Mentoring the Next Generation

It was one of those moments. I was thinking that I really should get writing again and get some blogs out there in the big wide web of wonderment, but couldn’t think what to say or write about, and then ‘wham’, I get a message through my website contact form www.thelazyprojectmanager.com

It said ‘I would like to share my knowledge to the next generation PMs’ and asked for any guidance or advice in doing so.

Serendipitous or what? Well I think it was.

Mentoring is a long term relationship where the focus is on supporting the professional growth and business development of the recipient, the less experienced partner in the mentoring relationship, the mentee as it is officially known. The mentor should be a source of wisdom, teaching, and support, therefore real world experience is a must. You have to have put in the time and had the personal experience of the good, the bad and the ugly of project life in order to be a good mentor I believe. And the mentor is someone who observes, discuses, considers current behavior and issues and gently guides changes for the better where needed. Again, this is a call for a certain type of individual, we are not all cut out to be mentor material.

But let’s say you are the ‘right stuff’ and you do have some time to mentor others, how would you go about it?

At this point I would offer up, in not a call to action, but at least a call to comment, to the readers of this blog. How would you suggest someone with the experience, with the interest, with the time and with the general inclination to go about becoming a ‘mentor’?

Whilst I wait patiently for your input and general wisdom like contributions let me consider these questions:

  • Why do you want to be a mentor?
    • Altruism or profit?
    • That is do you just want to give back and it is all free and open, or do you want to profit financially from the effort – it is possible both can be true of course
  • One or many?
    • Do you want to offer a one to one mentorship engagement for just a lucky individual or do you want to offer a larger more mass gathering type of mentoring program? Or perhaps something in between?
  • What is the style of mentorship you are thinking of offering?
    • Face to face, remote/virtual, on-line?
  • And how long are you committing to?
    • What is your personal timeline of dedication to this program and/or each individual?
  • How will you set expectations amongst your mentees (or mentee)?
    • What is truly in it for them – especially if you are asking for money?

I spoke some time ago in an article entitled ‘Green Bean PMs’ about the three things that any newbie would benefit from and this included finding a mentor – so there is a real need out there for smart, experienced people to give back to their profession in some way:

  • Give them a safe place to start
    • Projects are, by their very nature, tricky beasts and for a ‘newbie’ to learn the practical skills of project management we should ensure that they enter the PM world in a controlled way. Hopefully being handed a new project to lead and being told to ‘get on with it’ (as I was when I became a PM) is long gone.
    • Rather we should allow the ‘Green beans’ to experience project reality by taking up a small part in another project managers project, and watching and learning and getting involved in a small way.
    • In addition, if there are project reviews, health checks, and retrospectives taking place (and I really hope that there are) then this is another great entry experience for the young ones to see and learn.
    • Another safe(r) environment might be internal projects – rather than external customer facing ones.
    • Key is to make the environment of learning a safe one.
  • Give them a friendly place to work
    • Where should they work and report when they first start out? Well don’t leave them out in the cold and without peers and project professionals around them. If you have a project practice then this is the place to nurture those ‘beans’.
    • Make it easy for them to ask the questions that they will need to ask and make it easy for them to see experienced project managers in action.
    • We all know that there is a world of difference between theory and practice so give them the support they need to move away from the theory.
    • Key is to make it easy for them to find out all of the stuff that will need to find out.
  • Give them a helping hand
    • Appoint a mentor from out there in project management land who will be there to listen to them from time to time and gently point them in the right direction when they need help – such a person will be invaluable to the ‘beans’ in the early days of being a project manager.
    • Encourage them to make the effort to look outside your organization and connect to some truly wonderful project managers and experts out there on the www. There is a huge amount of advice and guidance through local project management groups, through conferences and meetings, through the online discussions and blogs, and lots more. (It may be in this area the ‘Green’ ones might have the upper hand on us ‘Grey’ ones since all this social connectivity is second nature to them).
    • Key is to build the best possible network for now and the future and to use it wisely.

So thank you my website visitor for triggering this blog and subsequent conversation – and thank you all my lovely readers for sharing your ideas, thoughts, suggestions, experiences and general wisdom with regards to the value of mentorship, and the path to becoming a mentor.

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert who has built and led five global PMOs across several industries, and has advised many other organisations in PMO and PM strategy.

He is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 5 years, he has delivered over 350 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

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