How Training and Personal Development Leads to Career Advancement

Dr. Don Ford is a human resource management consultant specializing in talent development and the author of four books.

We recently asked Don about the value of continuing education and how to make your continued education stand out on your job applications. Here’s what he shared: Continue reading “How Training and Personal Development Leads to Career Advancement”

Advertisements

Meet our Instructors: CCSU Alum Finds ‘Aha’ Moments Teaching!

“I enjoy when I am able to get through to a struggling student. It is rewarding to know that I was able to help them understand the material presented. Seeing them have that “Aha” moment can make your day.”

MC

Mike Cercone is an instructor for Central Connecticut State University’s (CCSU) Summer Technical Youth Program, Tech it Out. Mr. Cercone has been involved with Tech it Out for three years now. During his time teaching for CCSU’s summer youth program, he has taught several 3D printing and Minecraft classes to elementary, middle and high school students. In addition to Tech it Out, he teaches six levels of Computer Aided Design (CAD) at Masuk High School in Monroe, CT. The classes include Drafting, Architecture, Computer Aided Design, Pre-Engineering, and a 3D Printing course. Each of the courses teaches various CAD programs, Autodesk AutoCAD, and Autodesk Revit or SolidWorks. Mr. Cercone also teaches Advanced Parametric Design and 3D CAD Modeling at Naugatuck Valley Community College.

 

Mr. Cercone’s connection with CCSU expands beyond his current summer position, as he is a two time graduate of the university. He studied Technology Education for his Bachelor’s Degree and also achieved a Master’s Degree in Technology and Engineering Education. His experience at CCSU prepared Mr. Cercone for a career. He felt confident in the material he had learned, and believed CCSU gave him the ability to take any teaching position in Technology Engineering Education. His education also helped him create a respectable resume and portfolio, and gave him knowledge of how to present himself for any education interview.

 

Being an educator has been very rewarding for Mr. Cercone. In fact, there are so many positives to the job that he cannot pick just one as his favorite. He loves the fact that every time he walks into a classroom, he has students waiting to learn. At the end of the day, he STILL has students excited to learn. He also enjoys the fact that at the end of the road, there is always a vacation. With having off all major holidays, it satisfies Mr. Cercone to know that a three-day weekend is never too far away. Most importantly, he gets a thrill out of getting through to a struggling student, and helping them find that “Aha” moment.

For more information on the summer technical programs, contact Christa Sterling at 860-832-2277 or CSterling@ccsu.edu.

What Is Lean Project Management?

Lean project management is a technique for managing improvement projects that uses certain processes to give clients and companies more value with less waste. Lean project management may include one of several different processes that have been developed over time, or may just follow the principles of lean project management more generally.

Principles of Lean Project Management

In many ways, lean project management has elements in common with other lean concepts, like lean construction or lean thinking. One principle of lean project management is standardization. Standardization applies a set of technical standards to a project so that everyone understands what is needed.

Standardization often comes after the process of defining the project and deciding how it can be improved. Once a process has been standardized, it can be repeated easily, and will typically save companies a great deal of time and money in future projects.

Another principle of lean project management is that employees have blame-free input into the process. Improvements only happen when employees feel comfortable sharing what they know or have experienced in the workplace, and most will only do this when they know they have a blame-free environment.

Incremental Value-Based Delivery

Another core principle of lean project management is incremental value-based delivery. It is often nearly impossible to do things like create an accurate timeline or budget for a project the company has never done before. By breaking the project into small chunks that may be familiar and handling them one at a time, a more realistic picture will soon emerge of how the project as a whole will look.

When a lean approach becomes centered on completing a series of mini-tasks, teams can complete each one with a high degree of quality — rather than getting bogged down in a huge, unfamiliar task that can quickly overwhelm even the most experienced employees.

Providing Value for Businesses

Ultimately, lean project management aims to provide value for businesses in a more efficient way than has been done previously. While companies need to be careful that they don’t standardize a process when a more efficient and successful one exists, they also want to avoid reinventing the wheel over and over again, especially when they find themselves with essentially the same wheel at the end of the process, with only small variations.

Sometimes, value means developing a new or improved process to minimize the waste of time and money that would otherwise occur. Other times, value means using the process that has already been standardized and saving the time and money it would take to go through the entire discovery process all over again.

Lean project management can help companies differentiate between these two situations and improve processes when the opportunity arises. To learn more about lean project management, sign up for CCSU’s upcoming course, Lean Project Management, which will cover the both principles of this topic and hands-on techniques you can use to manage projects at your job. View open courses to see the complete offering of continuing education courses.

