The Beauty of PM Experience

Experience - the right kind - is beautiful! That goes whether it's PM experience, or any other kind!It shows that your knowledge is seasoned and real, and that you bring a dose of wisdom to the table. But how can you distinguish between the "beauty of experience" and impostors?

Some say, "We learn by doing.", and there is a lot to be said for that. But it falls way short.

Usually it's hard to claim we know anything without showing some experience. There are plenty of people that will make suggestions and have opinions about things where they have no experience. It's when people "have skin in the game" that they learn the most - and gain experience.

Let me give a sports example, and then move on to how this applies to project management.

The Beauty of Experience: A Sports Example

Let's say I need to improve my golf swing. There is a lot to that! There are a lot of moving parts! Here's what I'd need some coaching on:

  • how hard to swing
  • how to hold my head
  • how to grip the club
  • where to put my feet
  • how to bend my knees
  • how to turn
  • how to follow through
  • at what point to strike the ball
  • what exactly to look at
  • how to follow through after striking the ball

This is only the beginning of it! There are a lot of mental things, too, to say the least! Like how to control all of these but at the same time feel relaxed and not think about it much!

But there are also a gazillion nuances. One is how any two of these things might work together. Another is how to correct something that's going wrong - preceded by actually identifying what it is that is going wrong!

Now who do you want to have coaching you: someone who has struggled with all of these things, or someone who knows the theory behind them? It's very important to read, listen, and learn, but at the same time, it's important to try.

A good coach will have tried...then questioned and learned. Then done it again...and again and again. Until he/she has mastered what they are doing, which includes mastering the trial and error process.

But in addition to having worked on his/her golf swing, a good coach also has practical experience working with students on their golf swings. While there is a process for learning via trial and error, there is also a process for teaching someone via trial and error. How do you heighten your pupil's awareness of what they are doing wrong? How to you teach them to identify the possible corrections that are most likely to help correct the problem?

The Beauty of Experience: A Project Management Application

On a project, using the PMBOK Guide as a framework, or even PRINCE2 as a prescriptive approach, is very valuable. But in the end, you need to get into the think, act, learn...then "rinse and repeat" cycle in order to gain experience. The bottom line is that mastering a framework or applying a set of steps does not guarantee success!

That being said, there is a way that you can bridge that gap in project management in a way that is really not available to the golfer. That "secret weapon" is project management templates. Templates already have approaches, methodologies, best practices, frameworks, and prescriptive actions embedded within them. And they also have some seasoned experienced sprinkled throughout.

Templates force you to think things through at every level and in every phase. The trick is deciding just how far you need to go - how much you need to do - in order to leverage the most benefit from templates. There is a point of diminishing return, and there are certain templates - especially like the Project charter - that are pretty much required every time and produce real value. Other templates may not be required on all projects, and you need to make that judgement based upon what you are learning is important on the project.

One of the net results of using PM templates is that you "wow" your stakeholders! It's happened to me every time. They force you to think through aspects of the project that others are just not thinking about - and that's where you get to add serious value in a unique way! Also, in leveraging PM templates, you immediately look professional and experienced!

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