PMO Advice for a Former Teacher That is Now in a Project Management Office

A former teacher reached out to me to ask if there was any advice I would give to teachers that are now in the project management role in her school system’s project management office.

Being a former teacher, project manager, and program manager, this is right up my alley!


First, as a teacher, you are the ultimate in project managers. Lesson Planning, Curriculum planning, field trip planning, club planning, productions (plays) planning, internship planning, strategic planning, all are project planning. While doing them in parallel, your role is project manager and program manager. If you decide to obtain a PMP, these projects DO count and can be documented as project management experience.

My advice to the team is below.

Reading

Project Management

Information Technology Project Management, Kathy Schwalbe

  • The focus is Information Technology but applies to projects of all types. It provides examples of project charters, schedules, risks, and so much more. It is very easy to read and not overly technical. 
  • There are plenty of other books out there, but I love this book because it described all of the PMBOK knowledge areas (integration, scope, schedule, cost, communications, quality, risk, procurement, and stakeholder management)  and the project management process groups/life cycle (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, closing) in plain language with examples.
  • When I was studying for my PMP, I used the Fifth Edition of this book to study.

The PMBOK® Guide

  • This is the official guide from the Project Management Institute (PMI).
  • I found it very hard to read at first.
  • After I took a PMP class, it was very understandable.
  • If you all decide to obtain the PMP, you will have to read it, more than once.

Instructional Design/Performance Improvement

Training Needs Assessment, Allison Rossett

  • Training Needs Assessment was one of the first books that I had to read in my Instructional Design Masters program.
  • In plain language, Alisson Rossett lays out the techniques to determine what content needs to go into training, if training is actually needed.
  • But what I also saw this book as was a roadmap to consulting.
  • In this list of suggestions, I have not mentioned the term business analyst, but this book has the underpinnings of what a technical business analyst would do.
  • In essences it looks at what does the sponsor ask you to do, what do the subject matter experts think, what do the learners think, and gives you a path to collect data to support your final recommendations.

First Things Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis, Allison Rossett

  • Allison Rossett takes Training Needs Assessment even further and now starts to ask what is the right solution for the problem at hand.

Future Reading

Running Training Like a Business, Delivering Unmistakable Value, David van Adelsberg & Edward A. Trolley

  • I confess, I didn’t read this.
  • One of my former VPs highly recommended this book.
  • If you deal with budgets and justification for your department, the content seems worth the read.

Courses

Since you all have LinkedIn Learning, take these courses:

Project Management Foundations

  • Get in, learn the basics.
  • It also contains content regarding Agile, which should be a future topic.

Project Management Simplified

  • Similar content to the above, reinforcement.

Project Management Foundations: Risk

  • Learn about project risks so that you can identify them early.

Certification

Obtain the Project Management Institutes, PMP Certification (Project Management Professional) certification.

  • It will add a lot of credibility to you all individually and to your team in general.

Obtain the Certified Scrum Master certification from ScrumAlliance.org.

  • Although I am going to list the items below in a “waterfall” form, they can be done in an Agile form (Scrum, Kanban, etc.). 

School System Mission, Vision, Goals, OKRs, KPIs

Keep this data close at hand because all of your projects should relate back to the Mission, Vision, Goals, Objectives, KPIs of the school system.

If the projects don’t, ask why, and be sure it is a project that needs to be done.

Develop Standard Project Management Processes and Templates

Develop a standard set of procedures, templates, forms, and project plans for your projects. This is going to benefit you the most. If you deal with budgets, it will allow you to quickly determine the rough order of magnitude (ROM) for a project.

  • Project Intake Form (Develop a list of questions for the sponsor.)
    • Include Links to Mission and Organization Goals, Goals of the Project, Assumptions, Constraints, Initial Risks.
  • Project Selection
    • Develop a grading scale for project selection.
    • If you won’t have a recommendation
  • Templates
  • Standard Projects (This represents the standard type of project and what you would typically need for that type of project. Helps make things repeatable in combination with the processes and offers a quick start to the project managers.) This does allow the PM the flexibility to modify, if necessary.
  • Tailored Projects (Projects that will not require a change to materials or artifacts. Projects that might require trainer instructions to not cover a chapter or to use a different case study.)
  • Customized Projects Level 1 (Examples might include changing content thus requiring new materials for a course, or changes which require heavy customization to an off the shelf technology solution.)
  • Customized Projects Level 2
  • Customized Projects Level 3
  • Technology Projects

Project Life Cycle

In the above templates develop a standard list of tasks based on the project life cycle.

