Practice Makes Perfect

By Gale, Sarah Fister | PM Network, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Practice Makes Perfect

Gale, Sarah Fister, PM Network

Project managers who want to hang on to fragile, newly learned skills must seek avenues outside the workplace where they can practice and reinforce what they've learned.

most project managers quickly learn that the best educational opportunities happen outside of a classroom. While classroom training is an integral part of project management preparation, studies have shown that students forget 50 to 80 percent of what they learn if the content isn't immediately put into action.

Unfortunately for most professionals, projects where they can apply their advanced skills aren't always available, and when opportunities arise, they may not be selected for key roles because they lack practical experience.

"The best way to get that experience is to seek projects outside of the workplace," says Kim liegel, PMP, senior project management consultant and trainer for Advisicon, a technical project management and software development company in Portland, Ore., USA, and the vice chair of communications of the PMI Education and Training Specific Interest Group Board.

A United Way Project

Project managers who lead projects in a volunteer capacity can take basic concepts and apply them without the constraints of the corporate hierarchy. "If you are developing skills you've never used before, taking on a project in the company can be risky," Ms. liegel says. As a volunteer, however, you often are more appreciated and given greater responsibility than you would be on a workplace project. "It's an opportunity free of workplace stresses where you can test your ability while you learn."

Early in Ms. liegel's career as a project manager at Fred Meyer, a department store based in Portland, Ore., USA, she had the chance to manage a United Way fundraiser. The annual event was co-sponsored by several corporations, including Fred Meyer, who donated the services of one employee every year to run the campaign. "It was a political move," Ms. liegel says of her push to be chosen for the position. "And it gave me the opportunity to take what I learned in the classroom and apply it in a microcosm."

When she won the role, she was given four months and a car full of office supplies to raise $400,000 from a list of 40 corporate sponsors in Portland. Because she was largely on her own, Ms. liegel got to try different techniques with different sponsors, who ranged front corporate giants, such as JCPenney department store, to universities, elementary schools and small shops. She ran every aspect of the campaign and took on all the responsibilities for its success, making the four-month effort a crash course in project management.

"Sponsors had their own way of doing things. It forced me to ; take everything I learned and figure out how to apply it in certain sife uations," she says. "I learned a lot about simple organization, com- : munication and how to rely on basic project management methods."·

Through much trial and error, she raised $420,000 for United Way, surpassing her goal by $20,000. She won appreciation from the charity and the respect of the Fred Meyer executive team. The project also taught her lessons she's used throughout her career. "I learned great methods and how they compliment each other," she says. "I still take what I learned at United Way and apply those learnings to different projects."

Of course, not every project manager has the opportunity to take on such an important and high-profile volunteer role, but they don't have to. PMI Chapters actively seek volunteers to run fundraisers, events or discussion groups, while local schools, neighborhood programs and political parties all need help.

Even novice project managers bring a valuable skill set to the table, notes Joanne Gumaer, PMP, president of IlliniaQ a project management, facilitating and training firm in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. "There are opportunities everywhere to volunteer," she says, "and it's a great place to practice skills until you can garner a high degree of competency. …

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