How to Make the Most of Your Professional Development Trainings

Professional development training helps employees learn new skills they need for their careers. Sometimes employees seek out professional development training on their own, while other times employers and managers direct and shape professional development training to help achieve company goals and ensure that employees have the skills needed to excel at their jobs.

Some Guidelines for Choosing Professional Development Training

As an employer, you can choose professional development that will help your workers, but there are some guidelines that will maximize your efforts. Psychologists say that there are different learning styles and ways of learning, so you should:

  1.  Choose courses that correspond to your employees’ learning styles or that use different methods that cover all learning styles.

An individualized curriculum may be ideal when employees need to develop different skills. Sometimes one training does not fit all.

    2.    Have a trainer come and conduct one training for all employees.

Professional skills can be upgraded through training, but so can soft skills like team-building, collaboration, and leadership development. Investing in employee training can turn today’s entry level professionals into tomorrow’s managers and team leaders. You can short circuit the leadership shortages of the future by training promising employees now.

Creating a Culture That Values Learning

If you only do an occasional training and ignore learning all the rest of the time, your employees will not be encouraged to value it themselves.

Managers can create an atmosphere valuing learning, which will translate into employees eager to better their skills and expand their knowledge base.

The corporate environment is constantly changing, not only in the way business is conducted, but in the way employees need to conduct themselves in the workplace with each other and with clients and customers. If your employees don’t continue learning through professional development training programs, your entire company may be left behind or surpassed by other companies that invest in training programs.

Although online courses and trainings are becoming more available, there are advantages to learning in group settings face-to-face. Not only is the quality of interaction improved in face-to-face courses, but professional development can also be an opportunity to encourage team-building when some or all of your employees train together.

Using Technology in Learning

New technologies have become available in recent years that can make training more effective for employees. Courses can use recorded videos and can record your training sessions in order to replay them later or include employees that couldn’t be present when they happened.

There are many online content delivery systems that can also help trainers get their content in front of your employees. Continuing education professionals can make use of these technologies to maximize their effectiveness.

Central Connecticut State University offers continuing education courses that provide professional development for professionals of various kinds. Join our mailing list to learn more about valuable courses for your employees.

Why a Professional Development Plan is Essential for Success

Career and personal success do not happen by accident for the vast majority of people. Career success is far more likely to happen when you create a professional development plan that can guide you as you make decisions for your career.

Taking the Initiative

Although a few companies provide some help to employees in making professional development plans, for the most part, the planning will be up to the employees themselves. Not only will a plan you develop yourself be generally more effective in meeting your specific needs, but it will also be less complicated without the company mingling its own goals with yours.

Benefits of Professional Development Plans

A Harvard study showed that those who set goals and wrote them down were far more successful than those who didn’t. Specifically, the study showed that the three percent of MBA graduates who wrote down clear, specific goals (like a professional development plan) earned 10 times more income than the other 97 percent combined.

Clearly, it is beneficial to have a professional development plan and write it down, even in career fields that don’t lend themselves to high incomes. Knowing what you want is the first step to getting it, in any endeavor.

But there are even more benefits to making a professional development plan. A plan will help you figure out how to do more of what you enjoy in your job and, conversely, less of what you don’t.

A professional development plan will also help you to identify skills you still need to develop to move forward in your career and will help you identify steps to gaining those skills. Even non-technical skills, like leadership and team-building skills, can be systematically developed through training and coursework if that’s what is needed to advance.

Where to Get Help

Although an employer-directed plan may not reflect your true career goals and aspirations, you can use the insight of your boss and colleagues to help you formulate your plan. Asking questions and getting feedback about your current skill level and job performance may help you to determine aspects of your plan. People aren’t usually able to be completely objective about themselves, so asking for constructive criticism as well as positive feedback about yourself as an employee can help you see truths about yourself that you might otherwise miss.

You can also get help through professional training and continuing education opportunities like a course designed to help you formulate a professional development plan or by taking continuing education courses that will help you reach your professional goals. Central Connecticut State University offers a wide variety of continuing education courses designed for professional and personal development. Join our mailing list to see what opportunities are open to you.

Expert Interview Series: Ben Aston of The Digital Project Manager About the Trials and Tribulations of Today’s Project Managers

Ben Aston is the creator of the world’s most popular digital project management blog, The Digital Project Manager. Recently, we talked with Ben about the current challenges faced by project managers and the strategies they must embrace to overcome those challenges.

Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to start a project management blog?

Armed with an x386 PC and a 33k dial-up modem, I launched my first (frankly terrible) website at age 14 and was hooked. It was a message board and friend profile site (I’d argue that was then cloned by Facebook!), but it got me excited about all things web and digital.

