Succession Planning in Project Management

As a PM, one important project you may eventually take on for your organization is training someone to replace you. A company with a strong project management department or team is likely one that has a clear understanding of the advantages of such advance planning. Succession management is a critical aspect of planning for businesses that want to keep their competitive edge. Employers are facing the reality of a serious shortfall in qualified leaders to replace retiring baby boomers. If your position as a PM entails strategic planning, authoritative decision making, and team management, your role falls into the category of leadership. There needs to be someone ready to step in when you step down.

Whether you are thinking about retirement, striving for a promotion, or looking at job offers from other organizations to further your career, someone will have to take your place. If you were mentored in your career path to becoming a successful PM, you can pay this favor forward to the next generation. Have you considered how you will pass on your knowledge?

Why You Need a Plan

Knowledge retention isn’t something that just happens. Mentoring isn’t accidental. These are processes that require deliberate action. If you can reasonably see yourself leaving your current position within the next 3-5 years, the time to start planning is today. That’s because the more energy you spend on preparing your organization for this transition now, the less you will have to do later. This leaves you free to focus on what you are moving toward (promotion, relocation, a change in careers, retirement) rather than what you are leaving behind.

Do You Know what You Know?

Until you start writing things down, it’s hard to grasp how much specialized knowledge you really have. If you try to just sit down in one afternoon and document all the advice you would pass on to a successor, you are likely to miss a lot. A better way to begin collecting this information is to keep a notebook where you can jot down ideas as they occur to you. Take careful note of the questions your team members ask about methodology and best practices. The answers to common inquiries in these areas are definitely something to include in your “knowledge retention notebook” to leave behind.

Use Your Time Wisely

Of course, you don’t have to teach a mentor literally everything you know. You won’t have the time for this and it’s not really your responsibility. Those who are being prepped for a future as a PM will likely be going through project management training courses to learn the basics. That means the best on-the-job training you can offer falls into two categories:

  • Things that can’t really be learned in a classroom (like how to negotiate for a higher budget)
  • Practices and issues that are specific to your organization (such as how to handle specific interdepartmental communication issues)

Who Should You Teach?

Just because you see a specific team member as a rising star within the organization does not mean that is the individual you should mentor. Succession planning is done in conjunction with HR and top level management. They may have different ideas than you about who they have in mind to take your place. This is especially true if they see the future of the organization differently than you do. If you can all agree on one or two candidates who should receive leadership training and mentorship in project management, you can focus your efforts more effectively. Finally, your mentee must be someone who wants to be taught but who isn’t going to try to take your job before you’re ready to give it up!

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