Project Leader Who is Junior and Lack Experience

Everyone in a new job starts as a junior person. It has been a curse in many IT groups that people get promoted into project management after having taken just a few basic courses. Then they are left to fend for themselves. The result is often predictable and the same — failure. Either the project fails or a senior person has to be given the project.Why does this arise? One reason is that some managers place insufficient importance on project management. Another reason is that some larger organizations adopt a standardized method, such as Prince2, PMBOK (project management book of knowledge), or some other method. They think that making such a method standard can make up for or compensate for the lack of experience. This is incorrect. Such methods provide a general framework.

However, they do not provide the general how-to techniques that are essential for project management success.

Another factor is that when projects are assigned to one project leader, there is little opportunity or incentive for more senior project leaders to share experience with junior project leaders. There is often no emphasis or push by management for knowledge sharing among project leaders.

How do you detect if people lack experience? Their resume may look good. They have excellent references. Or, alternatively, they may have been able to work effectively in teams before. None of these is suffi cient to indicate that they have the right skills or experience. Here is a guideline we have followed for years.

Until proven otherwise, assume that the person lacks the needed skills or knowledge.

How do you test people’s knowledge and skills? One effective way is to pose examples of issues that are likely to be encountered in the work. If they do not respond well, it is an indication that when the real problems appear, there will be substantial issues.

Another method is to probe for their experience in managing work. Have them identify some past work they thought turned out well. Ask what they learned from this experience. What problems did they have to overcome.

Actions and Prevention
The best approach we have found to deal with or prevent this problem is to implement shared project management for all signifi cant projects. Wait! Don’t react to this by saying that no one is accountable or that there are insufficient project leaders. We have implemented this solution in very small IT groups.

Here are the guidelines for shared project management.
1. Identify the person who will be in charge at each stage.
2. Have the two project leaders manage several projects at the same time, unless the project is large.
3. Rotate project leaders over time so that there is variety and more learning.

We all know that undoing a problem that has gotten worse is often much more diffi cult than solving the problem at the early stages following its discovery. If you have to reassign the project leader, it is often viewed as signs of problems and weakness.


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