Off to Boot Camp
For some project managers, taking a break from
textbooks can foster a new way of thinking.
Sapna Subramani, a system program quality
manager at Nokia Siemens Networks in Bangalore,
India, often undergoes training for her job as part of
a transformation program related to agile. Among
her most memorable experiences was an intensive
boot camp that focused on role-playing exercises.
Throughout the three-day session, Ms.
Subramani and other group members took turns acting out different types of behavior they might
encounter while coaching colleagues in software
development. Later, they critiqued each other based
on their observations.
“These [activities] helped us refine our understanding of the subject and how to conduct future
coaching sessions,” Ms. Subramani says.
innovative project management training is heading.”
Because life on a real project
can be a high-risk one, trainers
at Maven first strive to create a
risk-free environment. Before
attempting role-play activities,
for example, participants might
first observe people interacting
in a movie. That gets them to
relax and focus on relationships
other than the ones they face
“As a project manager, you
don’t usually have a long-term
history with your resources, so
you don’t have a chance to
practice certain behaviors on
your colleagues,” she explains. “If your
team members mess up in training, it’s
a safe environment—but if you mess up
on the job, it can cost the company a lot
Project managers can
become very habitual
They need to be shaken
up every now and then
so they can take a look
at the bigger picture.
—Austin O’Sullivan, PMP, Walkinstown
Association, Dublin, Ireland
Unconventional training methods don’t
necessarily have to be highly complicated
or even all that inventive. Sometimes it’s
as simple as teaching people to move
around some furniture.
Austin O’Sullivan, PMP, attended a
people management course in which
the trainer removed all the chairs from
the room and made the participants
stand for the entire session.
“At first it seemed bizarre, but there
was no one dozing off and it encouraged
people to take active participation,” says
Mr. O’Sullivan, a program manager at
Walkinstown Association, a Dublin,
Ireland-based advocacy group for people
with learning disabilities.
Ten years later, the technique has
stuck with him.
“It really started a revolution in thinking, and I have kept many of these ideas
going,” says Mr. O’Sullivan, who manages a range of people in engineering,
architecture, drafting, administration,
sales and accounting.
First, he began having people stand
during meetings. Over time, meeting
duration dropped from more than an
hour to 20 minutes. “The staff spends
less time shuffling paper and drinking
coffee,” he says.
Mr. O’Sullivan views creative training
methods as an opportunity to transform
“It really livened things up,” he says.
“It promoted a sense of urgency, and
everyone had to be switched on.”
Creative learning approaches are
now par for the course at Walkinstown
Association. For example, the organization requires its project managers to
read Six Thinking Hats [Back Bay
Books, 1999] by Edward de Bono,
which details a process for altering
Ultimately, it comes back to helping
project managers see things differently.
“We need to avoid doing the same
old things project after project,” Mr.
O’Sullivan says. “We need to encourage
creativity, which is not something
you see in many project management
Breaking from the standard training
fare may carry a certain stigma, but
he says the ROI is clear.
“Project managers can become very
habitual and process-oriented,” Mr.
O’Sullivan says. “They need to be shaken up every now and then so they can
take a look at the bigger picture.” PM