What Makes a Good Project Manager

Retrieved from 10 Minute Guide to Project Management – Jeff Davidson

A Doer, not a Bystander

If you are assigned the task of project manager within your organization, consider this: You were probably selected because you exhibited the potential to be an effective project manager. (Or conversely, there was no one else around, so you inherited the task!) In essence, a project manager is an active doer, not a passive bystander. As you learned in Lesson 1, “So You’re Going to Manage a Project?” a big portion of the project manager’s responsibility is planning—mapping out how a project will be undertaken; anticipating obstacles and roadblocks; making course adjustments; and continually determining how to allocate human, technological, or monetary resources.
If you have a staff, from one person to ten or more, then in addition to daily supervision of the work being performed, you are probably going to be involved in some type of training. The training might be once, periodic, or nonstop. As the project progresses, you find yourself having to be a motivator, a cheerleader, possibly a disciplinarian, an empathetic listener, and a sounding board. As you guessed, not everyone is qualified to (or wants to) serve in such capacity. On top of these responsibilities, you may be the key contact point for a variety of vendors, suppliers, subcontractors, and supplemental teams within your own organization.

Whether you work for a multibillion dollar organization or a small business, chances are you don’t have all the administrative support you would like to have. In addition to these tasks, too many project managers today also must engage in a variety of administrative duties, such as making copies, print outs, or phone calls on mundane matters.
If your staff lets you down or is cut back at any time during the project (and this is almost inevitable), you end up doing some of the tasks that you had assigned to others on top of planning, implementing, and controlling the project.

Many Hats All the Time

The common denominator among all successful project managers everywhere is the ability to develop a “whatever it takes” attitude. Suppose
● Several of your project team members get pulled off the project to work for someone else in your organization. You will make do.
● You learn that an essential piece of equipment that was promised to you is two weeks late. You will improvise.
● You discover that several key assumptions you made during the project planning and early implementation phases turned out to be wildly off the mark. You will adjust.
● One-third of the way into the project a mini-crisis develops in your domestic life. You will get by.

Although the role and responsibility of a project manager may vary somewhat from project to project and from organization to organization, you may be called upon to perform one of these recurring duties and responsibilities:

● Draw up the project plan, possibly present and “sell” the project to those in authority.
● Interact with top management, line managers, project team members, supporting staff, and administrative staff.
● Procure project resources, allocate them to project staff, coordinate their use, ensure that they are being maintained in good working order, and surrender them upon project completion.
● Interact with outside vendors, clients, and other project managers and project staff within your organization

● Initiate project implementation, continually monitor progress, review interim objectives or milestones, make course adjustments, view and review budgets, and continually monitor all project resources.
● Supervise project team members, manage the project team, delegate tasks, review execution of tasks, provide feedback, and delegate new tasks.
● Identify opportunities, identify problems, devise appropriate adjustments, and stay focused on the desired outcome.
● Handle interteam strife, minimize conflicts, resolve differences, instill a team atmosphere, and continually motivate team members to achieve superior performance.
● Prepare interim presentations for top management, offer a convincing presentation, receive input and incorporate it, review results with project staff, and make still more course adjustments.
● Make the tough calls, such as having to remove project team members, ask project team members to work longer hours on short notice, reassign roles and responsibilities to the disappointment of some, discipline team members as may be necessary, and resolve personality-related issues affecting the team.
● Consult with advisors, mentors, and coaches, examine the results of previous projects, draw upon previously unidentified or underused resources, and remain as balanced and objective as possible.

Go Beneath Surface Illusions

Dig deeply to find the facts in situations. Frame says, “Project managers are continually getting into trouble because they accept things at face value. If your project involves something that requires direct interaction with your company’s clients, and you erroneously believe that you know exactly what the clients want, you may be headed for major problems.”

One effective technique used by project managers to find the real situation in regard to others upon whom the project outcome depends is as follows:

● Identify all participants involved in the project, even those with tangential involvement.
● List the possible goals that each set of participants could have in relation to the completion of the project.
● Now, list all possible subagendas, hidden goals, and unstated aspirations.
● Determine the strengths and weaknesses of your project plan and your project team in relation to the goals and hidden agendas of all other parties to the project.

