Whether you are an experienced project management professional, or a more junior member of a Program Management Office (PMO) team, you need to practice your skills to get – and stay – any good. From using the full functionality of your enterprise project management suite of tools to polishing your negotiating skills when it comes to dealing with stakeholders, it all takes time.
You will have heard the saying ‘practice makes perfect’. Well, it can do. After all, the point of practicing is to get better, and it’s something we do in every area of life where there is a skill we want to perfect, be it playing the violin or learning to ski. But there’s another side to practicing.
Practice makes permanent. A colleague of mine who has taught himself to roller-blade has trouble with a particular move because it relies on doing something else ‘properly’. Because he has spent many hours practicing his way – the wrong way – he is finding it very hard to unlearn that skill and start skating in a different way. Lack of tuition (or not spending enough time watching YouTube skating videos) in his early days has meant that he now has permanent habits that are difficult to break. In effect, he has practiced these habits into the way he skates and they are now blocking any further progress.
If you think about it, I’m sure you will come up with examples of people you know, or maybe even habits you have yourself, that have come about because of the practice you have put in over the years. Maybe you always use a certain basic cake recipe, or parallel park with a certain routine, or hang the washing in a particular way. These are things we have spent hours doing, probably unconsciously, and we now have permanent preferences about the ways in which they are done.
The ‘practice makes permanent’ rule applies to the way we work too. If you learn a workaround to a function in the enterprise project management system, then learning the ‘proper’ way is difficult. You probably won’t bother; after all, you can manage perfectly well with your own way of using the system.
Unfortunately, the ‘wrong’ habits can make change difficult. Say you are working on a project to introduce a new IT system. While it’s not technically difficult to learn how to do things using the new system, it is different from the old way, and several of the processes have to change. You and the project team prepare a training overview the focuses on how the processes will differ and present this to the people who will use the new system.
Instead of it being a huge success, the users comment that your depiction of the old processes isn’t at all like what they actually do, and as a result, the new processes don’t apply either. They have practiced their way into permanent habits working around the functionality of the old system and processes to such an extent that it makes any shift to new ways of working difficult, not least because these workarounds are not documented.
So what can you do? During the implementation phase of a project it is difficult to ensure that the change you are introducing will stick in the right way, but you can provide the best possible chance of this happening with a good change management approach and decent training.
You can also review what your own team is doing. Have they created permanent habits from practicing the wrong things? Did they get adequate training in systems and processes when they joined the team, and if not, can you provide that now?
Make sure that any new hires are given a comprehensive induction instead of being left to their own devices. They will probably find some very practical and creative ways to solve any problems, but if you want your PMO team to be using standardized processes then you need to ensure that standards are adhered to.
If you do nothing else, examine your own habits. What do you do that isn’t perfect but has become permanent? Does it need to change? And if so, how are you going to change it?