After graduating from university, I spent some time at some traditional advertising agencies in London and found my sweet spot. Digital was a fascinating intersection of technology, communications, and business where I could put my “nerdiness” to good use as a project manager managing complex, digital projects.  I spent the first ten years of my career at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, DLKW Lowe, and DDB flitting between client services and project management.

But when I got into digital project management as a relatively new discipline within digital, I began to realize no one was really talking about it. As I rose up through the ranks and began managing a team of project managers, I realized I was giving the same lessons to up-and-coming project managers time and time again; so I thought I should begin to share my thoughts more widely on a blog.

That’s why I created The Digital Project Manager: to empower a community to learn from one another, and to provide specialist digital project management guidance that draws on existing schools of thought (including PRINCE2, SCRUM, and PMBOK), but that’s engineered to work within the Wild West of digital marketing and communications, particularly in agencies and studios. Our goal is to elevate the conversation surrounding digital, leadership, and the world of digital project management.

Is there somewhat of a disconnect between the project management knowledge available on the Internet and the reality of many projects or situations?

There’s certainly a lot of theory, best practices, and process that are widely available on the internet. This theory is actually a great starting point as a framework for thinking about how to run a project, and it provides some helpful common language for us to use to understand one another when talking about projects.

You’ll find lots of project management theory that can be directly applied to IT or software development. Traditional project management theory can be great for those large enterprise projects that tend to be run using a waterfall methodology. At the other extreme, lean agile development is great for software products; but again, it doesn’t really fit well with the realities of projects within the typical agency/client relationship.

In the world of digital agencies, there’s often a big difference between theory and practice. Theory is a great starting point, but it can’t be applied so easily to more rogue, fast, and loose projects –  like the everyday campaigns and deliverables of digital project management where crazy clients, tiny budgets, stupid deadlines, and standardized processes and methodologies simply don’t work. Theory and frameworks also don’t have a lot to say when projects don’t go to plan! Take, for example, the project manager’s iron triangle. It’s a great principle, but in the cutthroat and increasingly commoditized business of agencies, budget, timelines, scope, and quality are often agreed upon up front and are totally fixed. It’s the agency that then takes on the risk of delivery.

So in that sense, there’s a disconnect between the project management theory and the reality of delivery. In digital, I think soft skills are so much more important for successfully leading teams and managing clients. Being able to lead well, communicate effectively, and negotiate well become critical to managing projects well.

What are the advantages of PRINCE2 and Scrum? Which types of projects would be best-suited for each of these methodologies?

PRINCE2 is designed for large scale IT projects – a heavyweight, “full stack” waterfall project management methodology that includes principles, themes, and processes.  So as a methodology, its advantages are that it’s incredibly thorough. It leaves nothing to chance. It’s a great framework to use when you’re thinking about large, predictable enterprise projects. It clarifies what will be delivered, ensures a focus on the viability of the project, clearly defines roles and responsibilities, and provides a common vocabulary which we can apply to other methodologies. On the flipside, while the principles and themes are great, the process can make it laborious and onerous for small projects. The emphasis on developing a good business case with KPIs and value earned, clear roles and responsibilities, and managing change and risk are helpful when we consider managing projects for our clients.

Conversely, Scrum is about empowering a self-managing team to deliver. It’s great for software development where you can structure your team in the way that Scrum dictates: with a development team, a Scrum Master to support the development team, and a Product Owner to define what needs to be built. As a methodology (if you can call it that), it’s very lightweight. It simply defines roles and responsibilities designed to create a healthy tension between delivering the right thing, the right way, as fast as possible.  So Scrum can be a really useful framework for the development and maintenance of complex products. Scrum defines a simple set of roles, meetings, and tools to efficiently, iteratively, and incrementally deliver valuable, shippable functionality. Scrum is great for codifying some of the agile principles in a process to show how you can make it work in the real world using small, self-organizing, cross-functional teams, daily stand-ups, progress demos, and retrospectives.

What issues and problems that must be addressed by the project manager tend to arise in almost every single type of digital project?

Most digital projects tend to encounter issues around scope – “is this in scope or not?” If it’s not in scope, what happens? Should the client pay more, or do we just suck it up? Whose fault is it?

We’re often working on the bleeding edge of technology. We’re regularly doing things that no one has ever tried doing before, so there’s a lot of uncertainty and risk. And the technology is ever-evolving, so we’re often working out how to build something as we’re building it. This all can make it very difficult to definitively define scope; and for long-term success, it really takes a shared maturity from both the client and agency to shift the conversation from defining project “deliverables” to having a shared ownership around project outcomes.

If we’re able to get a really good understanding of success, we’re much more likely to be able to deliver on it. There’s massive benefit for us, our team, the project,  and our clients if we’re a bit more strategic. When we shift the conversation from what to why, we often get to a better solution. We need to be conversation shifters – from focusing on requirements and results to understanding the strategic importance of what we’re doing.

