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FMI Quarterly/June 2014/June 1, 2014

Giving Project Managers a Unique Edge

workingplans11._imageIn today’s competitive business environment, successful construction firms have to go the extra mile to ensure that their project managers receive a solid mix of ongoing training, support and personal development. When done properly, this training serves as a cornerstone for continued project success in an environment where keen attention to accuracy, quality and customer service can mean the difference between succeeding and failing. It also gives builders the opportunity to fulfill the role of a true construction entrepreneur.

As training and development manager for the New York-based, full-service construction services firm Structure Tone, Inc., Allen Avakian knows the value of solid project management education. As a longtime participant in FMI’s Leadership Institute, the company signed up for the Project Manager Academy (PMA), in order to provide further enrichment for its international team of project managers. A high-level, immersion experience, the PMA finds project management professionals examining themselves, their organizations and their processes on the road to transforming from talented builders into true construction entrepreneurs.

“We knew about the PMA and also had a few managers who had participated in the program as employees of other construction firms,” said Avakian. “When it came time to expand our overall project management training program, we incorporated the PMA into one of our learning tracks.”

Just a few months later, Structure Tone is already seeing the results of its decision to send its project managers through the academy. “Participants are telling us that they now have much better perspectives on their individual personalities and how that relates to their project management skills,” Avakian explained, noting that PMA’s assessment process has been especially useful. “Our project managers are gaining new perspectives on their individual technical skills and really appreciating the feedback and assessments.”

On a more personal level, Structure Tone project managers who have participated in the academy are coming to the table more prepared to tackle challenges and solve problems. Exercises and scenarios discussed in PMA courses allow managers to make more educated, experience-based decisions. “They are much better equipped to work through the situations that they were [exposed] to during their PMA experience,” said Avakian. “Whether it’s from a personal or a technical perspective, they’re certainly better prepared.”

BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS

As one of the construction industry’s most valuable development programs for project managers, the PMA goes beyond scheduling, budgeting and cost tracking to help professionals join the ranks of the best in class by learning to think and act like business owners. The academy’s curriculum is built around four core themes: Profitable customer relationship development; powerful, integrated project teams; financial control of projects; and planning projects for profits and customer satisfaction.

The PMA shows project managers how to effectively engage and coordinate employees and resources in a way that attends to customer interests and returns profits. Recognizing that there are key differences between an entrepreneur and a manager, the PMA comprises four days of tough, hands-on, total immersion into the business of construction. Program graduates emerge from the experience knowing how to think and act like construction entrepreneurs on every project.

At the program, a variety of practical experiences, one-on-one coaching and small-team sessions continue the development process through a highly personalized feedback process as well as by analyzing and interpreting behavioral preferences and communication styles, and developing a personal action plan to capitalize on assets and compensate for weaknesses. “Each participant comes away with the tools and potential not only to lead projects,” says Ethan Cowles, PMA director, “but also to be recognized as a leader in his or her firm.”

BUILT ON SUCCESS

Whether constructing a new office complex or a multifaceted manufacturing facility, XL Construction Corporation (headquartered in Milpitas, Calif.), focuses on building strong partnerships and successful projects. Armed with ingenuity and the latest technology, the firm relies on a team of bright minds to identify customer needs and then tackle project planning to develop an individualized plan to deliver maximum value.

As part of that commitment, XL Construction added FMI’s Project Manager Academy to its training curriculum in 2006, sending candidates to the PMA as part of their individual career development journeys.

Jerry Harmon, HR director, said those candidates have either just become project managers or are ready to move into such roles within the company. “We try to send our senior project engineers to the PMA as part of the [process] of becoming project managers,” said Harmon.

With a track record of developing and promoting 91% of its project managers from within, XL Construction has proven its commitment to career development. According to Harmon, the firm leverages the PMA’s strengths and program offerings on an ongoing basis to help boost its own internal training power. “The academy is part of the broad curriculum of development tools that we use to develop our employees at an extremely high success rate,” said Harmon.

Calling the PMA experience a “purposeful journey” for XL Construction’s up-and-coming project managers, Harmon said the company has used the experience to develop a “job family matrix” that is used to outline job opportunities and requirements for advancing employees. “It’s similar to a college curriculum [flow chart],” Harmon explained, “and it serves as a guide to ensure that all of the bases are covered and that employees get the balanced development that they need to achieve their career goals.”

BROADENING HORIZONS

One of the things Harmon likes most about the PMA is the fact that it takes place off-site and extends over a four-day period. “The fact that we handpick the candidates —and that they go away to participate in the PMA —helps them take the experience seriously,” Harmon said. Of particular value, he noted, is the program’s assessment process and the invaluable feedback that participants receive during the course of the four-day experience.

Finally, Harmon said the fact that students get to see “how other companies do things” gives the XL Construction project managers new perspectives on processes, challenges and problems. In some cases, students receive validation on their current practices and processes. In other instances, they learn new ways to tackle pressing issues. “They see how we stack up in the industry,” said Harmon, “and appreciate the fact that they’re working for a firm that’s willing to send them away for professional development and training.”

Like Harmon, Avakian agrees that the collaboration with and exposure to project managers from other firms has gone a long way in helping Structure Tone’s professionals gain expanded perspectives on the construction industry.

“When they return from the PMA, a lot of our project managers mention how much they liked the contact that they established with construction professionals from other regions,” said Avakian, “and from other types of firms. That’s great exposure that they wouldn’t otherwise have, and it helps our managers gain different insights and perspectives that they can bring back and put to work here.”

Armed with those insights and their expanded knowledge bases, project managers from XL Construction, Structure Tone and the myriad of other firms that participate regularly in FMI’s PMA are gaining an edge in a business sector where ongoing professional development and support translate into long-term success and bottom-line results.


Sabine Hoover is a senior research consultant with FMI Corporation. She can be reached at 303.398.7238 or via email at shoover@fminet.com.

 

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