Referring to GTIM’s derivative of the Pareto Principle, that the 80th percentile best managers with access to 20% of the information needed to obviate a given decision will be consistently out-performed by the 20th percentile worst managers with access to 80% of the information so needed, I would like to point out that that does not necessarily mean that the latter category will always get it right. Even with 80% of the information needed to obviate a given decision, for the poor management set, a 20% missing or unavailable information window is more than enough to mess up any decision, particularly big ones. So, if you happen to be lucky enough to belong to an organization that takes its PM information systems (PMISs) seriously, and basic scope, cost, and schedule performance is available, timely, and accurate, what more can be done to ensure that the best available options are taken, and overall success virtually guaranteed? The answer is as brutal as it is inescapable: you’ve got to get rid of the bad PMs.
But, given that so much of management in general and PM in particular is at least somewhat subjective, how are the “bad” PMs to be recognized apart from “good” ones that just happen to be on an unlucky streak? I think I can help here. What follows is a few simple tests that can reveal the truly proficient and talented managers and leaders from the poor ones, those that, due to miseducation, poor attitude, or just plain lack of talent, should be removed from the PM pool.
Test #1: Are they trustworthy? Plenty of PMs will encounter an overrun or a late project finish, and it’s usually rather difficult to discern if that condition came about due to poor management, or a myriad of other factors. But here’s the Litmus Test: did the PM provide early warning of the overrun/late finish? Both Critical Path and Earned Value Methodologies (CPM/EVM) have the (uncanny, really) ability to accurately forecast overruns or late finishes, months in advance, if they are allowed. CPM networks can have this ability thwarted by imposing no-later-than constraints on key milestones, returning plenty of the so-called negative float when the forward pass/backward pass calculations are performed, but leaving the all-important finish milestone unmoved. Similarly, EVM systems that allow a “manager’s Estimate at Completion” (EAC) to be used instead of the calculated version will obscure the overrun until it’s too late for anyone to do anything about it. So, if the project in question did overrun or come in late, AND the PM provided no early warning, they’re untrustworthy, and should probably be avoided.
Test #2: Given the choice between successful project completion and strict adherence to procedure, which would they choose? I want to make clear right off the bat that I’m not talking about safety or security procedures or rules here. Those often come about due to something really unfortunate having already happened, and are in place to prevent a recurrence. Rather, what I’m talking about are things like a decree issued by a retail store where I worked for about nine months, that all employees had to put a company-touting bumper sticker on their personal cars. The top two salesmen refused. They were fired. The person doing the firing was a very poor manager. That instance was rather blatant, but the take-away test I wish to assert is this: if the manager cares more about being able to deflect or defend weak performance by pointing to strict adherence to non-safety or security-related policy, then they are probably not in the aforementioned 80th percentile best manager set.
Test #3: Is the manager extremely popular? This test is a bit more nuanced, but I believe it still applies. Good managers as well as talented Project Team members will be attracted to organizations that behave more like meritocracies. Conversely, poor managers and underachieving Project Team members will avoid such environments, preferring instead to “work” in an environment where things other than merit represent the vehicle for advancement, such as demonstrated personal loyalty to the upper levels of management. In the Maccoby archetypes[i], it’s the difference between arranging to have Craftsmen on your team, and allowing Company Men. It’s not that the Company Man archetype – the kind of team member who tends to assume the persona of the company’s culture – are necessarily inadequate. Rather, it’s the poor managers who will value personal loyalty above actual performance. A team of truly talented individuals is bound to have some differences. A group of sycophants usually won’t.
According to The Free Dictionary, one of the definitions of the word “tell” is:
Games An unintentional or unconsciously exhibited behavior that reveals or betrays one's state of mind, as when playing poker.[ii]
In the big game of Good PM/Bad PM poker, these three tells may well inform Project Team members (and executives) of the hand their PMs are holding, and how they’re likely going to play them.
[i] Maccoby, Michael. The Gamesman: The New Corporate Leaders. New York: Simon and Schuster,1976