Life cycles can vary based on the project. The life cycle below is a conglomeration of how I see projects based on my history as a teacher, instructional designer, and technology project/program manger.

It does not include my history as a product owner and scrum master.

Initiation

This is where your projects will start. At this point ask the stakeholder how it relates to the school system mission, visions, and goals, and what metrics will be used to measure its success.

Sometimes you won’t receive an answer to what metrics will be used to measure success. Completion of the project might be the best that you can get because for some reason its very hard to get to those metrics.

Planning

This is where you will start to document out the tasks involved in completing the project. As you learn more formal project management terminology you will see the term work breakdown structure. This is the structure of the project and the headings in this section are typical terms used at the top level of that structure. That structure is broken down into tasks. You don’t have to get down to every single step in a project, but it will become detailed. You will progressively elaborate. 

Executing/Monitoring and Controlling

At this step you will start to execute the tasks that you said that you would do in the project.

You will monitor the activities to ensure they are done on time.

If they are not you may need to adjust your schedule.

But always keep your stakeholders informed of the issues.

Determine what is most important to your project sponsor: scope, cost/budget, or schedule, quality.

Includes: Analysis, Design, Development, Testing, and Go Live).

Analysis

During this part of your project the requirements are defined.

In my experience this happens twice: First – The stakeholder decides on a project (I would like to create, build, implement, develop something. The stakeholder has some type of requirements that may be delivered to the project manager or vendor. Second – The team reviews the actual AS-IS (current) state and determines the TO-BE state. They will document the gaps between the two.

Design

During this step the team will fully document the design of the TO-BE state. In the process they will also document how to bridge the gap between. This bridge is how you will get it all done. It is part of the progressive elaboration of the original plan and will possibly lead to changes in your WBS and tasks.

Development

The team gets to work on developing your project by executing the tasks. At this point you will need to monitor how things are going. If things are not on time or if you see roadblocks, risks, and issues, and if things are ahead of schedule, they all need to be documented and reported back to your stakeholders. Decisions made during this point in your project are made in light of what is most important to your stakeholders: scope, budget, or schedule. Fixes will be determined based on what’s important: add more people, accept the delay, celebrate an early finish, ask the vendor to add a feature to their roadmap, delay a task and move it to “O&M.”

Testing

Depending on the project there may be different types of testing.

In technology projects there could be: Unit Testing, Pre-SIT, Systems Integration Testing (SIT), and User Acceptance Testing.

In some projects, I would add editing to this step.

Go Live

Your project is complete and ready to roll out to the world. Depending on the project, you may need to develop a cutover plan that states every step that will occur after you have received approval to roll out your work. This plan may be hour by hour and it may include backout plans.

This will all depend on the project type.

In a technology project where you are working with multiple Agile teams or multiple resources working on different, yet intersecting, parts of a system, you will need to plan the release of the features to make sure that one set of work does not affect another piece of work. This process of Release Management and daily communications during the project help to reduce the risk of this happening.

Evaluation

Did your project meet the metrics and objectives set by the stakeholder?

Did you reach the goal?

Sometimes this can’t be measures on the day of the rollout or even a week after.

Check out Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels and Jack Phillips ROI Evaluation for measuring learning and development projects.

Post Project Support

Plan for It.

But also support your project for a period after it has gone live and add this to your plan.

Deprecation

In my experiences, my sponsors have never truly asked for the plan up front to deprecate a product or system.

But I have had to replace systems, disabled URLs used in the project, and things like that and used the same life cycle above to do so.

Closing

Document lessons learned.

Close out the contracts.

Archive the documents

Conclusion

After becoming more versed in Project and Program Management and Agile, then I recommend that your team become organizational consultants. In other words you all will preemptively look for projects instead of waiting for projects. You will have that eagle eye and gather the appropriate data and information, prepare a proposal, and present the idea to the potential sponsor for their approval. At this point, you are the trusted organizational consultant which means you have obtained the confidence of organization and look at you all as the trusted partner.

Take what you have learned from this resource mentioned above and use it preemptively.


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