Advice for Project Managers: Finding Mentors and Collecting Project Feedback
“Dear Elizabeth: I’d like to find a mentor to help advance my project management career. Do you have advice on what I should be doing to find the right person?”—Searching for guidance
Dear Searching: Well done for deciding that you want to start a mentoring relationship. A mentor can definitely be a career boost, opening doors that weren’t there before.
But you’re correct. You’ll get the best out of mentoring if you can find the right person.
Finding a mentor should begin with an inventory of your needs and wants. What are your mentoring goals? Who do you respect? What area do you want to draw them from? What skills are needed to best serve and guide you in your career aims?
If your organization has a formal mentoring program, start there. In my experience it’s better to be in the formal system than outside it. Ask them to match you with a suitable mentor.
Don’t be afraid to say you want to switch if you don’t click with that person. An experienced mentor won’t take it personally. Good rapport is important. If it isn’t there, they’ll have felt it too.
If you don’t have a formal program to participate in, think about whether you want someone from inside or outside your organization. It may be easier to find someone internal, unless your firm is very small. External mentors can bring different perspectives, but they are harder to find unless you are prepared to pay for their time. Try going through your professional bodies or local networking groups. For example, Project Management Institute chapters’ mentoring programs match junior project managers with more experienced members.
If you’re looking within your organization, a good place to start is the peer group of your line manager or the next level up. Are there any managers in that group that you feel you could learn from? This comes back to your inventory of needs and wants. Do you need someone with deep domain or industry knowledge? Experience in project management? Or are you focused on building your business skills more broadly? Use your inventory to build a list of potential mentors.
When you’ve got a shortlist, just ask them! If they are interested, they’ll want to know what they are committing to before firmly saying yes. Have a frank discussion about expectations: how long and how often will you meet? Will it be over the phone or over email? Draft a mentoring agreement and discuss what you’re both hoping to achieve. That way, you both know what you’re getting into.
“Dear Elizabeth: I’d like to take a more formal approach to gathering my team’s feedback, especially at the close of projects. Do you have any suggestions for garnering constructive feedback?”—Formal Feedback
Dear Formal: You need formal feedback on two things: the project management process itself (how the whole thing worked out for the team and what it was like to be ‘in’ the project management process as it unfolded) and the deliverables or outputs. Getting feedback on both of those will give you some great insights into how the project is going, but they need two different approaches.
It’s easiest to get feedback on the work you are doing and the deliverables you are creating. Add a standing agenda item to your regular team meetings and ask for feedback:
- How are we doing with the scope of this project?
- What’s the latest position on quality?
- Are the customers satisfied with the outputs we are generating for them? How do we know?
You can also tailor these questions for your customers. Though you’ll want to ask them for feedback separately.
It’s less easy to get feedback on the project management aspects of the job. Sometimes people don’t understand those as well or can’t separate those from the output of their tasks. You can help get useful answers about this by asking probing questions:
Did we identify this risk in advance? If not, what could we have done differently so that we wouldn’t have got caught out? How did we end up in this situation? If we had managed communication more effectively on the project, would we have avoided it? So what should we be doing going forward to improve communication in the team?
These are examples; you’ll be able to think of some relevant to your project. The questions can be more challenging to identify and definitely more challenging to answer as they relate to working practices. No one likes to say that the way they did their job wasn’t as good as it could be.
- Manage the people in the room when you ask for constructive feedback. In my experience it works best when the most senior people on the team aren’t there. Talk to the sponsor or any senior managers separately.
- Make it about the process, not the people doing the process. They couldn’t have done anything different (most of the time) because the process encourages them to work a particular way. Change the way you work to be more effective for everyone.
- Encourage, listen and act! People will share if they think you are going to do something constructive and positive with the feedback. If they don’t see anything changing, what’s the point of them commenting on how things could be different?
You can get a head start on capturing formal lessons learned with this meeting agenda template designed specifically for lessons learned, and this meeting minutes template to record what came out of the discussion.
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