I had a couple of meetings this week in which the topic of in-house volunteering – or “community service” – came up. Having been involved in quite a successful scheme over the last few years, I’ve got some views on how to make it work effectively, and that is the theme of this blog post.
Although the term “community service” has a punitive connotation – at least in the UK – the sense here is much more literal: it is doing some service which is of benefit to the (project management) community. The idea is that project managers, particularly those with the greatest experience, should do more than just managing projects. They should give something back, and contribute to building a greater project management community.
It can be on a purely voluntary basis, or subject to varying degrees of “push” within an organisation: encouragement, persuasion and expectation, or a mandatory part of the job specification.
Some examples of PM-oriented community service that I have seen applied successfully include:
- develop and document a new piece of best practice – perhaps “improvements to risk management”
- represent the organisation at an external forum (e.g. APM or PMI), and bring the lessons back
- prepare and present material for an in-house PM event
- write something for the intranet or a newsletter
- provide support for a colleague’s project – such as being a facilitator for a lessons learnt workshop
- act as a coach/mentor to other project managers (this is a big topic, and one that I will return to on another occasion)
- be a local “champion” of a new technique – such as Agile/Scrum
It is probably fairly obvious why an organisation will benefit from such efforts, but why on earth would a project manager want to spend time away from their “day job” of delivering projects? And why would an organisation want to allow them – or even encourage them – to do these off-the-clock activities?
From the organisation perspective, the services delivered are of value, and are topics where external consultants are sometimes employed. In-house delivery is more efficient, more economical, and likely to be more successful in terms of fit with the organisation and acceptance. (If you don’t believe me, then I’m more than happy to deliver you these services on a consultancy basis!)
From the individual’s perspective – why does anyone ever volunteer to do anything? Quite simply, it is satisfying and rewarding in its own right. Doing something extra can be interesting, challenging, and developmental. It raises personal profile, and gives one visibility standing in the community. And it is fun.
Given the choice and the appropriate environment, most senior project managers will happily give some of their time (and the company’s time) to do something interesting, over and above their normal job.
If I have sold you on the idea of community service, here are some hints and tips on making a success of it:
- Decide how much time, on average, you would like your experts to spend on community service. I have heard examples ranging from 5% – 30%. The actual figure is less important than having a target.
- If possible, build it into your objectives system. If a PM is spending 20% of their time doing community service, then 20% of their performance-related pay should be tied to this objective.
- Allow PMs to volunteer their own topics, but also maintain a “wish-list” of topics.
- Some topics can be perennial, with changing ownership every 6-12 months. Overseeing the community wiki, for example, can be carried out on rotation.
- Every topic should have a sponsor (i.e. customer) who can vouch for the delivery. If you have a PMO then they are likely to be the customer of many, but not all.
- It needs coordination. Again, if you have a PMO then that is a good home.
- Don’t be dogmatic if a project manager really is temporarily under too much pressure from their day job. Delivering projects comes first. But don’t let them off the hook forever.