Published in “Project Times” website, June 19, 2012
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In speaking to an ExecSense audience recently about coaching, I realized that coaching is not only relevant to COOs but can be the difference between success and failure on any project or for any project leader. In today’s new normal business environment, it is challenging to grow a business profitably and the “right people” can give you an edge on your competition. Thus, what could be more important than coaching your project leaders and/or team members to ensure project success and bottom line business results?

No matter the degree of technology involved in a project, in my 20+ years of experience as an Operations Executive, a Project Support Office Manager and as a business consultant across multiple industries and globally, I’ve found that the 80/20 of project management success boils down to people. Thus, coaching project leaders and teams is an essential yet often overlooked ingredient to success. A few best practices include: 1) Start with goals, 2) Assess, and 3) Integrate into daily routine.

  1. Start with goals: It seems obvious to start with goals, so why do so many project teams not achieve clarity on goals? In order to encourage passion and ensure focus, it is vital to tie project goals with where the company is headed. Make sure that the team understands its value to the organization and how they contribute to the vision. Undoubtedly, your team will be more committed if they believe they are making a difference.Next, clarify the goals. I’ve yet to meet a project sponsor who thought he didn’t clarify the project goals, yet they remain unclear when the rubber meets the road. For example, the goal of an inventory reduction project seems clear – reduce inventory by x%. However, I’ve often run across roadblocks as Purchasing has to increase the cost per unit to purchase in smaller quantities or to buy below minimum quantities. Or, a priority conflict arises in terms of time – a key team member has to help with month-end activities and cannot focus on the inventory project. Confusion and lackluster results often follow.How do we avoid these issues? Take the time to coach and mentor your project team. Provide guidance for the project leader on how to bring these types of issues up in a successful manner. Use these situations as learning opportunities: ask questions and guide the project team instead of jumping in to solve the problem.
  2. Assess:One of the first steps to effective coaching is to find out where to focus attention. What are the project leader and team members’ strengths and opportunities? Are they successful with top leaders but not with peers or subordinates? Do they need help in communication or presentation skills? Find out.There are several ways to accomplish this task. One of my favorite ways is a 360-degree assessment, as it provides a well-rounded assessment, and you can pick out the key trends within the feedback to focus on. Another option is to observe the person in multiple situations with different levels of the organization to spot core areas of focus. Remember to only consider observed behavior and evidence. Last but not least, provide opportunities to rehearse and try new behaviors and provide feedback. Do a trial run.
  3. Integrate into daily routine: The best coaches provide daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly feedback. Do not wait for the yearly review! It is useless to try to remember specific examples and for the project team member or leader to adjust from something that occurred in the past. Immediate, specific and consistent coaching and feedback is required to be successful.Provide both positive and constructive feedback. No one is perfect. On the other hand, everyone has some sort of strength. The job of a coach is to be on the lookout for coaching opportunities. Catch your project team member doing something right! Find a way to help a project team member correct a weakness by leveraging strengths. Or, utilize the team for non-essential weaknesses. The advantage of a team is to leverage the collective strengths in a way that will ensure project success. Continually ask questions and show interest.

Those companies that consistently deliver project results will surpass their competition. Project management coaching doesn’t require precious capital or complicated board approvals so why not take the first step forward. What could be more important than investing in your #1 asset – your people?