Project management teams are comprised of individuals with a variety of backgrounds, experience levels, and skill sets. That’s one of the strengths of the PMO—they possess a deep well of expertise in multiple areas. There are many advantages to this structure, but savvy PMPs are increasingly seeing the need to broaden their capabilities and learn new skills and techniques outside their established disciplines. While the concept is sometimes a tough sell (training costs time and money), those PMOs and project professionals that have embraced the notion of cross-skill training know the advantages are numerous.
Adding skills, particularly those outside the usual project management arena, gives PMPs far more flexibility in the types of projects they tackle. The PMO gains new insight and methodologies for approaching specific issues or problems. Pursuing knowledge in human resources, for example, would allow a PMP to apply more advanced techniques to staff oversight and development. It would also provide them with expertise well suited to managing a project involving the implementation of a new HR technology platform or construction of a space dedicated to candidate interviews and new hire training.
By applying a deeper level of knowledge of the areas and operations a project will impact and ultimately improve, the PMO is able to increase its value to the project’s stakeholders. Team members will be better positioned to function as good project advocates. They will likely have an improved understanding of the challenges stakeholders face as the project impacts their workflow, and deeper insight into how issues that crop up in the project will affect stakeholders and their day-to-day operations.
Expanding the range of skills within the project management discipline also benefits the organization. Studying risk management practices in depth, for example, gives a PMP the ability to take on those projects with a significant risk profile and to better manage or mitigate the liabilities the organization may encounter. In addition, a PMP with risk management expertise is in a position to oversee high-risk projects which might otherwise be outside the scope of the PMO to handle internally.
Even where robust skill sets are already available within a project office, increasing the abilities of team members often pays dividends in the long run. PMPs with extensive backgrounds in finance management, as an example, can cover for each other during vacations or they can team up on projects involving complex financial requirements or finance-focused regulatory oversight. Not every PMP needs to exercise these cross-skills in every project, but having them available is a benefit to the team, to stakeholders, and to the company.
Nearly as important as being cross-skilled is knowing where gaps in expertise exist, at both the individual level as well as across the project office. Not only does this knowledge allow each PMP to focus their training efforts on the areas that will be most beneficial, it also gives the PMO an opportunity to prioritize and plan for filling those gaps appropriately. It may make sense to provide training in a particular area or discipline, or the PMO may choose to identify an external expert if time and budgets lean that direction.
Justifying cross-skill training can be difficult in some organizations. PMPs should be ready with a thorough overview of the specific skills they would like to pursue, along with examples of projects that would have benefitted from having those capabilities in-house. Be sure to include all potential impacts, including workflow efficiencies, cost savings, improved vendor management, reduced time to accomplish specific tasks (e.g., meet compliance deadlines or complete contract negotiations), and the need for fewer labor resources either internal, external, or both.