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Boosting Project Management Skills at Plan International in the Americas

November 2, 2017

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Juan Manuel Palacios

Associate Trainer/Consultant, Guatemala

Earlier this year, Plan International’s Regional Office of the Americas (ROA) launched an initiative to boost the region’s project management capabilities through the implementation of the PMD Pro 1 Certification Program. Involving staff from 13 different countries in Latin America working together to develop a common approach to project management—including standardized processes, shared terminologies, and consistent activities—the ROA staff collaborated with LINGOs, now part of Humentum, working with Regional Director for Latin America, Juan Manuel Palacios. In October, six months following the initial training, Juan Manuel interviewed ROA’s Learning & Development Advisor Maria Gabriela Padilla and Program Systems Specialist Norma Fierro in Plan’s Program Quality Policy (PQP) Department to get an update on how this effort is moving forward.

Juan Manuel Palacios (JMP): What prompted Plan ROA to invest in the PMDPro1 certification?

Maria Gabriela Padilla (MGP): The PMD Pro Certification began as a global initiative of the Quality Department, aligned with the Quality Policy, to provide our staff with the necessary tools to increase the quality of our projects and standardize the processes, management terminology, and actions related to project management. Every country must use a common methodology, and in this case, Plan International chose PMD Pro 1. After the first training with participants from each country in April 2017, followed by the Training of Trainers (ToT) course that same month, the country offices have been committed to ensuring continued learning transfer to all colleagues. This responsibility is an investment by our local offices in the initiative, with the motivation, engagement and technical and logistic support provided by the ROA, which is supporting more people getting trained and being certified.

We ask that these newly certified professionals become agents of change, mentors that support others to optimize and improve the quality of their projects.

Maria Gabriela Padilla, Learning & Development Advisor

Plan International ROA

JMP: Tell us how Plan ROA used the PMDPro1 training and certification process, and how this work has been shared with colleagues in the same region who have not participated.

MGP: We have used the learning resources given by Humentum in Spanish as well as French and Portuguese. Here in the ROA, we have offered to support the certifications of between four and six persons per country; however, every country has sought to certify additional people, to have all or at least a part of their people trained in PMD Pro 1 also certified. After obtaining the certification, we ask that these newly certified professionals become agents of change, mentors that support others to optimize and improve the quality of their projects.

Norma Fierro (NF): There were many lessons learned, such as the importance of preparing prior to the training session; for me, this was the key point in achieving the certification. The methodology applied in the face-to-face class is pretty good and creates an atmosphere of great commitment. The pressure of passing the certification exam is very high during the three-day course but at the same time, it is a very nice environment and the exercises are the key to understanding what you’re reading in the guide. The trainer has vast knowledge of the subject and a great command of all the aspects of the content. Also, it is very important to “forget everything” (that you may already have learned about project management elsewhere) and focus only on PMD Pro. I previously followed the remote course (and never got to the exam) and by making a comparison between the two modalities, I believe that the face-to-face course is much more effective for achieving your goals.

JMP: What kind of benefits are you expecting from this initiative?

MGP: As I noted earlier, each trainer has the responsibility to ensure the learning transfer process has taken place in their own country, and this relies totally on the commitment of the country’s executive staff. The goal for learning & development (L&D) is that before the end of the FY18, every country in the region has implemented the learning transfer, and we expect this to result in a considerable improvement in the quality of our projects and evidence of optimization of time, talent, and financial resources.

NF: I think that the big goal with certification in PMD Pro 1 is to increase the capacity of the project implementers, making that compatible with the Program Quality Policy’s standards, and this will lead to raising the quality of all our projects.

src=https://www.humentum.org/sites/default/files/juan%20manuel%20blog%20graph.PNGJMP: How many people have been trained/certified now in the LATAM region?

MGP: To date, 256 people have been trained. From these 256, 180 have taken the certification exam, with a 90% success rate.

JMP: In your opinion, what has been the key factor in achieving your success?

MGP: From the L&D point of view, it is the monitoring and motivating of the people who completed the ToT. The constant sending of reminders and publishing the achievements and results of each country motivates others to do the same as or exceed those results. Let’s say it is a healthy competition—everyone wants to have the same level of knowledge and doesn’t want to lag in using the most effective tools for project management.

NF: I think that a certification is always a motivating factor for the staff, especially when they are being trained to improve their work. Besides that, the synergy generated during the training was something that we were not used to having in Plan, and that was a key point during the face-to-face class, thanks to the methodology, the atmosphere, the participants, and their commitment level. It was a positive challenge to everyone to achieve the PMD Pro certification.

JMP: What has been the most critical learning takeaway from this process?

MGP: The learning transfer is more effective when the first session includes the country’s executive staff since they understand the importance and value of the certification and give their support to the process. This was seen in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, where results exceed our expectations. The odds of becoming certified are greater when there is a team with an inspiring leadership, a good working environment, and above all, preparation in advance of the face-to-face course to optimize the in-classroom learning.

NF: By comparing what happened in other regions, I can see another key point was giving the exam as a part of the training (in ROA it was a must) which indeed generates all the commitment and focus needed. This is not seen when the exam is scheduled for later in the future, when the participants’ focus and interest may decline, and they may tend to procrastinate studying for the certification exam.