Skill gaps in Project Management – What can help bridge the gap?

As work went remote and digitalization turned from a buzzword to a necessity, companies faced major skill gaps within their project management teams. A visible deficit between project needs and the capacity of the team to bring those projects to a successful end become evident. 

Why is this happening?

While most team members want to do their best to deliver the project successfully, very few are ready to admit their lack of knowledge or skill. However, this lack of skill isn’t necessarily the pitfall that many present it to be. Project management requires you to juggle many things at once and it’s not surprising that sometimes a bit of help is needed to keep everything in line. 

On the one hand, having team members with different strengths that can fill in for each other can create a better dynamic. This is usually a situation where we have a team of people with an understanding of each other’s work, that at the same time have their own area of expertise in which they excel. 

On the other, if the skill gaps are such that they inhibit efficient work then some corrective action is needed. The goal should be to bring everyone to a level where collaboration can happen, not necessarily make everyone an expert. 

Some of the factors that contribute to this disruptive lack of skills are:

  1. Educational background – even though no degree guarantees real-life knowledge, having a formal education in a specific area of work can make communication and understanding between team members that much easier. If people working together understand each other’s points and the logic behind those points, then learning and growth are more likely to follow.
  2. Age – while having “computer skills” was once an asset, nowadays they’ve become a necessity. And this necessity comes a lot easier to the generation that grew up right alongside technology. 
  3. Previous work experience – much of the knowledge we use in our work is acquired through work itself. Having in mind that not all people had the same learning opportunities throughout their career, it’s to be expected that they haven’t all picked up on the same skills along the way.
  4. Learned models – inherited work patterns that have no basis other than “we’ve always done it this way” are one of the biggest setbacks. By following these patterns, team members can mimic having the needed skill set right up until they’ve been handed something outside of the learned scope. 

Types of skills to look out for

Normally, when the company is hiring, managers look for two sets of skills – hard and soft skills.

Hard skills are those talents and abilities that can easily be measured. They are more often than not specific to a particular job, and they can be learned through schooling or on-the-job training. Soft skills are not as clearly defined and don’t apply to only one specific job but are more universal in nature.

What they both do have in common is that hard and soft skills can be learned and developed. 

This learning process is easier when it comes to hard skills as they are not only easier to measure, but also the expectation on what should be learned are communicated more easily.

This doesn’t mean that soft skills should be left behind, however. While they can’t be precisely measured, the impact of their development is felt throughout the organization. Better communication skills, better conflict resolution skills, and insightfulness are pillars of a healthy, thriving work culture.

The evolution of skills during project execution

Even though the goal of successfully completing the project remains constant, the skills needed to reach that goal continue to evolve. That’s why it is hard to define “must-have” and “nonessential” skills. What a project team needs to know varies significantly during a project’s life cycle.

Organizational skills, for example, are needed throughout the entire project. However, they are critical in the project’s early stages when everything is being set up. Leadership skills also may be more important early in the project than near its end. On the other side, some technical skills will likely gain priority more towards the middle. 

To overcome this challenge, learning has to be encouraged as an everyday activity. Tools and resources, along with support from management should be available at all times. 

Teaching everyone on your team how to learn and acquire new skills, while providing them the resources to do so has proven to be the best way to create knowledge agility.

What can help during the learning process?

The first on the list is taking a critical look at our current practices and asking ourselves a few questions:

  • Do our current learning practices engage project management teams?
  • Are on-demand learning materials accessible in your company?
  • Will the ongoing programs engage the team in the future?

By answering these questions and identifying the key project success factors, a company can then develop an efficient system for defining and evaluating where the biggest return on investment could be when it comes to enhancing employee skill sets.

These success factors can vary when it comes to different types of projects. In some, it might be a timely delivery of all needed resources and in some, the level of acceptance of a newly implemented software solution is what makes or breaks the project. We can easily see the difference in needed skills in these two cases. In the first case, enhancing time management and organizational skills is the way to go, while in the second communication and people management skills are at the forefront.

In the end, aligning success factors with needed skills and translating that into learning opportunities is exactly what leads to long-term benefits for both the project team and the company that makes it happen.

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