In this manner, you are less likely both to encounter surprises and to find yourself scrambling to recover from unexpected jolts.
My friend Peter Hicks, who is a real-estate developer from Massachusetts, says that when he engages in a project with another party, one of the most crucial exercises he undertakes is a complete mental walk-through of everything that the party

● Wants to achieve as a result of this project
● Regards as an extreme benefit
● May have as a hidden agenda
● Can do to let him down

The last item is particularly telling. Peter finds that by sketching out all the ways that the other party may not fulfill his obligations, he is in a far better position to proceed, should any of them come true. In essence, he takes one hundred percent of the responsibility for ensuring that the project outcomes that he desired will be achieved. To be sure, this represents more work, perhaps 50 percent or more of what most project managers are willing to undertake.
You have to ask yourself the crucial question: If you are in project management, and you aim to succeed, are you willing to adopt the whatever-it-takes mindset? By this, I don’t mean that you engage in illegal, immoral, or socially reprehensible behavior. Rather, it means a complete willingness to embrace the reality of the situation confronting you, going as deeply below the surface as you can to ferret out the true dynamics of the situation before you, and marshaling the resources necessary to be successful

Be as Flexible as Possible

Don’t get sucked into unnecessary rigidity and formality. This principle of effective project management can be seen as one that is counterbalanced to the four discussed thus far. Once a project begins, an effective project manager wants to maintain a firm hand while having the ability to roll with the punches. You have heard the old axiom about the willow tree being able to withstand hurricane gusts exceeding 100 miles per hour, while the branches of the more rigid spruce and oak trees surrounding it snap in half.

In establishing a highly detailed project plan that creates a situation where practically nothing is left

to fortune, one can end up creating a nightmarish, highly constrictive bureaucracy. We have seen this happen all too frequently at various levels of government. Agencies empowered to serve its citizenry end up being only marginally effective, in servitude to the web of bureaucratic entanglement and red tape that has grown, obscuring the view of those entrusted to serve.
Increasingly, in our high tech age of instantaneous information and communication, where intangible project elements outnumber the tangible by a hearty margin, the wise project manager knows the value of staying flexible, constantly gathering valuable feedback, and responding accordingly.

Seven Ways to Succeed as a Project Manager

Now that you have a firm understanding of the kinds of issues that befall a project manager, let’s take a look at seven ways in particular that project managers can succeed, followed by seven ways that project managers can fail.

● Learn to use project management tools effectively
As you will see in Lessons 10, “Choosing Project Management Software,” and 11, “A Sampling of Popular Programs,” such a variety of wondrous project managing software tools exist today that it is foolhardy to proceed in a project of any type of complexity without having a rudimentary understanding of available software tools, if not an intermediate to advanced understanding of them. Project management tools today can be of such enormous aid that they can mean the difference between a project succeeding or failing.
● Be able to give and receive criticism
Giving criticism effectively is not easy. There is a fine line between upsetting a team member’s day and offering constructive feedback that will help the team member and help the project. Likewise, the ability to receive criticism is crucial for project managers.

● Be receptive to new procedures
You don’t know everything, and thank goodness. Team members, other project managers, and those who authorize the project to begin with can provide valuable input, including new directions and new procedures. Be open to them, because you just might find a way to slash $20,000 and three months off of your project cost.

● Manage your time well
Speaking of time, if you personally are not organized, dawdle on low-level issues, and find yourself perpetually racing the clock, how are you going to manage your project, a project team, and achieve the desired outcome on time and on budget? My earlier book in this series, The 10-Minute Guide to Time Management will help you enormously in this area.
● Be effective at conducting meetings
Meetings are a necessary evil in the event of completing projects, with the exception of solo projects. A good short text on this topic is Breakthrough Business Meetings by Robert Levasseur. This book covers the fundamentals of meetings in a succinct, enjoyable manner, and can make any project manager an effective meeting manager in relatively short order.
● Hone your decision-making skills
As a project manager you won’t have the luxury of sitting on the fence for very long in relation to issues crucial to the success of your project. Moreover, your staff looks to you for yes, no, left, and right decisions. If you waffle here and there, you are giving the signal that you are not really in control. As with other things in project management, decisionmaking is a skill that can be learned. However, the chances are high that you already have the decision-making capability that you need. It is why you were chosen to manage this project to begin with. It is also why you have been able to achieve what you have in your career up to this point.

