How to Raise a Jedi Mentorship in Project Management
Opinov8 Tips
15 August 2022
How to Raise a Jedi Mentorship in Project Management
Opinov8 Tips
15 August 2022

What truly makes a Jedi? How do they get so efficient in their craft? And more importantly, how do they even raise a Jedi in the first place? Answers to these questions can be applied in different industries, and in particular, for mentorship in project management. And yes, in this article, we will be taking lessons learned from Star Wars and how to use them to deal with some of the challenges mentors face in the project managers’ daily life.

My name is Artem, and I’ve been a project manager for almost 8 years. I used to have lots of mentees and not only project managers. In fact, every teammate can be considered a mentee with their own weaknesses and goals. Why have I decided to refer to Star Wars? Well, most of my padawans are familiar with the Jedi concept, and it is more entertaining for them to learn, keeping in mind that they are not just Interns or Juniors but Jedi padawans. Joking aside, behind George Lucas' Universe reference, I gathered lots of useful and rather important stuff, let’s not forget that project management, after all, has a high level of responsibility and commitment.

As you’re reading this article, one of the key things is to remember that you have to master three pillars; knowledge, force, and self-discipline to become a Jedi. It takes years for young men and women to rise through the Jedi ranks, along with intensive training and study. On top of that, Jedi members were required to follow specific values, including discipline, patience, responsibility, and public service, also known as the ‘Jedi Code.’ In the same way in the PM’s life, we go through the levels of seniority, being guided by PMBOK, Agile manifesto, etc. until we reach the top and start thinking of getting/finding somebody who we can share knowledge with.

Elevating your junior project manager to a senior staff member isn’t as easy as it might sound. Some of the challenges you are likely to face during your mentorship program include an excessive commitment to your Jedi and unrealistic expectations. However, as a mentor, it’s up to you to steer your mentee and yourself out of such situations while finding practical solutions. When all is said and done, your mentee should be able to manage such challenges without over relying on you to sort out such problems. And that’s not all!

How to raise a ‘Jedi’ Project Manager

An effective project manager understands that their duty is not about working hard it’s about working smart. As their mentor, your role is to ensure all your mentees get to their highest level of effectiveness to reach the next step in their careers. In this article we’ll take a look at the various skills as a mentor you should concentrate on while guiding your mentees in the project management industry.

1. Self-management

Self-management is the ability to effectively manage productivity and workflow in the workspace without overdependence on a supervisor. Most importantly, practicing self-management will improve general performance in the workspace.

Without a doubt, self-management skills are crucial, especially if you want to get ahead professionally and personally. Therefore, it is your duty as a mentor to encourage your mentees to find ways to self-manage themselves. An excellent example is by giving them the duty to organize how many times you should both meet on a weekly or monthly basis. That should encourage a sense of responsibility, and you can also analyze their self-management skills. In order to dive deep, try the following:

1. Let your mentee write an essay about what self-management actually stands for and then ask to explain it to you. It will allow your mentee to elaborate on the core concepts and be ready to teach his/her team these skills in the future.

2. Talk about a task list and priorities. Teach mentees to manage daily tasks using to-do’s and setting priorities.

3. Recommend your mentee to get used to waking up early in the morning and explain how it can help to deal with everyday routine. Morning is the most productive period as this is the time when your team and clients are still sleeping so you can do things that need focusing. Here you can recommend the book “The miracle morning” which is really helpful.

4. Teach your mentee to plan his/her day the night before. The idea is to make a list of all assignments, meetings, and tasks for the day ahead.

5. Explain how to work using the time-blocking method. Just to remind you, the core idea is to split a day into 15-25 minutes time-blocks in order to limit the amount of time you spend on tasks. It’s better to use apps like StayFocused or any other Pomodoro approach app.

6. Show how to manage the calendar. It may seem like simple stuff, but don’t underestimate the value of a well-managed calendar and having access to it on all devices.