Finish this sentence: “The thing that often seems to surprise new project managers is…”

… how many different plates they have to keep spinning.

The “plates” are our competing priorities. We’ve got a very challenging role in determining what’s worthy of our attention, how much attention we should give it, and in what sequence. We’re continually trying to optimize the critical path of our projects so that they can run as fast as possible.

But we’ve often got a bewildering choice of what to do. Some tasks are seemingly urgent and require a lot of attention; but in truth, they aren’t that important. If the “plate” falls to the ground, it really isn’t a disaster. Conversely, there’ll be truly important “plates” that don’t seem as urgent but are monumentally disastrous if they fail. Doing the right thing at the wrong time is often what surprises new project managers – but getting it wrong can be disastrous.

For digital developers or IT personnel who want to learn how to become project managers, what innate advantages do they often have as compared to a typical project management student or trainee?

Subject matter expertise and real-world experience are certainly a bonus throughout the entire project lifecycle. Those with digital experience tend to know what needs to happen next, which can be a great help in leading the team. As they’re managing the team, they’ve also got an advantage in that they can often spot any sandbagging of estimates. And throughout the planning and implementation of the project, they can also help with technical design and solution development.

What will be the most important skills that must be mastered by future project managers who want to be successful in their field?

Success really comes down to the soft skills I mentioned earlier. But probably the most important skill of all is leadership – the ability to lead teams effectively.

We can lead the team first by providing vision. Great teamwork and magic happen when there’s leadership that provides a clear unifying vision. Help people get hold of that vision and understand, “Why are we doing this? Why should do we care? What’s the point?” And then drive the team towards taking ownership. “Where are we at? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? How can we be meaningfully involved?”

Building a great team isn’t simply being dictatorial; it’s empowering your teams to take ownership themselves and supporting them every step of the way. Your teams have got to know that you’ve got their back and that you’re supporting them. In practical terms, that also means working out how you as a project manager are going to make your team’s life better today. Proper briefs? A new computer? Donuts? Fetching the dry cleaning? As the project leaders, we need to be the person that moves mountains for them.

Project success doesn’t come from a team that is worked as hard as they can. It comes from a team that is happy, motivated, and enjoys working with one another.  It comes from a team that’s led to success by being enabled, empowered, and sharply focused on bringing a shared vision to life.

Thinking about changing your career? Check out our mailing list to see what courses can help you make that dream a reality.

8 Tips for Building a Stronger Team

So much of today’s business success depends upon team-building and collaboration. Building a strong team is not just important, it is essential for companies that want to be competitive and successful.

Here are some tips to help your company or department build a stronger team.

1. Foster open communication.

Team members will soon stop communicating honestly if they sense that open communication won’t be appreciated and valued. Fostering open communication means affirming all team members’ contributions so that they feel comfortable putting more ideas forward, which will lead to a better quality of ideas over time.

2. Find positives.

Keeping the atmosphere of the team positive will facilitate better functioning. Negativity like backbiting, put-downs, and lack of confidence will impede the team in numerous ways. Positivity removes these obstacles, resulting in stronger team progress.

3. Set goals collaboratively.

The team won’t function optimally without collaborative goal-setting. The team will be more likely to buy into goals it helped set, so it’s worth taking some time to meet and determine some long- and short-term goals to work toward.

4. Expect change.

Successful teams aren’t static – they change and develop constantly in order to reach goals and work with ever-greater productivity. Expecting – and even encouraging – things to stay the same not only isn’t practical, it won’t benefit the team in the long run.

5. Assign roles.

Each team member should have a specific role that contributes to the team. Teams need leaders, support members, and a variety of other position-specific roles that will depend on what the team is trying to accomplish. Specific roles will prevent duplication of efforts to maximize productivity.

6. Get to know each other.

A team whose members don’t know each other on a personal level will be at a disadvantage when trying to work cohesively together. Part of team-building is interacting on a personal level and finding out each others’ strengths and weaknesses as they relate to working together. It is impossible to completely separate the work self from who people are outside of work, so teams shouldn’t try.

7. Celebrate.

Celebrating when the team meets goals, lands a big client or gets to the next level in development will serve to help the team bond and keep everyone motivated to continue producing. Celebrations can take many forms, from bonuses – if management will give them – to a party or reception that marks a job well done.

8. Make adjustments.

There will be glitches and bumps in the road for even the most successful teams. The best teams know how to make adjustments when something isn’t working and turn a negative into a positive. Periodic evaluations will give some insight into problems that need to be fixed and adjustments that need to be made to move the group forward.

Interested in more helpful team-building and professional development tips? Join our mailing list to receive information about CCSU continuing education courses.