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Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash
Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

Earlier this year I received a text from a woman I worked with last year on a project management consulting job. She reached out to let me know that she got her PMP certification and wanted to thank me for my help and guidance while we worked together. This experience made me reflect on the power of sharing knowledge and mentoring.

It was flattering to receive feedback like this. She told me she thought of me often while she was preparing for the exam. As she studied, she kept coming across things she had heard me talk about.

The thing is, I don't remember setting out to mentor her. Sharing information comes naturally to me. When I look back, I can see that I've always done it throughout my career. I like exchanging ideas with people. It's not only fun but also productive. How much better is the outcome when you have multiple points of view and varied expertise contributing? What is our company’s potential when we share our knowledge with up-and-coming generations? By giving them the leg up that we didn't get, the next generation starts in a better position than we were, allowing them to go further and accomplish more. Why wouldn't you want that for your company, your team and/or yourself?

Knowledge Sharing

The biggest time-waster I've seen in companies is that they repeat the same mistakes over and over. As project managers, we are familiar with Lessons Learned. You capture the good, the bad and the ugly and write them down so others can capitalize on what you got right and avoid repeating what you got wrong.

Companies often do an excellent job of capturing Lessons Learned only to file them away in the project documents and never bring them out again. Lessons Learned stashed on a server collecting dust defeats the entire purpose in recording them! It happens too often.

Even if your formal processes are failing, you can share what you've learned in other ways. Mentoring the next generation of project managers is one. It's a painless way to communicate the same information as Lessons Learned. And the best part is you don't have to find an active mentoring program. There are less structured ways to mentor and share knowledge. A simple way is to communicate why we do things.

An example: Over the years, I've learned how to run effective meetings. It came after trial and error and a bit of confidence-building. Rather than leave a junior project manager to "learn the ropes" or "put in the time" as I did, I share easy tips with them. Here are a few meeting tips I share with any junior PM working with me:

  • My meeting notices contain the agenda. Why? So that attendees are prepared.
  • Always start the meeting on time and don't recap for anyone who is late. Why? So that they know to be on time in the next meeting or they miss out. (They won't be late again.)
  • Send out notes immediately after the meeting. Why? Because the discussion is still fresh and they will notice any corrections needed and/or address any actions they were assigned.

Another informal way to mentor is telling stories about how we learned to do what we do. Share that horror story about a vendor selling you a Beta version of software that almost derailed the project and led to the requirement that all quotes include detailed product descriptions with version numbers. They will remember your story and will avoid mistakes that you already learned for them. Sharing this information costs nothing and helps future project managers get organized faster than if they had to figure it out on their own.

Helping Others Gain Confidence

Many years ago I worked in the IT PMO (project management office) of a very large corporation. We had interns who often took part in project meetings as note takers. This meant they often interacted with people with high-ranking titles.

One intern experienced high stress when meeting with these Very Important People. She and I were riding the elevator up when it stopped and the CIO stepped in. I cracked a joke, and he laughed as expected. Later she told me she couldn't believe how at ease I was with him and how she was too nervous to say anything. I informed her he was a guy who got dressed in the morning and came to work like the rest of us. No biggie.

A month or two later, this same intern asked me to join the Mentor/Mentee program at the company. She was interested in it, and she wanted me to be her mentor. The request surprised and humbled me.

We attended a cocktail hour for new members and mingled among the different folks affiliated with the program. At one point, a man who carried an air of authority about him approached and introduced himself. I recognized his name as one of the board members. My mentee did not. However, she was her usual charming self. He asked my companion what department she worked in and where she went to college, etc. He mentioned that his daughter was going off to school soon and his plans for helping her move. My mentee laughed and told him, "Oh, god, don't do that... you'll embarrass her so much. No, just do [this]." He laughed at her admonishment and thanked her for the heads up.

Then he asked her what she thought of the mentoring program and her experience working in the company so far. I was ready to step in if she stumbled, but she handled herself beautifully and said all the things that a Very Important Person would want to hear about his company and what the next generation perceived about working there.

As we left the cocktail party, I told her who he was. She stopped cold and said, "I think I'm going to throw up." I reassured her she had said and done all the right things and she had completely charmed him. I confirmed she came across as a strong, confident young woman who was a rising star in the company.

Years later, after I no longer worked there, I ran into that young lady at the annual PMI conference in our city. She was now a project manager who had made a name for herself within her own company. And it makes me happy to think I helped her along her journey.

Leaving a Legacy

Have you ever left a company and then worked with them again further down the road in a consulting capacity? Or kept touch with your former coworkers and are still familiar with the inner workings? It's always interesting to visit a place and find them using processes that you put into place or shared with others when you worked there.

While working in the same IT PMO mentioned previously, I shared my love of Microsoft OneNote with everyone in our department. The Director of the PMO had me put together a class to show others how I used the tool. I gave this class a few times, even sharing outside our immediate department. At that time, anyone who wanted to use OneNote had to put in a special request to have it loaded on their computer as it wasn't part of the standard mirror image.

Six years after I left the company, they engaged me for a consulting job on a few projects. When I showed up for work that first day, I found that MS OneNote was now part of the standard image on all company computers. Sharing my knowledge had led to a change in their organizational processes. I didn’t expect to have an impact like that, but knowing that people in the company now got the tools they needed by default without having to ask for them specifically because of my actions was a wonderful feeling.

Conclusion

Share your knowledge. Mentor someone. It feels good to help others. By taking the time to directly help someone else, you are building a better foundation for tomorrow... for your company, for yourself, and the world. It's all win win, so why wouldn't you?

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