive to help build and sustain PM capabilities and knowledge within a given setting.”
Having defined the term, the question then is why we need PM Ambassadors? What will be their mandate? To answer the question, below we define a 4-step mandate model which encapsulates the approach that PM Ambassadors can or should take to help an organization build PM capabilities, and in the process help PM gets its due role and recognition within a given setting.
Scope of PM Ambassadors’ 4-step mandate
Having an un-ending desire, aptitude, lust for learning new PM knowledge constitute the first and foremost mandate of PM Ambassadors. If the designated individuals do not meet such a criterion, they will not be able to perform the rest of the mandate and will not be suitable to be appointed in the role.
The PM Ambassadors will be expected to draw upon various sources to learn and acquire knowledge on an ongoing basis which include (but not limited to) knowledge enshrined in formal PM standards and guidelines, PM research conferences, academic journal publications, PM meets and trainings, practical working experience, online and print knowledge repositories, and formal education at tertiary institutions. Organizations can also send their PM Ambassadors for training and advanced knowledge development to ensure an on-going learning for them.
Organizations who wish to assign PM Ambassadors could set criteria for minimum knowledge thresholds/levels for choosing the right candidate for the position. A designated PM Ambassador is also expected to possess between 5-10 years of experience to be able to integrate knowledge with real-life work requirements to perform ambassador role effectively. The size of the organization will determine the number of ambassadors that an organization may need.
To help encourage and reward people who become PM Ambassadors, organizations (in particular PM bodies) can set up ‘PM Ambassador of the Year’ awards to be conferred on the basis of national, regional and global basis to individuals with significant contributions as ambassadors. People serving as PM Ambassadors can highlight their contributions during the process of filing of annual review of performance within their organizations. Business and commercial organizations can offer bonuses to encourage PM Ambassadors, which is expected to help organization in capacity development in big way.
The second mandate of PM Ambassadors is to diffuse and transmit their PM knowledge in an organized, conscious and coherent manner to other people/members of the organization. This is a critical step for cross-fertilization of PM knowledge within various domains of the organization.
PM Ambassador could hold seminars (on the line of brown-bag seminars during lunch hours), dedicated training sessions to help transmit or diffuse PM knowledge. Given the fact that most of the normal business organizations have several functional departments, hence for effective diffusion and knowledge transfer, PM Ambassadors can try to contextualize PM knowledge considering the needs of each department. Where needed, one-on-one sessions can be organized for the select group of key people (with managerial or key contributor role in the business) to diffuse PM knowledge faster and help multiply knowledge diffusion, as the key people can transfer knowledge to people within their groups.
Another aspect of this mandate is that PM Ambassadors can try to cultivate learning habit among other members of organizations, and in the process identify and develop new PM Ambassadors for the continued PM capacity development within the organization.
The third mandate of the PM Ambassadors is to help build PM capacity within the organization. This mandate is focused on cross-fertilization and building PM maturity within the organization. This mandate requires having strategic sense and leadership capabilities. Therefore, when choosing PM Ambassadors, organizations must keep in view the importance of choosing the people who can lead and have the capacity to think and act strategic.
The mandate requires that the PM Ambassador should be able to help organization develop a vision for PM capacity development, common PM language / PM methodology and strategic plan to implement the vision.
PM Ambassadors should also be able to serve as a bridge between senior managers and lower tier managers/staff to develop and implement plans for building PM capacities and ultimately transform organization to become high PM capacity organization.
The fourth mandate of PM Ambassadors will be to help sustain the growth and progress made by the organization on its path to become PM capable organization. This mandate is also strategic in nature. PM Ambassadors need to have the skills and courage to deploy tools and measure the PM growth and capacity of an organization to ensure that a desired level of PM capacity has been achieved. If the threshold has been met, then the role of the PM Ambassadors will be to help sustain it over a period of time. Where PM Ambassador is unable to perform this mandate, organization may end up suffering economic and knowledge losses.
To help sustain PM growth, PM Ambassadors need to develop plan for 5 to 10 years and work with senior managers for implementation of such plans. As discussed above, since PM is not the core activity of normal business organizations, therefore, the PM Ambassadors need to have leadership and effective communication skills to be able to help organization sustain the PM growth and reap the rewards of work done.
In hindsight, mathematics is simple: If PM grows, organization will grow.
Therefore, it seems important that organizations take measured and dedicated steps to build PM capacities. Obviously, one may argue that why afterall organizations take all the pain to install PM Ambassadors and develop PM capabilities? The answer is simple, PM capacity development is directly linked to organizational efforts to achieve their strategic and competitiveness goals. The APM report on the contributions of PM is testament to it.
Appointing or designating PM Ambassadors can help organizations create a system of sustained PM capacity development. To help develop and install PM Ambassadors, above we have proposed a 4-step mandate model comprising of learn, diffuse, transform and sustain. While the proposed model is aimed at building an initial thought; it is flexible and scalable which can be refined further as needed.
It would be stating the obvious that PM bodies have a significant role and stake in PM capacity development. One way to enhance and further their role is to consider developing groups of PM Ambassadors at regional and national levels, which can even be assigned to commercial business organizations upon request (on a project/adhoc basis). Such an approach will provide an avenue for win-win collaboration between industry and PM bodies, which will ultimately benefit economies and societies.
APM, (2019). The Golden Thread: The contribution of projects and project management to the UK economy, https://www.apm.org.uk/news/the-golden-thread-apm-research-highlights-a-hidden-profession-and-reveals-that-project-management-contributes-156bn-to-the-uk-economy-employs-almost-1-in-12-workers/
Professor Jiwat Ram
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