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February 2018

Why Your Investment In Project Management
Training Will Fail
How You Can Make It Successful

This is our seventh annual recognition of National Engineers Week February 18-24, 2018.  Guest author Michael S. Ellegood, PE, has held positions ranging from Project Engineer through Senior Executive in major consulting engineering firms.  He joined the public sector as an agency head ultimately retiring as County Engineer, Public Works Director and Transportation Director for Maricopa County, Arizona.  Michael is a Senior Consultant with PSMJ Resources and collaborates with public works agencies across North America to improve project delivery.  Michael describes how to achieve success before, during and after project management training.

A very wise boss I once worked for said, "The only way a consulting engineering firm can be successful is if its project managers are successful."  Understanding this is at least intrinsically, many of us, company leaders, have made the investment in project management training for our PM's and perhaps those who aspire to be PM's. 

Chances are this investment won't work out as planned and it will be business as usual in a few short days or weeks.  What happened and how can we make this not insubstantial investment pay off? 

According to Art Petty, a Chicago based management consultant (, big bold strategies often fail for a combination of causes endemic to a corporate environment.  In fact, he lists them from A to Z here, (, I have selected a few that I think are particularly applicable to our industry. 

  • "Had managers who gave it lip service but did not take it seriously":  Too often, younger less experienced project managers, participate in the training, return to the office eager to apply the newly learned skills only to be discouraged by more senior managers who were "too busy to attend training" and did not buy into the training.  "I've been managing projects for 20 years, not much they can tell me!"
  • "Did not understand why it was needed":  Design professionals too often get caught up in the design aspects and overlook the primary goal -- to deliver a project on time and on budget with satisfied stakeholders while making a profit for the company and establishing the firm as a "trusted advisor".  PM reporting and protocols just get in the way. 
  •  Could not connect their daily jobs to the strategy and so they quit trying:  Learning to use project management skills is often difficult.  While trying to solve complex technical issues, keep the often-demanding clients happy and juggling the diverse personalities of the design team, effective PM protocols and tools drift into the distant background. 
  • Decided to take a wait and see approach just in case it was another flavor-of-the-month initiative:  Perhaps more common in public agencies or in larger more corporate organizations this arm's length view reflects a skepticism that PM tools and protocols are just ephemeral -- "ignore it and it will eventually go away". 

These are just four of the 26 causes cited by the very excellent Art Petty article.  Many more are doubtless applicable as well.  But now we made the investment, and the investment was costly both in terms of out of pocket and in the lost billable time that our key staff spent in the training, how do we make this investment worthwhile?  How do we achieve a return on our investment?  How do we prove Art Perry wrong? 

Some Tips:

  • Before the training even starts, before decisions are made, get a cross section of staff together and discuss the need for improved project management within the organization.  This makes the decision more collaborative and less "top down" (My boss told me to go, that's why I'm here")
  • Insist that all levels of management engage in the training.  Not just the junior people but the middle and senior managers as well.  In the most effective organization, the senior management including the CEO participate as well.  This sends a clear message to all that "We're serious about improving our project delivery?"  Note:  we offer a complimentary executive level mini-course as an adjunct to our PM training, few executives seem to have the time to avail themselves of the training, 
  • Manage the implementation as you would any major initiative.  Do not try to do everything at once, instead, set up a schedule to implement, start with the easy stuff then move on to the more complex protocols but set up a schedule and measure progress
  • Evaluate progress just as you would progress on a project.  Ask, "Where are we?", "What's next?",  "What are the issues?", "How is it working for us?"

Having made a significant investment in training, let's make this work.  And, let's make project delivery better than it now is.  Good luck.

Investment in PM training and implementing proven lessons learned is critical to successful practice management at A/E/LA firms small, medium and large.  PM is only one essential factor of successful practice management.  Another critical practice management function is managing individual professional credentials and corporate credentials compliance. Call us for assistance at 913-608-7880 and for more information, visit



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