By Christian Bisson
The number of years a project manager has been working certainly gives you a clue about his or her ability. But this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the only information you can use to spot a project manager who is a cut above the rest.
Below are a few tips to help you assess if someone really knows their stuff. Just as you’d adapt your expectations of junior project managers to their experience, use these tips to get a sense of how “experienced” or “senior” someone really is. I’ve recently put them to good use when a project manager was temporarily hired to take my place while I was out on paternity leave.
The first sign is simple. A project manager who aims to do the job correctly will proactively ask questions when planning a project, instead of delivering an asset that is incorrect. Or, the project manager will deliver the assets but will clearly state he or she was missing some information and did what he or she could as best as possible.
If you receive an asset that is supposed to be ready and yet you need to revise multiple times, you’re probably working with an inexperienced project manager.
Being organized is a typical quality used to describe a project manager, and it’s something that should also develop throughout the years. Assuming the project manager’s workload is reasonable, here are a few clues to help spot if the person really is organized:
Change is part of project management, whether because of client requests or other issues that arise. An experienced project manager is able to adapt accordingly and drive the project forward. Ask yourself these questions about your project manager:
This is the only tip that could help assess a project manager’s experience prior to working with him or her. Although it’s a vague indication, spotting the extremes can help.
Have additional tips for judging a project manager’s abilities? Please don’t hesitate to share.
By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
Fifteen years ago, I transitioned from being an IT manager to a project manager for the first time. With this month’s theme at projectmanagement.com being “new practitioner PM,” here are three key lessons I learned while managing my first projects.
When I was an IT manager, I always had projects that were assigned to my department. I loved being part of large projects so much I realized I wanted to do it full-time. So I made a conscious decision to transition to being a dedicated project manager.
Managing a project is truly like being a CEO of your own company—you have authority over budget, resource and key decision-making responsibilities. However, it’s an art, and mastery takes time. These are the three fundamental lessons I learned:
1) Communication is about simplifying and personalizing.
Although we may hear that 90 percent of a project manager’s job is to communicate, the best communication is one that doesn’t contain acronyms, special terminology or techno-speak.
Remember that key stakeholders are often involved in multiple projects. To get their attention, you need to make your communications concise and personal while clearly specifying the action desired.
Avoid lengthy mass emails, and tailor the frequency and channel according to the person. One sponsor told me she gets so many emails that I should schedule a meeting if it’s important. Another sponsor told me he works best with instant messaging if I needed something immediately.
The key is to know your audience and adapt accordingly. My first sponsor meeting always includes finding out how and when he or she would like to be communicated with.
2) Project management is about knowing which tools to use when.
Yes, project management is about processes, knowledge areas and ITTOs (inputs, tools and techniques, outputs), according to the PMBOK Guide. But, most importantly, it’s a menu of available options.
Trying to do everything by the book or insisting on adherence to every single template and tool is setting yourself up for disaster. Assess the needs of the project, and don’t ignore the culture of the organization. You can’t go from zero processes to textbook processes overnight. You may need to start slow by introducing concepts and build from there.
3) Build relationships.
Trust is key. When you’re starting out as a project manager, you’re an unknown, so you need to work extra hard to establish the relationships. It’s important to come across as professional, yet approachable and flexible in order to build confidence with your team, and most importantly, your sponsors and key stakeholders. Regular, relaxed one-on-one meetings, such as getting coffee or grabbing lunch, help to build cohesive partnerships that will pay dividends when the going gets tough on the project.
by Dave Wakeman
The new year is a good time for every project manager to take a moment to pause and reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t worked during the last 12 months. Many of my blog posts last year (like this one, and this one) focused on the intersection of strategy and project management. So I thought it could be valuable to suggest three ways you can propel yourself, your projects and your organization forward in 2016.
1. Set clear goals and objectives. As a project manager, you’re usually like the CEO of your project. So even if you’re in an environment where most determinants of success and failure are laid out by others, you still have the opportunity to set goals and objectives that will set your team up for success.
