Establish a Project Management Community of Practice

Written By Andrew Makar

Professional Cat Herder and an Agile Enthusiast with a keen interest in putting PM theory into actual practice.

Establishing a project management community of practice (COP) requires a modest amount of effort, but if you follow these steps, you’ll have your first community of practice meeting within a few weeks. The steps are neither complex nor time-consuming, but they do require some planning to ensure a successful community of practice launch.

Step 1: Write a Project Management Community of Practice mini-charter

As project managers, it shouldn’t surprise you that the first step in any initiative is to draft a brief charter describing the goals, objectives and scope of the community of practice. Developing the charter is an important step since it establishes the key goals and objectives about project management community of practice and describes the groups overall intent. It is a useful document that can be shared with other business units, departments or interested participants.

The charter doesn’t need to be a massive ream of information. Usually a one- or two-page charter document is sufficient to describe the purpose, benefits, goals and objectives. The estimated duration for this activity is one to two hours. If you’re brainstorming the scope with a few team members, it may take you a little longer to synthesize ideas and reach consensus.

Step 2: Create a presentation about the Project Management Community of Practice

The next step is to draft a presentation deck using your favorite presentation. You don’t need a lot of slides–just enough to convey the idea, scope, benefits and next steps with the community of practice sponsor. A brief outline may include:

  • Definition of the COP
  • Objectives
  • Scope
  • Assumptions and Dependencies
  • Topics and Event Calendar
  • Sponsor Responsibilities

Step 3: Identify a sponsor and obtain buy-in

Once you have your presentation deck assembled, schedule a meeting with a key leader in the organization who you think might champion the idea of a community of practice. An obvious choice is your organization’s enterprise project management office, although some communities of practice may be reluctant to ask the PMO to be the main sponsor.

Due to the dynamic learning nature of the community of practice, tailored or modified project management practices and tools may be introduced. Sometimes these tools and techniques are not PMO-sanctioned and a community of practice may feel pressured to obtain the PMO’s blessing before sharing an effective idea. I’ve worked with various PMOs where the staff in the PMO is no longer as close to project or program delivery and lose perspective on tactical project management. Other PMOs are excellent sponsors for a community of practice since they use it as a feedback mechanism for new processes and standards.

The senior leader in your organization should be willing to champion the community of practice’s efforts. The sponsor’s commitment shouldn’t cost anything as the community of practice is a free, self-directed team interested in promoting project management and sharing lessons learned throughout the organization. The sponsor should be willing to promote the community of practice as news in an upcoming staff meeting or department meeting.

Step 4: Establish a planning committee

Initiating, planning and executing a community of practice isn’t a one-person show. Successful communities of practice have several self-directed team members that are willing to serve on a planning team to identify project management topics and manage meeting logistics. Depending on the scope, a community of practice planning team may ask for representation from each business unit as a method to promote and exchange planning ideas across the organization.

Once you have your planning group assembled, brainstorm a list of potential project management topics, identify internal and external guest speakers, and draft a calendar of events for the community of practice’s activities throughout the year. You don’t need to plan the entire year at once. Adopting an interactive approach to refine upcoming events is an effective technique to generate new ideas and modify presentations based on changes within the organization.

A community of practice events doesn’t have to be a formal presentation of a project management topic. A community of practice can sponsor PMP certification study groups, professional networking events and even social nights out to get to know one another. In one community of practice, the organization sponsored a Project Management Summit that promoted all the company’s internal project management resources including methodology teams, PMO support, training courses, and additional learning resources. The summit included project management software and training vendors and featured different informational sessions on project management topics. New and experienced project managers quickly learned about all the resources available to them.

Step 5: Select a date from your first COP event

Your first community of practice event doesn’t need to be as ambitious as a project management conference. Start with something small that will provide immediate value to the project managers in the organization. A favorite topic of mine is “Lessons Learned in MS-Project” since MS-Project has a learning curve and if you don’t use it correctly then project managers can quickly become discouraged.

“Lunch and Learns” or brown bag sessions are an easy way to host an event. Attendance is usually better if you offer some incentive to attend (i.e. food) but this might be cost-prohibitive depending on the size and budget. The key is to provide a forum for project managers to network and encourage knowledge sharing. Feeding them doesn’t hurt either.

Step 6: Promote and Market the COP

Leverage your community of practice sponsors to communicate the upcoming event. Ask to attend your sponsor’s next staff meeting and provide a brief five-minute overview of the community of practice. Ask the staff members to cascade the information to their organizations. Another effective technique is to ask the PMO to send an invitation to all the project managers in the organization. A week or two before the first community of practice event, post flyers on bulletin boards or in common areas where people will see the flyers.

Promoting isn’t difficult to do but requires some time to get the word out and start generating buzz about the community of practice. If your planning committee has representation from each business unit, you can cascade your event and each representative to promote the community of practice in their organization.

Step 7: Host your first Project Management Community of Practice event

Conducting your first event can follow a simple format. Ask your sponsor to kick off the event with a few words about the importance of the community of practice and the benefit of sharing lessons learned across the organization. Deliver the project management topic and allocate time for questions and answers. Remember to ask members to sign-in and leave their e-mail addresses as you may want to contact them directly regarding future events. Have a few hard copies of the presentation materials available and ensure the materials are distributed electronically before or after the event.

If your organization has multiple participants from other locations, considering hosting the event with Web conferencing software like WebEx or Live Meeting. Depending on the PM topic, you may want to consider recording the event for reuse and include it in a project management library. If you find yourself presenting on the same topic frequently, a downloadable copy of the presentation may save you the headache of delivering the same presentation again and again. Ask your enterprise PMO to host the presentation materials on their department website or create your own site to archive the information for future visitors.

Initiating a project management community of practice is a straightforward exercise in effectively planning and promoting a series of meetings. By following these steps, you’ll effectively establish a learning resource pool that will help contribute to the PM maturity and raise the awareness of PM and lessons learned with the organization.

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