2. Self-education

Self-education is one of the easiest ways to upscale your skills and profession/career in the project management industry. As such, it’s highly recommended in the field. Typically, aside from acquiring the basic qualification, self-education will give an upper hand over colleagues at work. Of course, it is a highly personal process, and the array of subjects to learn is vast. Therefore, it’s difficult to give an exact set of steps for self-education. But the following process should get your mentee off to a very good start, particularly in areas where new independent learners tend to struggle.

As the mentor, you should encourage your mentees to continually find new cutting-edge skills they can learn, especially online.

Plan your learning path - the obvious first step to learning something new is to pick a skill or subject. Mentee probably has a vague idea in mind already, but I encourage you to help them make it more specific. This way, you can better track your learning progress.

Determine how you learn best - In essence, you need to determine the most appropriate learning style. It can be:

  • Reading;
  • Watching videos (such as Coursera, Skill share, edX courses);
  • Listening to podcasts;
  • Talking to high-level professionals;
  • Doing research and writing articles.

Start with the right learning resources – share with your mentee resources that you rely on and explain how to know which ones can be trusted and which cannot.

Learn in sprints – Every two weeks, choose a particular aspect of this skill to focus on. This will keep your mentee from getting distracted or bored. Additionally, it provides a chance to regularly evaluate the progress.

Practice deliberately - When you practice deliberately, you set a specific intention for your practice session and ruthlessly focus on only that. You’re also honest about your current performance, constantly asking how you can improve.

Only discipline and keeping goals in mind make a difference.

Also, it would be a good choice to recommend:

  1. Learn English continually (Read the article)
  2. Listen to podcasts (e.g. Ricardo Vargas 5 minutes podcast)
  3. Read as much as you can (Try to learn the speed reading skill)
  4. Find blogs (e.g. PM)
  5. Subscribe to the best practice newsletter (e.g. projectmanagement.com)

3. Effective communication

The one skill that’s perhaps the most important/necessary/essential, especially in project management, is effective communication. I mean, how else are you going to lead your team if you can’t effectively communicate with them? Without solid communication skills, most project managers find it difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate and manage their teams effectively.

Project managers handle various responsibilities daily. To be more specific, at its core, project management is all about coordinating the efforts of everyone involved in the project as well as communication with stakeholders. That means a project manager should be skilled in gathering information, assigning duties and keeping transparency with the customer.

With that in mind, communication comes in handy, and as a mentor, you will have to echo the importance of effective communication because it’s a key ingredient in this field.

Here is the list of core communications that should be explained:

1. Meetings with customers – Nothing helps you build strong relationships and ensure customer success like a little face time. Types of communication with a customer:

  1. Status Meeting;
  2. Scope Clarification;
  3. Weekly reports;
  4. Quarterly Review;
  5. Approvals (Any);
  6. Escalations;
  7. Budget;
  8. Risks Communication.

2. Meetings with a team – here you should point out the importance of being able to facilitate meetings and keep a healthy environment.

  1. Daily Meeting;
  2. Planning;
  3. Scope Refinement;
  4. Sprint Review;
  5. Retrospective;
  6. Teambuilding.

3. 1 to 1 meeting – this is extremely important and can be used to get a pulse on your employees’ well-being and experience. It'll leave employees feeling energized, engaged, and better equipped to do their jobs well.

4. Interviews – if you have a mentee, it means you’ve been around enough to share tips on how to conduct a proper interview.

4. Project management tools

Project management is an ever-growing industry, and it can easily fit into any sector. Furthermore, the use of software to manage projects has proven to be effective. The reason why I’m saying such obvious things is that we still have PM’s who handle their projects using Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. That is why anyone who’d like to progress in the industry should be barely tech-savvy and learn how to use appropriate PM software.

Software such as Jira, Trello, Confluence, Asana, GanttPRO, Microsoft Project, among others, are the leading tools. You’ll need proper planning, setting deadlines, and ensuring everything fits in perfectly when handling complex ones. You’ll have to segregate, objectify and quantify tasks properly using tools. And if you want your mentees not to lose face, they have to advance their knowledge of project management tools they will be most likely to work with.

