How to be a project mentor (by Didier Brackx)
What is a mentor ?
Once you have been a project manager for some time you may be asked to be a mentor. What’s that? Well, a mentor is someone who provides informal or structured support to another person, normally a junior project manager or someone who would like to move into project management. It’s a great honor to be asked to be someone’s mentor.
What about the mentee ?
The mentee (the person whom you are mentoring) normally selects the individual they would like to mentor them but some companies have formal mentoring schemes. These can match up suitable mentor-mentee partnerships and if your company has a mentoring scheme I would strongly suggest that you sign up to take part. You can learn a lot from being a mentor and it is also great to know that you are supporting someone else’s career. Another side benefit from mentoring is that you can count your mentoring hours towards your continuing professional development. For example, if you are a PMP® and are collecting professional development units towards maintaining your credential, mentoring a colleague can contribute towards that.
Tips for mentoring ?
- Make Time
It is important to only commit to mentoring if you can make enough time to do it justice. For example, it’s not good for your mentee if you say you can meet them regularly and then keep cancelling your session. Use an agenda to schedule meetings and then stick to them.
- Agree Ground Rules
=> What are you going to discuss with your mentee ?
It is a good idea to set some ground rules for your meetings. For example, do you both want them to be formal discussions with an agenda and documented outcomes or informal chats? It is critical to ensure that your expectations of how your relationship will work are aligned to that of your mentee, otherwise you’ll both be disappointed by the experience.
=> How?
You can write these down or just discuss them verbally. Some companies have formal mentoring contracts. If your company doesn’t have one of these but you would like one, search online or ask your colleagues if they have a template that you can use.
- Agree Communication Channels
=> How will you get in touch with each other and when ?
This is especially important to work out if you don’t work locally to your mentee. Perhaps your project work takes you around the country so you will have to catch up by phone. Perhaps webcams would be beneficial and allow you to chat more freely.
Also talk to your mentee about how often they can get in touch with you. If they have an urgent problem on their project and need your advice, can they call you up? Can they chat with you via instant messaging if they see that you are online? Or would you prefer them to wait until your scheduled monthly meeting and discuss their issues then? Whatever you want to do is fine, but you should both agree to it.
- Share Your Network
One of the things that your mentee wants is access to your network, but they might not know it! Part of the role of being a mentor is to support the career of your mentee and that means more than just helping out with the odd project escalation here or risk management advice there. People often ask to be mentored when they are at a career crossroads and your mentee might be considering a new role or a promotion.
- Share Your Expertise
Let’s face it, your expertise is what your mentee wants most of all. They want to be able to bring you project problems and to use your experience to help fix them. Don’t hold back your war stories – they will love to hear them! They may also ask you for your experiences of working with individuals so refer back to your ground rules if you share information in confidence about the working styles of project team members.