Why Project Coaching May Be Right For You

Hiring a project coach ensures that the organization will retain project management knowledge and lessons learned and is recommended as a preferable alternative to hiring an external project manager.


Often organizations may hire external project managers who are on contract to manage their projects. The reason for organizations to hire contract project managers is because they do not have any internal resources with the training and experience to manage these projects because these projects are often large and complex. However, once the project is closed these project managers will move to other organizations to manage new projects. They take with them their knowledge, their experiences and their lessons learned.

An alternative to hiring contract project managers is to hire a project coach because when their engagement ends, they leave, but their knowledge is transferred to the project manager and project team members within the organization who are now ready to take on additional projects.

A project coach works with the project manager and project team to guide, counsel, advise and coach them through the many processes within the management of the project. They are generally not required on a full-time basis, except in the very early stages of the project.

The Coaching Process

A good project coach will ensure that the organization’s project is completed on time, on budget and meets all stakeholder requirements. The coach will work with the project manager and project team to ensure that the project is properly scoped out from the very beginning or can help projects get back on track if their overall goals and deliverables have been significantly changed.

Step 1: Develop the Project Team & Define their Roles and Responsibilities
A project coach will guide the organization towards formation of the project team, ensuring that team dynamics are well managed, issues of conflict are understood and resolved quickly and the team gets on to the task of managing the project. The team development process includes:

  • Agreement on project team roles
  • Agreement on each project team member responsibilities
  • Documentation of roles & responsibilities to ensure that all team members understand their role and what is expected of them to ensure project success
  • Establishment of operating rules to ensure all meetings are managed on track
  • If the project is being managed as a virtual team, defining the virtual team is the next level of team development.

This process includes all external global vendors and suppliers. The process:

  • Defines all partner roles and responsibilities
  • Defines how meetings will be managed
  • Determines their involvement in the development of the project scope
  • Agrees on how they will input into the project plan

Step 2: Develop the Scope Statement

The project coach will oversee the development of the project’s Project Scope Statement, which is the most important document produced by the project team. It provides a documented basis upon which future project decisions are based. As well, it confirms and clarifies a common understanding of project scope among all stakeholders. The Project Scope Statement forms the foundation between the project team, the project customers and the project sponsor, by identifying both the project deliverables and the major milestones. Finally, the Scope Statement is the criteria used to determine if the project has been completed successfully.

The Scope Statement should be developed by the entire project team to ensure their understanding and commitment to the project. The process will include defining the:

  • Project Goal
  • Strategic Alignment of the Project
  • Project Deliverables
  • In and Out of Scope Elements
  • Project Process Flowchart
  • Project Assumptions
  • Project Constraints
  • Project Structure

Step 3: Develop the Project Plan

While the Project Plan is developed by the project team, who have the knowledge and expertise to know what is required to complete the project, the project coach will consult on project plan development and review the plan, offering guidance to the project team as may be necessary. The project coach will work with the project team to ensure that the plan includes all the necessary tasks that may be necessary as well as their dependencies, their durations and their costs. By guiding the project team towards development of the project plan, the project coach reinforces the team’s commitment to success for the project. The process for developing the project plan includes:

  • Identifying all activities and related tasks required to successfully meet all of the project deliverables.
  • Identifying the resource name(s) or departments and/or vendors responsible for completing each identified task.
  • Estimating the duration of each task.
  • Identifying the dependencies between each task.
  • Identifying the project milestones. These represent those key tasks, whose dates, once established, cannot be moved without incurring possible project delay.
  • Inputting the project plan into MS® Project to enable easy on-going project tracking.
  • Allocating costs to each project task.
  • Reviewing and modifying the critical path to ensure the project can be completed within the project time constraint.
  • Crashing the project in order to identify how the project can be completed sooner.

Step 4: Conduct a Risk Assessment

To reduce the likelihood of encountering crisis situations on a project or managing in a crisis mode, a project coach will require the project team to conduct a Risk Assessment for the project to proactively identify and examine all risks that might prevent project success. Using a risk assessment process, the project coach will help the project team to identify those activities or tasks that, if put in place, will reduce risk likelihood or will help to manage the risk, should it occur.

Step 5: Develop a Project Change Management Process

Project change is inevitable. It originates because of a schedule or budget slippage, change in customer or sponsor requirements, changes in project deliverables, etc. A project coach will help the project team to develop a project change management process that will ensure that changes are managed as soon as they occur and that project integrity is maintained.

Step 6: Develop regular Communication, Reporting & Tracking Systems

A project coach will make sure that control mechanisms are put in place and that tracking is reviewed regularly. Continuous monitoring of project progress ensures that the project continues to be on track. Early monitoring enables the team to successfully manage change without knocking out project integrity. Here’s how a project coach will help the project team stay on track:

  • Project team meetings to be conducted regularly and the project team will conduct a review of tasks and budgets.
  • Various reporting mechanisms are put in place to ensure that the sponsor, management and the project team are kept informed of project status throughout the life of the project. When kept informed, sponsors and management will tend to be less intrusive on the project.
  • Various reporting mechanisms are put in place to ensure that the stakeholders and customers are kept informed of project status. Many projects fail because the original customer/user requirements differ from the end product delivered. In these instances, communication between project start and finish has generally been nil or minimal.
  • Critical reports for the project manager and project team to review on a regular basis is a review of what work has been planned vs. what work has actually been completed and what has been planned vs. what budget has actually been spent. This regular review will ensure that issues are properly managed and the need for change requests is minimized.

Step 7: Create a Project Evaluation Process

When all project deliverables have been met, the project is concluded and therefore closed. At this point, the project coach will guide the project team towards a complete evaluation of the successes and failures of the project so that the team can retain lessons learned for future reference.

A closeout report will be developed to record all relevant issues. This report should be archived together with the original project scope statement, project plan, risk assessment, change requests, and any other project documents relevant to this project. These documents will become the historical database of project knowledge within the organization. This historical database of information will help future, similar projects, to get up and running quickly.

The project manager should complete an evaluation of the project team members. This report is generally provided to the sponsor and to the functional managers of the project team members. It is generally included as part of the review of the employee’s overall job performance.


The project coach can be a valuable asset to an organization to help impart practical and hands on knowledge about how to manage a project. He or she teaches their specialized knowledge and experience to the project manager and team over the process of coaching them through the implementation of the entire project. The learning they acquire from the project coach enables them to manage future projects on their own. They will also have gained the confidence to manage projects within their organization without the need for the organization to hire a contract project manager.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca