Coaching Leadership

Using ProjectManagement inCoaching


Good old fashioned project management can be used by managers in most coaching situations.

As a specialist in coaching and leadership development, I have developed sophisticated / complex coaching cycles and both teach and practice highly specialized kinds of coaching, e.g., narrative coaching and coaching leaders through leadership transitions.

I have noticed recently, however, that there are so many fancy executive and life coaching models out there, so many coaching methodologies and certification bodies, it’s like the Wild West for both coaches and clients. It is nice to have choices, of course, but many organizations are forgetting the basic needs of their own managers—the needs of managers who are coaching their employees and teams every day.

This blog is going to show how good, old fashioned project management process can be used by supervisors and managers to coach their employees in most situations. Project management process is easy to understand; it adds rigor to coaching projects; and it enables managers to draw on skills they already have to navigate the wily terrain of coaching.

Generic project management process:

Project management usually follows these four phases:

  1. Discovery: Assessing the scope and nature of the problem or opportunity
  2. Objectives: Identifying clear goals & metrics: painting a concrete picture of success
  3. Plan: Crafting a solution and a concrete plan to achieve the objectives
  4. Tracking: Tracking and supporting progress to plan

This relatively simple process can be applied directly to most coaching projects. Consider the following example.


Let’s take a really tough example: coaching someone on an attitude problem. This is a challenge all managers face from time to time and it is especially difficult to deal with because it seems so subjective, abstract, intangible—and personal.

Imagine someone has a bad attitude about teamwork. You don’t tell this person that their teamwork sucks or that they are a bad team player. It is far more productive to communicate these kinds of problems in terms of the opportunity: “I need you to change the way you do teamwork.” Or: “I need you to take your teamwork practices up to the next level.” This invitation to action is simple, direct and honest; it preserves the dignity of the employee; it shows confidence in the employee (both trust and respect); and it gives the employee the benefit of the doubt in terms of succeeding in this challenge.

Let’s apply project management process to this coaching project:

Discovery: First, as with any business issue, you have to assess the scope and nature of the problem. How bad is this person’s teamwork; what are they not doing or doing poorly, and perhaps doing well; what effect is the poor teamwork having on team performance and morale; how big (serious) is the problem?

Objectives: Second, you will of course have to identify what you want: What kind of teamwork do you want or need from this person; what does great teamwork look like (in the context of this team and this employee’s role on the team); how big of a change is this going to be for the employee; and how will you know when the employee has improved sufficiently (has succeeded, achieve the goal)?

Plan: Third, you will need to develop a plan of action: How is the employee going to achieve this goal; what does the employee need to do and what do you (the manager) have to do to support the employee in this project (how can you help)? Who is going to do what and by when; what resources will be needed; what are the first steps, next steps and major milestones for this project?

Tracking: Finally, you will need a concrete plan for tracking and supporting progress to ensure everyone stays on plan as long as it takes, i.e., until the project is complete. Without a commitment to follow up and follow through, it is very easy for important projects to fall off the table—even with the best of intentions. The manager might also have a “plan B” (highly confidential) outlining how much effort they are willing to invest in the project and at what point they would give up, i.e., move the person into a position in which they can shine (where teamwork is not important) or out of the organization altogether.

If you think about it, how could you not use this process for dealing with an attitude problem: you have to understand the problem; set a clear and meaningful goal; identify concrete measures of success (what kind of teamwork is needed, and how good this employee’s teamwork needs to be); develop a plan of action; and be clear on how you will track and support achievement.

Coaching as collaboration:

Typically, in order to be as prepared as possible, the manager has to think most of this through before launching this coaching project with the employee.

Nevertheless, coaching is something you do with an employee, not something you do to them.

In other words, once you invite the employee to this project, you want to make the project as collaborative as possible. The project itself may be non-negotiable, i.e., strong teamwork is a requirement of the job and you are making it a requirement for this employee to take his or her teamwork up to the next level. But once you start discussions, the more input you can get from the employee at all phases of the project management cycle, the greater will be their understanding of the need for change and their buy-in and commitment to making the change.

Participation is also crucial for employee development: you want them to think about how important teamwork is and how they can make this change in the context of what they do best, what they are most passionate about in their work, the kind of work they do, what kind of team they work on and the needs of their colleagues. You want the employee to improve his or her ability to read situations and identify the behavior that will most help them succeed. Empowerment is a powerful tool for education, since we learn most from doing.

See our blog on debriefing: helping employees learn from experience and speed the cycle of learning.

The content of coaching:

The three most common and important things managers coach employees on in their everyday work are:

  1. Performance / productivity / results
  2. Skills / competencies / expertise
  3. Core values

There are other reasons to coach and other coaching situations, of course, but these are the three core targets of coaching for managers in their day-to-day work. Performance, skills and values form such a robust, meaningful, powerful and well-rounded set of objectives, that they can be used as a kind of balanced scorecard for employees at all levels. I will write about this on another occasion.

For now, just ponder how the project management cycle can be used by managers to coach in all three of these important areas: helping employees improve their performance (productivity), improve their skills (develop new expertise) and live the core values of the organization.


Project management process is not the only way to run a coaching project; nor is it perfect for every coaching situation. But it can be applied to most everyday coaching situations at work. Project management process is easy for managers to understand; it adds rigor to coaching projects; and it enables managers to draw on skills they already have to navigate the wily terrain of coaching.

Check out my blog on the importance of tracking both behavior and results in your coaching, leadership development and business projects.

Give Advanture a call. We would be happy to help your leaders take their coaching practices up the next level.

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