5. Project Management Best Practice and Certification

Project management knowledge areas are an essential realm of the best practice that every project manager should be acquainted with. This helps to systemize and prioritize processes, resulting in successful project execution. Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) can be considered (to be) the gold standard of these practices,

Yes, we all are familiar with it, and yes, this knowledge is related to a theoretical part of project management and most of us prefer to rely on hands-on experience. But look, these are the basics that can still be applied. Sometimes we use it partially or slightly transform, but this should be taken into account, especially by those who have just started this thorny path in the project management industry. Try to convey the idea of reading the PMBOK, knowing all the areas, and being able to explain what all of them stand for.

Eventually, encourage your mentee to become PMI certified, even if you haven't done so by yourself. Yes, the presence of certifications is not a mandatory requirement in most companies, and every project manager can work without them, but greater competence - and, as a result, getting top positions and salaries - can be achieved only by certified professionals. There are quite a lot of certifications, but in my opinion, the bare minimum is:

  1. Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification
  2. The Professional Scrum Master™ level I-III or Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)
  3. Managing Jira Projects for Cloud/Server Certification

Techniques used in Project Management Mentorship programs

Undoubtedly, mentoring is a voluntary process, even in the project management industry. All in all, there are a lot of techniques that can be employed in this program but I’d suggest following basic coaching principles. In terms of mentorship, you have to emphasize asking questions, demonstrating emotional intelligence, giving feedback and contributing to developing self-confidence. To perform a coaching style mentorship, a mentor should act as a coach and follow five steps:

  • Step 1: Develop trust - At the beginning, a well-working collaboration, trust, respect, and openness must be established with your mentee.
  • Step 2: Analysis - The purpose of this step is to clarify the present situation, the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges.
  • Step 3: Define goals - It’s essential to have a clear picture of the future situation that he/she wishes to be in, of course, taking into consideration the gaps that were discovered during the analysis step.
  • Step 4: Planning and implementation - In step four, we have reached the knowing-doing gap. Now we need to discuss actions and plan how to implement them, using the pillars I mentioned earlier.
  • Step 5: Follow-up, evaluate and give feedback - The essential elements of success are result measurements, feedback and rewards. The follow-up process can be a simple conversation where you give feedback to the mentee, just keep it simple but informative and fair.

The project manager as a mentor must possess effective communication skills, be a good observer, and an excellent listener, know when to give feedback and have solid knowledge and experience in project management. It’s not a good idea to be a mentor when you also need a mentor.

And a couple of words about types of mentoring:

  • Group mentoring: This type of mentoring involves a group of mentees and one or two mentors. Whenever there are limited resources, having a group mentoring program is essential.
  • Peer Mentoring: Here, peer volunteers share their personal experiences with the group so that they can make necessary adjustments.
  • One-on-one mentoring: This type of mentoring program involves the mentor and the mentee. Just like the Padawan in Star Wars, the young apprentice works with an experienced individual and helps them gain wisdom.

The most important part of your mentorship program is finding a path that works for you and your mentee. What’s more, you should both remember not to overcommit and stick to a specific schedule. Try to follow the guidelines provided in this article, only then you can witness the benefits of your project management mentorship program.

In Summary

Mentorship is designed to help the industry grow, no matter it's project management or not. It empowers and motivates mentees to set their personal development plan as well as identify the issues in their growth and resolve them.

It’s not about holding hands and showing your mentee the end of the line. Nevertheless, mentoring involves guiding your mentee through their journey so that they can find different ways to achieve their goals. Therefore, do not try to help all the time. Let them find their way through the challenges and observe how they behave in stressful situations.

That’s how they learn to adapt and not always depend on their mentor. That’s the only way your mentees will learn to build their own Death Star. All in all, it’s up to mentors to find the next generation of project managers and guide them to the finish line, no matter the challenges they might face during the journey.

May the Force be with you!

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