How A/E Firms Can Invest in Project Managers This Year: 5 Proven Tips
February 24, 2022
Historically, architecture and engineering (A/E) firms have trained their project managers (PMs) in a way that greatly reduces the odds that they’ll succeed. In essence, firms throw PM candidates into the proverbial deep end and simply hope that they can keep their heads above water.
And the “learning to swim” process often takes many years to complete. Most successful PMs today have 15+ years of experience under their belt.
But the times are changing. Employees no longer plan to stay with one firm for decades—particularly if it becomes clear that they won’t be getting the role they’re focused on. They want to be PMs and they want to start their training asap. That means firms have to be intentional about how they “groom” their talent if they want the best employees to stick around.
Unfortunately, most firms acknowledge that they don’t know how to train PMs in a more progressive way. And making this issue even more urgent is the fact that a whole generation of PMs is approaching retirement age!
But the good news is that training PMs isn’t as hard as it seems, as long as you follow these five steps:
- Train your trainers
- Make safe space
- Provide data
- Practice accountability with grace
These steps are explained below.
Train Your Trainers
When you and your firm decide that it’s time to empower your PMs, the first thing you have to do is take a look in the mirror and ask yourself some questions. Are you prepared professionally and personally to allow people to rise in the firm? And the answer isn’t always, “Yes.”
Do your current PMs have the skills needed to train others? Some people have great technical abilities and are good at explaining projects to clients, but the same isn’t true in a training scenario. Does this mean they simply can’t train others? Not at all. But it may mean that they’ll have to increase their “emotional intelligence,” for example, to make themselves a better instructor.
Make Safe Space
Creating “safe space” at your firm refers to modifying your culture and shifting the focus from the organization’s success to the professional growth of your employees. This shift is a good thing, but it can be a little confusing (or even unnerving) to your employees.
So, it’s important to make it clear that there’s no hidden agenda regarding the transition from a managing approach to a mentoring approach. You’ve got to earn the trust of your employees and emphasize that any hardline accountability that was in place before is gone and that it’s OK to try and fail since that’s the key to learning.
"The systematizing of project management practices and training is only possible if you have clean, consistent data. "
The systematizing of project management practices and training is only possible if you have clean, consistent data. It’s essential for uniform project budgeting, job cost accounting, billing processes, reporting, project review meetings, timeframes for task completion, etc.
Only an industry-specific software package can help you manage the data you need. You must have some degree of A/E-specific data flow not only to systematize your processes but also to enable the use of outside resources to measure how well you’re doing. You’ve got to be able to benchmark your performance against other similar firms if you want to stay competitive.
Practice Accountability With Grace
We encourage firms to look at three aspects of PM accountability. The first is whether a PM is “hitting their numbers.” In other words, are they making the profit projected for each job, etc.? The second measure is client satisfaction. Are the PM’s clients happy (according to client satisfaction surveys) with the service they’re receiving and loyal to the firm as a result?
The third aspect of PM accountability is whether they’re producing high-quality work. That involves both the process for completing projects (ideally, it’s efficient, frustration-free for the client, and so forth) and delivering technically accurate work that minimizes liability risks.
Where “grace” comes in is the idea that, as mentioned above, the expectation of PMs (and everyone in the firm) isn’t that they’ll achieve perfection but that they’re consistently and conscientiously working toward that albeit-unachievable goal.
And, of course, you have to be sure that your system of accountability doesn’t “sink under its own weight.” In other words, the effort involved in monitoring and measuring performance can’t get in the way of being profitable, keeping clients happy, and producing great work.
Here’s to Making This Year Your Firm’s Best Ever!
Younger A/E firm employees want a challenge and increasing levels of authority and responsibility. If you train and empower them properly, both they and your firm will likely experience a much higher level of success!
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