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Back to school
An academy can be a great way to develop the capabilities
of project professionals. DONNIE MACNICOL expla...
is a director of Team
Animation and
academy director
of Aspire Europe
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Project Academies - how to set up and gain value


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Article published in Project Journal September 2015 covering:
- tips for setting up and sustaining an Academy
- how to structure using our Academy Framework
- client case study.

Published in: Leadership & Management
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Project Academies - how to set up and gain value

  1. 1. w Back to school An academy can be a great way to develop the capabilities of project professionals. DONNIE MACNICOL explains why TIPS FOR SETTING UP AND SUSTAINING AN ACADEMY n Success- ensure you know what you are trying to achieve and for which stakeholder. n Expectations - don’t over-promise, most importantly to the community. n Engagement- brand, marketing and communications are critical since people will only engage if the academy is perceived as professional. n Prioritisation– consideration should be given to which element is invested in and when to add maximum value to the community. n Justification– produce a robust business case, laying out the benefits and deliver these to ensure sustained support. n Sponsorship- until embedded into the fabric of the organisation, strong leadership is required from the person leading its implementation and providing backing to the senior management team. n Vision– identify the capabilities needed in the future to meet the organisation’s needs and focus on these as they take time to develop. n Road map– develop blueprints of what the capabilities of the community will be in the future and what is required to achieve these. 42 PROJECT >> AUTUMN 2015 CAREER >> ACADEMIES As a reader of this journal, you will know the importance of capable and energetic project and programme leaders and team members in delivering success. Yet, are organisations doing everything they can to develop this capability? We believe it is critical to centralise support and to invest in multiple mechanisms to develop capability, not rely on a single, silver-bullet solution. A positive change in behaviour only comes about when individuals have the opportunity to apply newly acquired skills in a timely fashion and to gain feedback and support while doing that. They also need to have access to knowledge when they need it and to understand how delivering success will benefit their career. This is supported by research, the study cited most often being the 70:20:10 model developed by Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger (see also page 51), which states that development comes primarily from on-the-job experiences, followed by feedback and, finally, courses. Academies, acting as a hub that drives individual and collective development, are increasingly popular and aim to capture these principles. Academies should work closely with two other functions: n PMO (in all of its many incarnations including executive project management office) – owns the single source of the truth and the control of the portfolio with the opportunity to influence who works on what. n Centre of Excellence – font of all knowledge and support in pursuit of a consistent means of delivery across the organisation. An academy may be centrally staffed or coordinate resources under a central brand, the key being that the community perceives it as a coherent entity that is there to support them. The reasons for creating an academy vary but typically include: n Capture and provide a brand for organisational development efforts, hoping for synergies from disparate functions and development initiatives – for example, the academies at oil giant Shell, engineering company Amec Foster Wheeler and NASA. n Drive the development of a particular capability – for example, ‘programmification’ – where the academy acts as a mechanism to introduce the new ways of working. n Provide a ‘value-add’ service to clients or the supply chain – for example, we are supporting a global consultancy to test how an academy will offer value to its clients. n Industry collaboration to pool resources – for example, the National Skills Academy for Nuclear or the Major Projects Leadership Academy. FRAMEWORK In partnership with Aspire Europe, we have created an Academy FrameworkTM based on client assignments, 10 years of research and insights from more than 150 maturity assessments. The diagram, right, shows the three primary elements and five support elements, as well as the key relationships between them and the primary organisational functions that deliver success. Each organisation has different needs but the elements that need to be considered when developing capability are broadly the same. The career, competence and development elements are the building blocks of any academy and are typically developed first. We have found that organisations can gain real value from training, a key part of development, if they support professionals through investing in the other elements in parallel. The career and performance elements provide professionals with the necessary clarity as to where they are going and how well they are meeting the organisation’s expectations. The community element provides the opportunity to share
  2. 2. 4343 AUTUMN 2015 << PROJECT DONNIE MACNICOL is a director of Team Animation and academy director of Aspire Europe ACADEMIES CAN PROVIDE CONSIDERABLE VALUE, BUT THIS CAN ONLY BE ACHIEVED BY THOUGHTFUL DESIGN, SMART INVESTMENT AND LEADERSHIP Academy Framework™ HR L&D PPM Competency Areas of personal development Career Structure and path Performance Checkpoint and feedback Talent Accelerated development route Delivery Opportunity to apply Community Support and knowledge sharing Development Training and development journey Knowledge Source of developmental materials and gain knowledge. Meanwhile, the delivery element enables project professionals to apply newly gained skills on the right project, at the right time, for personal development. This is only possible where there is a strong link between the academy and PMO. When all other elements are in place, then a highly effective talent programme can be implemented. Without such a programme, there is the danger that these talented individuals are left as an island, with both knowledge and motivation but no support mechanisms to apply these. Alternatively, some organisations start with talent since this is the driving force for developing other elements, primarily knowledge and community. The underpinning resources of any academy are typically split across multiple functions as shown, with overlapping interest, expectations and responsibility between human resources (HR), learning and development (L&D) and project and portfolio management (PPM) functions. Leadership is critical to ensure that resources and energy are directed either through a central function or through careful coordination between each. Academies can provide organisations with considerable value, but this can only be achieved by thoughtful design, smart investment and leadership. An academy should act as a demonstration of the commitment of the organisation to the development of people. So you should only start on the journey if you have the energy to see it through. CASE STUDY: ARCADIS ARCADIS is a leading global natural and built asset design and consultancy company. The ARCADIS Academy was set up in 2013 to empower our people and to deliver on our strategy of sustainable growth, performance and collaboration. We have the ambition to be recognised as being the best in everything we do and that means training and developing our people to be the very best, by realising their potential. The ARCADIS Academy brings talent from across the globe together to develop key competence areas, increase collaboration and contribute to the development of best practice, which, in turn, can be drawn on for the benefit of our clients. Each academy pillar focuses on a particular strategic growth area for the business, for example, our Programme and Project Management Academy. The academy offering ranges from best-practice information and learning that is readily available online to everyone, through to targeted, top-talent, multi-module flagship programmes that operate on a nomination basis. The result is that our clients have access to best-in-class programme and project managers, who are qualified in industry- recognised best-practice tools such as Managing Successful Programmes (MSP), combined with leadership qualifications developed in partnership with leading business schools. The academy works because the business lines are engaged and involved in the development of each module. Real-life case studies of, for example, major infrastructure or building programmes play a key part in the training, with the business owner for the client relationship present to make the learning both powerful and impactful. The case studies mean that the participants have the opportunity to apply their newly acquired skills immediately, producing ‘value-add’ output and stimulating challenging discussions; for example, producing programme blueprints, project plans and client recommendation presentations. In addition, the business case owner gains new and insightful ideas to bring straight back to the client. Marie Oliver, director, ARCADIS Academy