Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

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What do you look for in a Project Manager?

We have recently hired a new Project Manager. While we were looking to hire, I spent a bit of time thinking about what skills would best complement our team. While it did not necessarily start out as the most scientific process, as we progressed, we started to get things more structured. I thought I would share my experience with my readers.

The first thing you need to establish is someone you are considering for the position knows the basics of project management. While this may sound like an obvious statement, it was quite an eye opener how many do not have a well rounded understanding. An accreditation such as PMP, PRINCE2 or Scrum Master is a good indication of some proficiency. I look for an element of commitment to one’s profession and use this as a way of eliminating the lazy ones. Depending on the type of organisation and the type of work you want delivered, an executive management degree like an MBA may be more appropriate as the first screen. Some make it in the profession without a recognized qualification. In my view it is likely to be the exception, rather than norm. Hiring someone is inherently risky. Stack the odds in your favour.

A Project Manager is an interface between the customers and the delivery team. Communication is a critical success factor. When you review resumes, look for uncluttered and grammatically correct ones. These indicate attention to detail, a key to successful communication. If you are using a recruitment agency, this becomes difficult. They have a tendency to use predefined templates and negates your ability to judge the candidate’s written presentation skill. When you are considering a candidate’s contributions in a project, always pay close attention to “I was part of …” sentences. Always enquire what the candidate’s role was in the success or otherwise. If you notice unusual gaps between projects, ask why. It may indicate projects that did not go well.

When you are interviewing, let the candidate speak first to an open ended question. This will give you an indication of confidence levels. More clear and concise the introduction, the better. A good candidate will stand out here. As you drill down to specific skill areas, always quiz someone on what methodology they use for estimating effort for a project. Many projects fail because work is under-estimated. A good project manager must have a consistent repeatable method for estimating. Follow this up with how they monitor and control projects. This is a tricky area to judge. Some Project Managers are great at initiating and starting projects, others excel in monitoring an controlling. Closing projects seems a more difficult art and fewer people excel here. It is unusual to find a single project manager with exceptional skills in all three of these areas. Depending on the mix of your existing capacity, it may pay to consider where the biggest gap is and focus your search accordingly.

Things never go to plan. If it did, project managers would not be required. A good project manager has a solid grasp of the risks the project faces and has some ideas about what actions they will take if certain thresholds are exceeded. Quiz the candidates on how they handled a similar scenario. Listen out for what plans they had made beforehand, how they initiated the risk actions and how things were escalated up the chain. People are reluctant to talk about things that did not go well. A good project manager will be able to articulate a reasoned set of actions even as things are unfolding.

Many organizations have an expectation that he project manager will provide vision for their projects. This is a flawed notion. Project managers need to be good leaders to ensure they command the respect of their team and lead by example. However, vision is a luxury for a project manager. It is the role of the top management or the client to provide he vision for the product. The project manager’s responsibility is to deliver the products within given tolerances, and to escalate as soon as the tolerance is likely to be exceeded.

I am keen to hear about your experiences. Drop me a line if you have hired recently. I would love to know how you went about it.

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