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The key to using technology successfully: How SMEs can retain good project managers

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“Project management is no longer the preserve of big business or specialist sectors such as engineering and construction,” said Dennis Sheehan, senior training consultant at ILX Group. “In an agile world, where businesses of all sizes need to be ready to adapt and bring new products and services to market ever more quickly, almost every manager must be a project manager.”

Over a third of companies plan to hire staff with project management skills in the next 12 months, a survey for Computerworld magazine found in November last year. According to David Cotgreave, professional services director at project management firm Stoneseed, a demand for good project managers is already prompting an increase in the cost of acquiring and retaining project management talent.

Projectplace, an online collaboration technology pioneer whose customers include thousands of SMEs around Europe as well as global brands such as BSkyB and Carlsberg, has formulated what it calls a “chaos theory”. This states that as the rapid evolution of technology continues, and as people’s working habits change, there’s a need to rethink how they take ideas from inception to completion – in other words, how they manage projects.

Even when they are recruited, project managers face challenges if they’re not well managed. According to Projectplace research, published last month, 37 per cent of project managers cite the lack of communication between team members as the main collaboration challenge. The company also found that project managers admit to wasting an average of two hours and 45 minutes a week due to inefficient practices, which equals more than 20 working days a year. “This is a huge time waster, costing businesses approximately 8 per cent in project managers’ time and salary,” said its report, The Chaos Theory.

According to Dennis Sheehan, a senior training consultant at ILX Group, and Chris Jones, managing director of Progility Recruitment, a specialist recruiter in project and programme management, knowledge and information, “SMEs looking to attract and retain the brightest and best project management talent can compete with the big boys without blowing the budget.”

They offer the following advice:

  1. Communicate – Use every opportunity to understand what inspires and engages current project managers. Appraisal processes are vital to retain the best talent and should never be tick box exercises.
  2. Foster personal development – Through training in Best Practice and also provide diverse challenges. Avoid the temptation to assign project managers to the same type of project again and again just because they have completed that type of project successfully in the past. These project managers will soon begin to feel that they are stagnating and start to look for an opportunity that offers more challenge and a chance to keep their skills up to date.
  3. Take a strategic view of recruitment. Don’t just recruit to fill the same post when people leave. It may work better to hire new staff at a junior level and train them up or hire interim freelancers. When training budget is limited, prioritise candidates with good soft skills. If a person seems to have good soft skills, but does not tick all the accreditation boxes, then it might be easier to address through training rather than trying to develop people skills which may not be so intuitive.
  4. Use consultants wisely. Too many organisations hire in consultants when they don’t need to, failing to use the opportunity to recognise and develop existing talent. Other organisations drive away their best project managers with an overly heavy workload when they could benefit from external consultants to share the load.
  5. Champion a positive project management culture. Create a clear pitch to sell the organisation’s benefits to potential future project managers. Candidates will be comparing remuneration packages but once you have got that right and created a competitive package, the next step is to make sure that potential candidates know exactly what your organisation is about so that the right candidates are attracted to you and the best match is made.

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