Raising the Bar on Our Skills: Welcome to PM Boot Camp!

John Wharton, P.E.

John Wharton, P.E.

For the past three years, I’ve had the pleasure of leading Gresham Smith’s PM Boot Camp. Going above and beyond the typical PM training that other firms provide, the breadth and scope of this intensive training program is what makes it unique. Offered to new project managers as well as our veteran PMs to refresh their skills and introduce them to the latest Gresham Smith requirements, PM Boot Camp takes place virtually once a quarter.

The program is designed to teach PMs everything they need to know about, you guessed it, managing projects! In our most recent PM Boot Camp held in May of this year, the PM training was completed by 12 diverse employees representing our Aviation, Transportation, Healthcare, Industrial, and Life and Work Places markets.

Experiential in nature, PM Boot Camp includes exercises that place the students in scenarios that a PM is likely to encounter in the A/E world. For example, role-play scenarios between the PMs and theoretical clients help develop their change management skills, including the soft skills critical to the people side of change management.

During the five-day course, the class also engages in group exercises that take a deep dive into a PM’s role in risk management, agreements, financials, planning, proposals, the close out of projects and more.

“The big thing I gained from PM Boot Camp is a fresh perspective on how my work fits into what other project managers at Gresham Smith are thinking about. I find it easier to work with other project managers now because I have a better vision of what they’re working on, what files they need, and why they need them.

“I especially enjoyed the breakout groups where we’d get into the nitty-gritty of a problem scenario with more seasoned PMs who had a ton of project management experience, as well as those who had little to no experience in project management other than working with project managers. I came away from the program with a greater understanding of key areas such as liability and risk management—things that weren’t a part of my engineering curriculum in college.”

Matt Newman, Project Engineer
Transportation | Nashville

Preparation is Key

As an example of the PM Boot Camp curriculum, consider risk management from a PM’s point of view. Just like it sounds, risk management is the practice of identifying, evaluating, mitigating or even preventing risks that have the potential to impact a project and the desired outcomes. Project managers are typically responsible for overseeing the risk management process throughout the life cycle of a project.

In PM Boot Camp, we throw the students into the deep end, so to speak, with some pretty “loaded” risk management scenarios like this one:

Somebody’s sent the firm a Request for Proposal and they want you to propose on it. However, there are things in the RFP that are obviously not good for us. Now that you’ve identified those issues:

  • What are you going to do about them?
  • How likely is it that these things will become a problem?
  • Do we write out a contract?
  • Do we modify the scope that was requested in the RFP?

Using these types of scenarios helps the students find their way to the correct conclusion.

“Before coming to Gresham Smith, I was a project manager for more than 10 years. I remember thinking to myself before I started the program: How can this be any different from what I already have experience in? But I was immediately struck by how well-structured the training was—every aspect of what a project manager needs to perform their duties successfully was so meticulously thought through.

“The program taught us the intrinsic value of PMs following the same processes at Gresham Smith, which is so critical in terms of consistency and how we deliver projects to our clients. I think that every new PM at Gresham Smith needs to enroll in this boot camp, sooner rather than later, in order to have success for themselves as well as in their projects.”

Deepa Limaye, Senior Project Manager
Life and Work Places | Charlotte

Minding the Gap

The success of PM Boot Camp has encouraged us to begin development of a Project Professional Boot Camp, which will roll out in 2023. At Gresham Smith, we realize the importance of growing our own leadership, which is especially critical when it comes to the role of project professionals—the licensed architects/engineers/interior designers who lead a discipline at the firm.

The role of project professional—someone with 10 or more years of experience—is the most difficult position to fill since many of these professionals left the industry back in 2008-2010 during the economic downturn. Even college graduates with degrees in architecture, engineering and interior design couldn’t find jobs at that time and ultimately found work in another field, never returning to the industry.

This gap of 10-year experience is hitting the A/E industry hard, and Gresham Smith is no exception. As project professionals fill the first line of management, we’re committed to growing people who have six to eight years of experience so they can step into the role of project professional when the time comes.

To help prepare them, as part of the Project Professional Boot Camp, I’ve developed “playbooks” for the various roles that highlight what we expect from our project professionals at Gresham Smith, which involves managing people, budgets, project timelines and more with the same breadth of coverage as a project manager. We also have plans to roll out additional boot camps in 2023 that provide comprehensive training for project executives and assistant project managers.

“PM Boot Camp gave me a whole new perspective on the Gresham Smith way of doing things. The program is an important reinforcement of how we have certain processes in place for a reason and how to use those processes when you need them. I really liked the diversity of disciplines and career levels that made up our class. I gained so much from everyone’s unique viewpoints, especially when it came to the case-study exercises.

“Most of the companies I’ve worked for in the past just threw you into the fire without any type of PM training, and you basically had to learn while you were on the job. Nothing could be further from the truth at Gresham Smith. We even had to complete five hours of prerequisite courses, videos and quizzes to prepare ourselves for the program. The course is such a great asset to the company.”

Darius Montgomery, Project Manager
Industrial | Nashville

Looking to the Next Generation

Whether they’re a project manager, an assistant project manager, a project professional or a project executive, all Gresham Smith’s boot camp programs are aimed at helping our people raise the bar on their skills.

And that growth doesn’t end with the training sessions. I stress to our graduates that they don’t have to go it alone once they’ve completed the program, as the leadership team who helped facilitate the training, including yours truly, will be there to help post-boot camp. I tell them: “Hey; if you’re about to go into a change management negotiation, call me if you’re uncomfortable. Present your case and I’ll give you feedback. I’m more than happy to play the client!”


A Bright Future

Ultimately, the future of our company depends on raising the next generation of leaders who share our values, culture and process goals. By providing these training opportunities, we’re not only creating opportunities for career growth, we’re also investing in a bright future.