Why Investing in Project Manager Training is Crucial to A/E Firm Success
November 13, 2020
During these uncertain economic times —we’re finding that many architecture and engineering (A/E) firms are wondering how to keep employees busy as their work backlog wanes. In our experience, one of the best uses of downtime is providing training for project managers (PMs). In fact, as baby boomers continue to retire in ever-greater numbers, the loss of project management expertise is having a bigger and more negative impact on A/E firms with each passing year. And as that institutional knowledge declines and undertrained PMs are being pushed into project leadership roles that they aren’t ready for, the risk of substandard work, unhappy clients, and the lawsuits that can follow escalates.
On-the-Job Training: Inefficient, Ineffective, and More Difficult in Today’s Remote-Working Reality
Historically, junior PMs got their training primarily by following a veteran PM around and learning the nuances of project and relationship management on the fly. It was a training-by-osmosis approach that wasn’t particularly efficient or effective, and it has created a huge knowledge gap that’s particularly concerning for small- to mid-sized A/E firms. Plus, with the new emphasis on remote work, “shadowing” isn’t even a realistic option for many firms.
As the PM ranks have thinned, one of two things has happened. In some cases, principals have been pulled back into project management. This may reduce the risk that comes from assigning “green” PMs to projects, but it takes owners away from their role in finding new clients and new projects, thereby reducing the firm’s growth potential.
The second way to address a lack of PM resources is to put employees who have some experience in managing projects into the primary oversight role, but have principals “assist” them. The problem here is that this tends to keep PMs from “spreading their wings” and becoming the confident leaders that the firm needs. In fact, often the oversight and assistant roles are quickly reversed, and the PM finds themself providing project support rather than project leadership.
"PM training can improve employee engagement and client satisfaction. In terms of a firm's long-term success, you really can't afford NOT to make the investment."
Investing in PM Training That Pays Dividends
Project manager training isn’t free, of course, but the expense is an investment that can pay significant dividends down the road in many ways. Most firms we talk with are shocked at how quickly their PMs’ skills improve with formalized training. And as PMs gain expertise and confidence, principals can go back to being principals and diving into big-picture initiatives rather than spending their days immersed in project-level details.
Plus, PM training can improve employee engagement, in part, because they’re now fully qualified PMs and you’re likely to pay them as such. Then, their new attitude tends to improve client satisfaction, and happy employees and clients tend to stick around. So, when a firm owner says they can’t afford to pay for PM training, especially during a recession, our reply is that in terms of the firm’s long-term success, you really can’t afford not to.
Remote Working as an Ideal Environment for PM Training
While remote working and the lack of peer interaction has its downside, there are actually benefits when it comes to project management training. For instance, employees who would have to block out time for PM training around meetings and other scheduled activities in the office can now take classes at a time that works best for them. And, with no in-office interruptions, their focus on the training materials is better.
What’s more, the elimination of commuting time from a person’s schedule gives them more hours each week for training. We’re hearing that, in many cases, firms are getting eight hours of billable productivity from their people each day (if there is work to be done) plus an hour or two of training. And even though this makes the work day longer, employees are reporting that they feel their work-life balance is better.
Of course, in order to maximize the benefits of PM training, you have to have a plan. This includes defining expected outcomes and measuring progress toward those goals. Firms tell us that scheduling periodic testing, with those who pass getting assigned more challenging work and getting a bump in pay, can be a strong motivator. Then, assessing the real-life impact of the training—including client feedback—as the PM manages projects is crucial as well.
A Final Note on Project Management Training
There are those who say that project management is an innate talent that employees either have or don’t have, and that it’s not teachable. Our experience is that that assertion is absolutely false.
Every architect and engineer can benefit from project management training. Even if being a PM isn’t something a person aspires to, knowing more about how projects are successfully managed makes team members better at contributing to that success.
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