Keep Calm: You Have a Project Manager

Two years ago, several members of the UHR senior lead team identified a common challenge: not enough project management support to go around.

In UHR, project managers are accountable for the successful delivery of compliance initiatives, systems changes and committee facilitation. The skills of project management — optimizing resources, reducing risks, managing stakeholders — can be universally applied and specifically taught.

So why not teach them?

The UHR Project Management Program was born from that idea. A successful project manager must demonstrate flexibility and competency in many areas, from the traditional “hard” skills of managing schedule, budget and project scope to the “soft” skills of relationship building, change management and project communication. The program team of Denise Stegall, Dyan Jenkins-Ali and Angela Benke built a curriculum of monthly workshops around these fundamentals, with participant tiers by experience level.

Since its inception, the program has been open and free of charge to any UHR staff member with a desire to grow professionally and work on complex or interdepartmental projects. As the program enters its third year, 81 UHR staff have attended at least one session, with a core group of about two dozen participants who are actively engaged.

Early on, the program team identified a unique solution to two issues. The first was how to help leadership quickly identify staff who could provide project management support when needed. The second was how to measure and track participant progress.

The answer came in the form of Mblem, a digital badging program developed by the U-M Library. After attending a project management workshop, UHR staff members complete real-world exercises and upload documentation to Mblem. Upon successful review by the project team, the participants earn digital badges that demonstrate competency in key areas, such as project plan development or managing bottlenecks. UHR staff have earned more than 280 badges to date.

Behind each digital badge is on-the-ground professional development that positions staff for current and future job growth. “I was so pleased to learn that UHR was offering this program,” said Sheri Amici, business systems analyst in Records and Information Services. “The careful consideration of the many steps necessary to ensure a project or idea sees its end success is so valuable. Recently I had the opportunity to use one of the segments we covered to build an effective timeline to manage the workflow of varied stakeholders involved in a union-related process change. I look forward to being able to continue to incorporate these skills into my work with my team and other units across the university.”

“A unique part of this program is that individuals who have gone through the training may not have technical jobs or specific knowledge about every area of UHR, but learning project management skills gives them the ability to direct system and process changes,” said Stegall, senior director for Records and Information Services.

The two-fold success of the program in meeting organizational needs and investing in the development of staff hasn’t gone unnoticed. Program co-facilitators Jenkins-Ali and Benke presented at a regional conference of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources last fall. They frequently field inquiries about the program from across the university. While the program is currently available only for UHR staff, starting this year, Jenkins-Ali will teach three sessions of Fundamentals of Project Planning through Learning & Professional Development that are open to the broader university.

To learn more, visit UHR Project Management.