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Developing Project Managers – Guidance vs Prescription

Updated: May 26, 2022

Developing and mentoring project managers can be a challenging task. You are training them to be leaders of their projects and as such with any leadership role comes a modicum of latitude for making their own decisions to try to affect the project in a positive way. So as someone who is responsible for developing these leaders, how do you draw the line between giving them the ability to make their own decisions but stay between the lines of how you want your projects to be managed and delivered?

Methodology Rooted in Principles

Any good methodology will have a set of guiding principles that it is founded upon. These principles are just as important as the methodology itself. It’s crucial that your project managers know and understand what these principles are and why they exist. Knowing and understanding these details will help give them their inner compass when making unsupervised decisions that will affect the project.

Constant Communication

I wanted to use the word ‘oversight’ here but felt that didn’t give the right connotation. Constant communication between the project manager and PMO is vital to ensuring that the project is being managed in a way consistent with the expectations of the PMO and leadership. Regular touchpoints with the PMO and project manager are a good start to ensuring this process takes place. Reviewing current progress, issues and risks are a great way for the PMO/Project Manager conversation to organically grow and flourish into a relationship where guidance and prescription are both delivered but in the appropriate areas.

Clear Deliverables

As with any project there needs to be a clear statement of deliverables and scope definition. This will help on the ‘prescriptive’ part. Project managers will be clear on what is to be delivered and perhaps how it is to be delivered as well. The ‘guidance’ piece will come in softer forms by way of perhaps tweaking tasks to run more efficiently or working with your customer to define a change in approach based on some unique dynamics the customer may have.

Guidance vs prescription is always a challenge to balance. Too much guidance and not enough prescription will lead to projects going awry. Too much prescription and not enough guidance will give you a team of robots who are not empowered to make decisions on their own which is counter-intuitive to why we hire (and pay for) smart people. Stick to these items and you will help your PMO and Project Manager navigate their project successfully.


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