How to utilise the project management structure and tools to effectively manage a coaching engagement

A beginning coach with a background in life coaching might feel intimidated when they initially encounter their first business client. We can all have a small attack of the imposter syndrome, question if our background and experience will be suitable for the client, undermining our confidence and be left wondering whether our NLP or other niche based coaching system be useful and appropriate. Don’t I need to have run a business or to have been an executive to be able to coach someone in that position.

And the obvious way in which we tackle these doubts as professional coaches is to expand our intellectual and experiential base studying foundational texts and maintain our own continuous professional development, and we can go through some of those texts in a later blog.

However, my first suggestion would be to add basic understanding of the principles and processes of project management to your coaching toolbox. This might seem daunting, it is after all a complete professional and academic discipline in its own right, but there is hope, and there is simplicity on the other side of complexity. And, surprisingly, it is often not very well understood in the basic business and executive ranks, which is great for you in establishing your credibility.

So, what is project management, and how can it help you as a coach?

As managers what we want is not for our employees to come to the office and do work. This has the potential for people to be busy rather than effective or productive. We really want them to have a mindset where they complete projects, to projectise their work. What does that mean? It is actually pretty simple. To define your as a project, you need to

  1. Name your project
  2. Identify the goals of your project
  3. Identify the major obstacles to the successful completion of your project
  4. Identify the major phases of your project
  5. Identify the tasks and subtasks that go with those phases
  6. Allocate resources to the tasks – people, budget, materials
  7. Check in with your goals. Does that trigger any more tasks?
  8. Check in with your obstacles. Does that trigger any more tasks?
  9. Prioritise and schedule your tasks. (A bonus here might be a clear chart or visual representation of the project and its timing, like a Gantt Chart)

If you ask of any task why it is being performed, it should lead you back to your goals. If you ask of any goal how it is being achieved, it should lead you to your tasks. And these are your fundamental coaching questions.

And now you or your client, or you and your team, are ready to take action and get to work.

As a coach you should be able to see how easily this fits into a normal coaching structure, such as the GROW or Goals, Reality, Options, What Now model.

In the Results Coaching model, you will move with your client through setting goals, creating strategies and then actions to go with the strategies, and again the model fits.

Another way to look at it is to appreciate that as coaches we want to turn client problems or challenges into clearly defined projects with goals, and then reduce those goals and strategies to a series of tasks or actions which are planned and scheduled. This gives you a very clear focus and mission as a coach. Or, to put it the other way around, if you are not assisting your client to turn their challenges into projects with clearly defined goals and measurable outcomes, expressed in terms of timed and logically or strategically ordered actions or tasks, are you really doing the best job you can for your coachee?

But I began this blog talking about the self-doubt that a coach might have in a business or executive setting if they lack deep experience in those roles themselves. So here is the added benefit of projectising work. The immediate and relevant business outcomes, the simplicity on the other side of complexity include:

Leadership 1

Your clients in creating a project out of their dilemma are demonstrating vision, focus and clear goals, beginning with the end in mind. This is core to being a transformational leader.

Leadership 2

Your client is, by reducing their vision to a series of time delimited and resourced tasks, demonstrating the essence of managerial skill of getting the job done, or first things first. This is core to being a transactional leader.

Leadership 3

If you are developing your project with your team, then you are building in awareness, participation, responsibility and accountability, the essence of teamwork.

And now for the good news. If this seems like a big ask, there is some very good support available. Everything that I have described is a straightforward step in the Project KickStart software package. Essentially, I have described the stages that this very elegant and simple project management software takes you through, whenever you plan a project, whether it is a training session, planning a party, moving house, creating templates for your coaching sessions, or working with a client on their projects. Use the software yourself for a few projects and you will have taught yourself the project management mentality as part of your permanent mindset, and you will easily recognise it when that is the gap in your client’s strategy for dealing with their challenges. You will definitely grow in confidence in all aspects of your coaching practice.

There are now numerous project management tools around. In the past I was the Middle East distributor for Project Kickstart, which I can recommend from personal and professional experience. It will definitely allow you to easily projectise your work and at the same time develop a project management mindset and build that process as a minimum professional standard for your clients.