Off the Critical Path

Can PMs be developed in middle school?

Whenever we began the process of interviewing and hiring a new Project Manager for our team, the same debate would ultimately surface…are we better off hiring the strongest PM we can find, even if they are lacking experience with the specific business or methodology we support, or are we better off finding someone with the business/industry knowledge who might need some mentoring as a PM.

My blog entry today is not an invitation to join that debate, (and for the record, I always felt finding the solid PM was the important task, and we could bring them up to speed on the business segment to the degree they needed to be successful.)  My purpose in highlighting that debate is to comment on the importance of PM skills these days, and the struggle at times to find people who possess them.

My completely un-scientific research (interpret that as what I have personally seen over the years) indicates there are some people who seem to have the “PM gene”, and those who don’t.  Those who do are natural planners and organizers.  They are generally process-oriented, and need to think about the critical path of events, even if it is just for planning a trip to the grocery store, or thinking about cleaning out a room.  These natural PMs may not have any formal training in the tools of the PM trade, but they have an internal drive to bring order to chaos, to identify the objectives, and to plan out the steps to reach a successful conclusion.  If you think about the most talented PMs you know, I bet they share some of these “natural PM” traits, in addition to any skills they may have learned from the PMBOK.

Can we help develop more individuals with this natural orientation to project management?  While some aspect of this may be hereditary (see my comment above on un-scientific!), I do think you and I can help develop the next generation of PMs.  And it starts in elementary and middle school.

Schools are natural training grounds for project management skills….assignments given in advance of a deadline…multiple classes assigning homework at the same time…projects that need weeks to come together rather than the night before the due date.   With the right influence from parents, teachers, and mentors who understand basic project management, we can help students break these assignments down into basic pieces, and lay out a plan that helps them get to the end goal.  We can reinforce the value of the “critical path” by helping them see the need to complete some tasks well in advance of others, and we can underscore the negative impact of schedule slip (procrastination) on their success.

So, if you have these natural PM skills, make sure you are passing them on to your kids.  Or if you have the time and ability, talk to a local school about how you might be able to spend some time there talking about project planning and execution.  And see if you can help develop the future PMs our organizations need! 

©2011 Steve Carter


  1. cartergang posted this