Imagine a project that is stuck. If you’re in the middle of this situation, it’s a good time to sit down and look at the project holistically and try to define some goals and objectives to get the project moving again.
This might require more than just saying what you hope to achieve over the next month, quarter or year—it could involve ways that you can give your team some short-term wins to create new forward momentum. The important thing is to take the opportunity to stop, think carefully, and decide with intention which way you want to move.
2. Simplify communications and decision-making. One of the supreme challenges for all project managers is the constant need to juggle information and communicate to various stakeholders effectively. Being the filter for most communications can hamper and complicate the communication process. As a strategic-minded practitioner, you’re going to have to simplify processes to avoid becoming a bottleneck.
You may find it easy to streamline your communications and decision-making processes by taking the following three steps:
First, set clear expectations for communication.
Second, empower your teams to use their best judgment and to take action within certain well-defined parameters.
Third, regularly review these processes to reinforce what’s working and change things that aren’t working.
3. Always return to the outcomes you need to produce. I’m guilty of belaboring this point, because it’s essential. The end results are what you need to be working toward. You have to be clear on expected outcomes and what you are trying to achieve. This will inform every action, tactic and process you roll out in your projects.
Get started by clarifying the desired results of your project, and then break them down by each piece of work that you need to produce to make them reality.
If you do this in combination with the items in #2, you’re on your way to becoming even more of a strategic partner in your organization’s success.
By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at email@example.com!
When I started as a project manager, the focus of my attention was on the mechanics of project management. This involved becoming very involved in work plans, risk/issue trackers, status reports, progress metrics and all those artifacts that form the means by which one manages a project.
What I realized after a number of years (as well as after a few hard learning experiences) was that while the mechanics of project management are important, they are merely enablers for the core activities that truly create a successful project.
I needed to think more about the successful direct and indirect business outcomes that could be created from a project. The attainment of successful business outcomes was what my stakeholders were really looking for, not necessarily the most impressive work plan or status report. This shift in focus become one of the turning points in my project management career.
So how does a project manager, in particular one early in his or her career, make the transition from executing the linear mechanics of project management to producing desired business outcomes? Well, they need to acquire the skills and behaviors that enable business success from projects— hopefully without harmful learning experiences along the way.
Here are four tips for making this transition.
1. Don’t Be Afraid of Business Processes
When I was a relatively new project manager, I spent a lot of time at my desk. This desk time was occupied with working on project management artifacts that if created perfectly would, in my mind, automatically lead to a successful project.
A senior project manager noticed this and encouraged me to spend a fixed amount of time creating project management artifacts, with the remainder of my workweek interacting with stakeholders in the business areas. In fact, this senior project manager arranged for me to work for a few days with some of the employees that were actually executing the business processes that were to be impacted by my project. Those few days of immersion were a great learning experience that it completely changed my outlook on how to run the project.
Today, I still employ the same technique for both myself as well as fellow project managers and team members. Whether it’s working in a retail outlet helping to stock shelves, processing billing exceptions in a call center or spending time in an airliner simulator, the immersion experience is essential to understanding what makes for successful business outcomes from projects.
2. Define Business Success Criteria
Very early in my career, I took what my stakeholders initially shared with me as business success criteria without any subsequent qualification. No surprise that some of the success criteria entailed—“just make it easy to use,” “finish testing by the end of the year” or “do whatever the senior vice president says”—didn’t really indicate a clear path to business success.
As I grew as a project manager, I began to spend more time in the beginning of projects articulating in detail with stakeholders clear criteria for business success. This involved not only understanding current processes by immersion, but also challenging stakeholders on the methods we would use to objectively measure business success. If something cannot be objectively measured, it would be difficult to determine the success of the project.
I also allocated time in the project to build and execute the processes to measure success. By doing so, I had the capacity to create evidence of how the project benefited the business.
3. Understand Your Industry
In my first few years as a project manager at an insurance company, I took every course on project management I could find (this pre-dated the creation of PMP certification). While I became adept at the mechanics of project management, I had no real foundation of business knowledge for the projects I was leading.
