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You Should Know This, But You Don’t
By John Steinmetz

How many different places have you worked in the last ten years? One? Two? Maybe three? This means that most of your recent experience is based on working at only a couple of places. Yet you would probably say you know a lot about your area of expertise. But think about this – you are basing your conclusion that you know what you are doing on just a couple of personal experiences. What if you had worked in places other than the ones you have – in that case, what you now know and do would be different. And if that were the case, maybe you’d be even better at what you do.

Of course since you can’t work everywhere, your experiences will be limited. So what are you doing to learn about what others are doing? Reading books? Reading blogs and magazines? Going to seminars and classes? Those are good things – but, you are still missing one key piece.

If you truly want to develop expertise in your field what is one more key thing that you can do?

The answer: Talk to others…

You have to engage in conversation with others that do similar work as you to learn what they are doing. How are things done at their company? What ideas do they have that you haven’t thought of? What is part of their practice that you should make part of yours?

How do you do this? Two ways:

  1. Use your network to engage people in conversation
  2. Start/join a group of people in your field

How to do it

Here are ideas on both of these two ways:

  • Use your network: LinkedIn is a source of people you should be speaking with. Look at your network specifically for people that hire/use the type of work that you do. Develop a few questions to ask these people. Normally they will be executives. Focus the questions on things you want to know more about. Develop questions to learn about why they like and don’t like to use people that do the type of work that you do – where do they find value and what don’t they value. This will help you learn to do more of the things that make you more valuable to executives.
  • Start/join a group: From the network of people that you know, find some that have jobs similar to yours, that you would like to be in regular conversation with. Then invite them to meet together regularly to discuss topics that are of value to everyone in the group.

The beauty of doing this is that you are expanding your experiences. Rather than just learning from the few places you have worked, you are now learning from your few places, plus the few places of everyone else you speak with. With only a few people from each of the groups listed above you now can learn from the experiences of 30, 40, or more, different work environments.

Learning from the best ideas from 30 – 40 places will absolutely make you better at your job than just learning from the two or three that you have experienced.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Now you are wondering why you haven’t done this before.

Well, stop wasting time, and start doing it now.

The details

Here are two examples from my efforts in this area to gain more EPMO knowledge/experiences:

  • Use your network: I identified a large number of executives from my LinkedIn connections that I wanted to contact. I then started individually emailing them, telling them I am interested in learning more about how executives view the successes and failures of EPMOs, and asking if they would give me few minutes so that they can provide me feedback/coaching. As they accepted my invitations I then either set-up in-person meetings (for the local ones) or phone calls, to ask them a few questions. Typically these are 20-30 minutes sessions. Every time I have one of these meetings, I get one or two new ideas from an executive that I find very helpful. My questions for the executives also change over time, as I find new things I want to explore with them. And – the last thing I always ask them is who else I should speak with to learn more – either someone by name, or someone by position, that they think would be helpful to me.
  • Start/join a group: I realized that in the Kansas City area, I know five other people that lead project management teams. So I contacted each one of them and asked if they would be interested in meeting with other people that lead similar groups so that we can share and learn together. Everyone accepted. We now meet every other month for 90 minutes. Each session has a particular topic where we come prepared to share best practices, questions, experiences, etc. We also add other project management leaders to our group from time to time – thereby expanding our experiences even further.

The benefits

Doing these two things is one of the best learning experiences I have ever had.

Getting outside of my own experiences, and allowing others to share with me what they have learned and experienced in my field has been outstanding. My perspective has now changed from just the few places I have worked to now be the collective input from all of the places represented by the executives and project management leaders that I speak with. I could never gain this experience on my own. I don’t have time or opportunity to work at 40 or 50 different places. But my contacts have. And they are happy to share.

I just had to ask.

And you can ask too – and expand your own experiences. Expand your knowledge. Become even better in your area of expertise.

Look at your network right now. Identify who you will contact. And do it. Now.

John Steinmetz makes things better at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) – he does this by helping customers identify and implement solutions to their problems. John is the Director of the KUMC Enterprise Project Management Office. Prior to joining KUMC, John designed and led EPMO teams for multiple other organizations. With an extensive background in management consulting and IT, John has wide-ranging experience in working with executives to solve complex business issues. John’s focus is to find actionable solutions and successfully implement those solutions across the enterprise. This is accomplished by finding real, sensible, and practical answers that others could not see. Often this is in the midst of a highly political cross-functional environment, where agreement and alignment of the key stakeholders is critical to success. You can read more from John on his blog.

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