Onboarding new project team members

By Michael Humphrys posted 07-08-2018 05:58 PM


If your world is anything close to mine, you’ve got new projects coming online (and others hopefully closing) on a frequent basis.  One challenge presented by project start-up relates to project staffing. Often, we are engaging staff that have had little, if any, project experience.  In some cases, we are talking about Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and in other cases, they can be a Business Owner or even a Sponsor.

This challenge can present itself in a number of ways, but it often occurs when there is confusion/questions around the project lifecycle, roles within the team, and other activities critical to executing and closing a project. One way we are addressing this problem at Harvard is through The Harvard University IT Academy, which offers a number of training opportunities for staff including a course called “Project Management Foundations.”

The PM Foundations course is a 4 hour session taught by practitioners from across Harvard.   While it is no substitute for Project Management Institute (PMI) or other types of certification, the course uses lectures, exercises, and discussions to ground attendees in a number of areas including:

  • Distinguishing projects from operations
  • Common roles/groups involved with projects
    • Project Manager
    • Project Team Member
    • Sponsor
    • Steering Committee
    • Stakeholders
    • Subject Matter Experts
    • Others
  • Project Lifecycle (I readily acknowledge phases below are not per PMI, but it meets our needs for this course)
    • Discover
    • Plan
    • Implement
    • Close
  • Quick overview of Waterfall and Agile methodologies (the IT Academy offers a separate course on Agile as well)
  • Six Essential Elements for Success
    • Vision, Objectives, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – a summary of how projects get scoped and how one can measure success
    • Estimating & Planning – a cursory overview in how to plan out a multi-step effort involving several groups
    • Risks – discussion on the nature of risks and ways to identify and manage them
    • Governance - this is one of the big "ah ha moments" for attendees in that they begin to understand how executive leadership can support a project. We discuss the role governance fills by providing resources, setting policies, and approving scope/schedule changes in support of the project.  In addition, we look at how governance can act as a gatekeeper as projects move from one phase to the next (e.g., they would have to approve findings from discovery before planning could begin).
    • Communications –we cover the importance of on-going communications to stakeholders with a focus on developing a basic communication plan early in the project lifecycle.
    • Change Management – here we try to drive home the notion that preparing the user community (and other stakeholders) for the project delivery is essential for adoption. We discuss the Prosci ADKAR® model in detail.

 In addition to discussing the above items, we point our attendees to tools and resources (including the HEUG Project & Change Management Community).

As I am taking on new efforts and forming new teams, I make it a point to review these concepts during the onboarding process – especially with team members that have not attend the PM Foundations course.  My experience has shown that having all members grounded in these methods results in reduced challenges over the project lifecycle. 

Do you have any thoughts or reactions to this posting?  Do you have any onboarding tips you would like to share?  If so, just click the Add Comment icon at the left and share your thoughts.

1 comment


07-09-2018 07:35 AM

Great Idea!

This is a great idea!  I would love to implement something like this for our campus community!  Thank you for sharing.