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External Mentors

There are some important areas that you will need to consider when selecting your External Mentors. What is their role and what will they do? One area that you will need to nail down early on is that you will need to set up what is in scope for their responsibility and how you will evaluate their performance and progress. It will be critical to have evaluation criteria to determine how well your External Mentors are performing, as well as how well the Internal Mentees are taking to heart the guidance and knowledge that is being transferred to them.

What Are External Mentors?

Stefan Bergstrom and Lotta Raberg [5] came up with a very good description of what a project-level mentor is. The next few paragraphs combine their description with what I have found in practice.

Instruction books can convey only so much knowledge; they cannot substitute working side by side with someone who has already gone through the process. Some knowledge is not easily read and applied. A critical area of knowledge is the practical application of RUP—how to follow the rules in a certain situation within an organization or a project. This kind of judgment is very hard to make without previous experiences of applying RUP. Naturally, rules about how to follow rules are not found in RUP, because RUP, or any other modern software engineering process, cannot possibly be aware of every situation that will occur at every organization; nor is it possible to express everything in words or pictures. A mentor with experience from many other situations and many other projects has seen the consequences of choices regarding how to apply RUP, and that is part of the value they add. The mentor will use their experiences to show mentees how the RUP can and should be adapted to achieve the goals for the project. This is one of the ways a mentor helps a project team make appropriate choices and, even more important, transfer their knowledge about how to understand and reason in a particular situation.

While transferring knowledge, our mentors must be able to share their experiences about how to use RUP and the supporting tools in a way that their mentees can understand, absorb, and apply. The concept of knowledge transfer can be a little misleading: It is neither easy nor as rapid as it sounds, and it needs to be adjusted to the situation and to the individuals involved. Knowledge transfer is also not a one-way transmission. Mentees must take ownership for their knowledge acquisition in the form of personal learning and personal development (reading the content of the RUP, reading white papers, participating in online learning and discussions), in addition to providing real-time feedback to the mentors to make sure "they got it."

A good mentor becomes dispensable because the goal is that the project will become independent of the mentors. However, it is not trivial for a mentor to become dispensable. There is a risk that the project will become too dependent on the mentors taking care of all problems and difficult tasks, rather than the project team solving them. Project resources need to be given the responsibility for taking over the mentor's tasks, especially ownership of the process.

We must be aware that there is a built-in conflict between the goal that the mentors should become dispensable, and the project manager's short-term goal of successfully finishing the project.

Scope of Responsibility

You will need to clearly define what is in scope for your External Mentors and what is not. I have found that including a simple "In or Out" scope matrix is very effective. Table 9-2 is a sample scope matrix that clearly shows some of the types of items you should consider for your External Mentors.

Table 9-2. "In or Out" Scope Matrix

External Mentor Scope of Responsibility

In

Out

Shared success on the pilot projects.

X

 

Bringing both individual knowledge plus collective knowledge of industry best practices and key principles.

X

 

Access to additional expert resources within the industry.

X

 

Outsider's perspective to our cultural change and environment.

X

 

Guidance on "out of the box" RUP.

X

 

Direct knowledge transfer to mentees on pilot projects with the goal that our resources will walk away from the pilot projects with enough knowledge to be able to perform on successive projects as mentors (program-level transition).

X

 

Guidance to pilot project core team resources (directly working in an active capacity—shoulder to shoulder—to recommend, review, and have an opinion) in the mentor's respective area of expertise.

X

 

Ability to provide detailed guidance in all of the disciplines and all of the tool functionality (as opposed to the mentor's core area of expertise).

 

X

Review of actual work produced on pilot projects.

X

 

Doing the actual work produced on the pilot projects on their own.

 

X

Ensuring creation of actual artifacts on pilot projects is completed in the spirit of the RUP principles by the project team resources.

X

 

Being proactive in identifying skill and experience level of the resources they are mentoring on pilot projects and making necessary adjustments to each individual resource's needs (both mentees and the project team).

X

 

Assessing experience and skill levels of all resources that they come in contact with/spend time with in our organization.

 

X

Evaluation Criteria

You will need to create evaluation criteria that will be used to measure the level of success the External Mentors are achieving. The following list is a sample of some of the types of items that you will need to consider:

  • Demonstration in both fact and appearance that the pilot project success was a joint responsibility between the External Mentors and company resource.
  • Value each pilot project delivered to the business (highest priority of project): 90% company resources and 10% External Mentors.
  • Each pilot project delivered within acceptable range of schedule and budget: 90% company resources and 10% External Mentors.
  • Skills transfer to mentees demonstrated by the mentoring tests they pass (see the next section).
  • Lessons learned on pilot projects were delivered in a format that can be used for successive projects.
  • External Mentors established the schedule for their participation jointly with the project leads for time to be spent with the pilot project team members to optimize the use of their time.
  • External Mentors ensured that the process they use for knowledge transfer on the pilot projects can be applied to successive RUP-based projects by the Internal Mentees and project resources they mentor.
  • External Mentors identified issues, risks, etc. that arise on the pilot projects and brought them to the immediate attention of the Enablement Office (pertaining to mentoring goals).
  • During the iterations, the External Mentors worked "in the trenches" with the team by guiding, advising, and mentoring them in the RUP activities identified by the iteration plans, resulting in the creation of RUP artifacts (note: this does not mean that the Mentors directly did the work, but sat "elbow to elbow" and guided by direction, such as do this, move this way, act this way, how to proceed, etc.).
  • Project team members were provided with an atmosphere of confidence/trust in the process and tools by the External Mentors and clearly established and communicated the tangible value of the processes and tools to the project and team.
  • External Mentors demonstrated clear coordination by providing consistent messages and direction to the project teams of the varying pilots.
  • External Mentors provided guidance and a framework that allowed mentees to learn by doing but did not allow the process work to detract from the progress of the project and value to the business.

Remember, with all such samples, you will need to create domain-specific criteria that are meaningful to your company's environment and priorities.

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