On a recommendation of a senior project manager, I took a course on the principles of the insurance business. This course covered the terminology, core business processes and emerging industry trends. I left the course wondering how all of this was going to apply to running projects.
Within two weeks of taking this course, my supervisor passed along a compliment from my stakeholders how much more effective and efficient I was in running their project. This newfound productivity came from the ability to more easily understand the challenges that the project was intended to address. Little did I know that the industry training was a form of business process immersion.
4. Get Comfortable With ‘Design Thinking’
The concept of “design thinking” originated with companies finding out that while project managers thought they were achieving the desired delivery success criteria of being on time and budget, they were not really producing the desired level of business success from projects. These companies began to explore ways of changing the approach in determining business success for a project.
Design thinking gives project managers several approaches to fully qualify the path to business success by techniques such as charting a customer journey, business process brainstorming, business case creation and creative reframing.
All of this opened my mind to going beyond the traditional boundaries of a project to ensure I was going to both define and execute to true business success.
I sometimes long for the days when I ran smaller, simpler and shorter projects whose goal was typically to finish on time and budget. I could afford to relax a bit and strive to achieve a high professional standard in the mechanics of running a project.
But as our projects become larger, more complex and longer in duration, we as project managers have to delegate some of these activities to other people, so we can get on with the business at hand of producing successful business results from projects.
These four things helped me make the transition to achieving business results on projects. What are some of the things that allow you to do the same?
The PMBOK 5th Edition Hindi Translation Team Gets Recognition
This piece continues my previous blog posts, “The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict” and “The Only Technique That Resolves Conflicts,” which looked at why no technique other than collaborate/problem-solve truly resolves a conflict.
Researcher Bruce Tuckman suggested that a project team generally goes through the forming, storming, norming and performing stages. In this post, I will discuss a team that skipped the storming stage—or, rather, they managed their conflicts so well that they spent most of their time in the performing stage. Fortunately, I was part of the team.
PMI India took up the task to provide the PMBOK Guide—Fifth Edition in Hindi to promote project management in Hindi-speaking regions. The project initiated in February 2013 and aimed to finish by August 2013 so the new Hindi version could launch at the PMI National Conference in Delhi in September 2013. We had only six months, and the team was yet to be recruited. We had to onboard a translator and form a Translation Verification Committee (TVC) of subject matter experts who were native Hindi speakers with sound knowledge of the PMBOK Guide—Fifth Edition.
The cover of the PMBOK 5th Edition Hindi version.
PMI India already had some volunteers for the TVC. We selected a few names and started interviewing. We also tried to persuade people who were part of the TVC for the Fourth Edition to participate. We intended to select eight people for the TVC, but we settled for seven.
Facing and Overcoming the Challenges
After finalizing the team, the kickoff meeting happened on 31 March, 2013. So we had only five months to complete the job. We met the first time to understand each other and set the agenda. We prepared a schedule with our best estimates. It turned out those estimates had us completing the project in October! That was not acceptable, but we decided to start work on the first three chapters and revisit the schedule later. We decided on one face-to-face meeting per month on a weekend and to connect via a conference call in between.
In the first call, we could see what we feared most. There was a lot of discussion to select the right word and sentences, and we couldn’t make much progress.
At the second meeting, the target was to finalize Chapter 1 on the first day, but again there was a lot of discussion about choosing the right word, and we could not complete the chapter. It was a matter of concern now.
We decided to set ground rules:
At the third meeting, we lost one of the team members. Before the fourth meeting, another was transferred out of the country, reducing his availability significantly. Now the only way to complete the project before 31 August was to take less time in review. The only way to do that without losing quality was to keep our conflicts in control. Forming the above rules turned out to be the most critical factor. Obeying these rules reduced unnecessary discussion and considerably improved the pace. We completed all the activities by 27 August, leaving two weeks for printing and publishing.
Working on this project, I closely observed how a team can manage its conflicts and focus on delivering the work. The following five factors were most critical:
Do you have a similar experience or opposite to it? Please share your view.