● Maintain a sense of humor
Stuff is going to go wrong, things are going to happen out of the blue, the weird and the wonderful are going to pass your way. You have to maintain a sense of humor so that you don’t do damage to your health, to your team, to your organization, and to the project itself. Sometimes, not always, the best response to a breakdown is to simply let out a good laugh. Take a walk, stretch, renew yourself, and then come back and figure out what you are going to do next. Colin Powell, in his book My American Journey, remarked that in almost all circumstances, “things will look better in the morning.”

Seven Ways to Fail as a Project Manager

Actually, there are hundreds and hundreds of ways to fail as a project manager. The following seven represent those that I have seen too often in the work place:
● Fail to address issues immediately
Two members of your project team can’t stand each other and cooperation is vital to the success of the project. As project manager, you must address the issue head on. Either find a way that they can work together professionally, if not amicably, or modify roles and assignments. Whatever you do, don’t let the issue linger. It will only come back to haunt you further along.
● Reschedule too often
As the project develops, you can certainly change due dates, assignments, and schedules. Recognize though, that there is a cost every time you make a change, and if you ask your troops to keep up with too many changes you are inviting mistakes, missed deadlines, confusion, and possibly hidden resentment.
● Be content with reaching milestones on time, but ignore quality
Too often, project managers in the heat of battle, focused on completing the project on time and within budget, don’t focus sufficiently on the quality of work done.

● Too much focus on project administration and not enough on project management
In this high tech era with all manner of sophisticated project management software, it is too easy to fall in love with project administration—making sure that equipment arrives, money is allocated, and assignments are doled out to the neglect of project management, taking in the big picture of what the team is up against, where they are heading, and what they are trying to accomplish.
● Micromanage rather than manage
This is reflected in the project manager who plays his cards close to his chest, and retains most of the tasks himself, or at least the ones he deems to be crucial, rather than delegating. The fact that you have staff implies that there are many tasks and responsibilities that you should not be handling. On the other hand, if you should decide to handle it all, be prepared to stay every night until 10:30, give up your weekends, and generally be in need of a life.

● Adapt new tools too readily
If you are managing a project for the first time and counting on a tool that you have not used before, you are incurring a double risk. Here’s how it works. Managing a project for the first time is a single risk. Using a project tool for the first time is a single risk. Both levels of risk are acceptable. You can be a first-time project manager using tools that you are familiar with, or you can be a veteran project manager using tools for the first time. However, it is unacceptable to be a first-time project manager using project tools for the first time.

● Monitor project progress intermittently
Just as a ship that is off course one degree at the start of a voyage ends up missing the destination by a thousand miles, so too a slight deviation in course in the early rounds of your project can result in having to do double or triple time to get back on track. Hence, monitoring progress is a project-long responsibility. It is important at the outset for the reasons just mentioned, and it is important in mid and late stages to avoid last-minute surprises.

The 30-Second Recap

● Project managers are responsible for planning, supervising, administering, motivating, training, coordinating, listening, readjusting, and achieving.
● Five basic principles of effective project management include being conscious of what you are doing, investing heavily in the front-end work, anticipating problems, going beneath the surface, and staying flexible.

● Project managers who succeed are able to effectively give and receive criticism, know how to conduct a meeting, maintain a sense of humor, manage their time well, are open to new procedures, and use project management support tools effectively.
● Project managers who fail let important issues fester, fail to focus on quality, get too involved with administration and neglect management, micromanage rather than delegate, rearrange tasks or schedules too often, and rely too heavily on unfamiliar tools.

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