Shopping for a ‘Real’ Project Manager

There are typically two camps on finding project managers (PM): buy them on the open market or make them. But, before you go shopping, stop and answer a few questions:

  • Are you thinking one project or multiple projects?
  • What type of projects will the PM manage? Information Technology, Business Operations or both?
  • How mature is your company today in managing with basic project tools like a project schedule?

Sometimes what we think of as one project on closer inspection has multiple intersections with other “initiatives” (translation Initiatives = Projects). Worse case is that other initiatives can become key to the overall successful implementation of the only project we are responsible for (dependencies). If the company has a lot of initiatives and doesn’t have a PM, there’s the risk of the vertical slide where everyone has a slice of the projects and teams build in their own silos.

Time to re-evaluate. Is it a project manager you need to work on a project or a program manager to oversee and weave the projects together?

Project managers

Just like any other profession, PMs tend to specialize.  Years ago, when we built a project management shop from the ground up, we asked our PM prospects what type of projects they prefer. We landed one project manager in Information Technology and another as a Business project manager, and then, to their dismay, cross trained them. They got to keep one project they adored and take one project that was totally out of their core comfort zone.

It’s not just the PMs who specialize. We find that most business teams and, even executives, specialize, as well, and project management is not in their top competencies. When we asked one of our executive resources why he didn’t complete the task assigned to him he said, “well my name wasn’t the first name in the list of resources, so I didn’t think I had to do it.”  We went back and trained every single resource on the project on how to read a project schedule.

Armed with what you are looking to achieve and the environment you are doing it in, it’s now time to find that ’Real’ project manager. A word of caution from the start, don’t assume that a fully certified project manager guarantees a project’s success.  What it does guarantee is that the certified resource can study and take a truly hard exam. If you want to weed out the ones who can manage a project from those that typically create a mountain of artifacts, here’s a couple of tricks:

  1. Come up with a short summary of a project that has either been done already or one you’d like to do. Send via email to the prospect and ask them for a project schedule which they will email back to you in three days. Yes, they could get someone else to do their project schedule, but aren’t you looking for someone who can delegate? Anyone who doesn’t respond, you didn’t want in the first place.
  2. As part of the interview process, ask them to tell you the steps they would take for a trip. Letting a prospect know that he was arranging a canoe trip for the team and asking him to please give a list of the next steps can help distinguish what type of project manager you’re interviewing. In this case, he broke into a sweat and said, “I don’t canoe.” Have you ever known everything you needed to know at the beginning of a project?
  3. Ask for an example of project failures and what was learned from them. Beware of a project manager that has not had failures. Ideally, you will hear details about how the team had to do some re-evaluation of the project. Topics like setting achievable objectives or environmental considerations may come up. My personal favorite failure story was that our team scheduled a major (four versions) claim system upgrade for a go-live in the middle of August in Florida. Three major hurricane delays, a power outage, and a disaster planning strategy meeting later, the upgrade went live.

‘Real’ project managers

A ‘real’ project manager has learned to spend the least amount of time documenting and the most time solving problems, innovating solutions and finding ways to provide transparent reporting on project status with the team (not for the team).

‘Real’ project managers are amazing delegators; however, they roll up their sleeves and pitch in when they have skills that help the team move forward. They beg and borrow what they need to solve for every challenge along the way and they even physically escort errant resources to meetings (okay, slight call out to my favorite executives, names kept private to protect the guilty).

HighPoint specializes in finding the right project and program managers that match our clients’ needs. Our expertise extends from setting up or enhancing an existing PMO, to helping create client-specific templates, dashboards and policies that work in the culture of the current organization’s project culture. We help clients scale up as they grow and assist with the hiring and training of staff to ensure adoption and scalability of tools and processes.

Ultimately, every project brings change. How fast and well you can change is what distinguishes your company from your competitors.

Keeping it real…the HighPoint Team.