Posted by Brad Egeland
This question probably gets asked in every organization a few times a year, if not more often. Companies struggle with so-called project managers who are really resource managers or techies-turned-project-managers and they wonder why. Or they set up their Project Management Office (PMO) and stock it with PMP certified project managers and wonder why projects aren’t meeting deadlines or are failing altogether.
So what is it that makes a good project manager? Is it PMP certification? I say ‘no’, but I still think certification is a good thing to have. It is, however, inappropriate to think that a PM with 5 years experience and PMP certification is always going to be a more desirable or productive PM than a non-certified PM with 15 years experience. But that’s what many HR organizations are basically saying when they post jobs mandating PMP certification to even be considered.
I’d like to look deeper than that. So what is the true measure of a project manager? Is it a few on time and on budget projects? Not likely, though that is definitely a very good start. Anyone who’s managed large projects knows that it’s always a challenge to keep the customer and the scope in check enough to deliver a project on time and on budget. It’s just a fact. Requirements change, there’s give and take with the customer and it’s not always documented in the way of change orders – so sometimes good projects are delivered 10-20% over budget or 30% over on timeframe yet the customer is happy and basically the project is successful, it’s just not on time or on budget on paper.
Again, what’s the true measure? Here’s my take of a few things that make a good project manager – or at least signs that you have a good one and shouldn’t let them get away.
High percentage of customer satisfaction
The project manager who is routinely rated highly and effective by the customer is one to hang on to. Customers aren’t always easy to please – and they often despise having to pay high prices for a project manager. Sometimes they just have trouble seeing the value. So if you have a project manager who is getting high marks from customers on multiple projects, then you know you have a PM who is confident, effective, organized, and has done whatever it takes to make the customer feel comfortable with them. And that’s saying a lot.
Excellent history of communication
I have long considered effective communication as the single most valuable characteristic that a project manager can bring to the table. A project manager who can communicate thoroughly and effectively with his team, his customer, and his company leadership will go far. He’ll have a higher degree of customer satisfaction, his team will be better engaged and understand what’s expected of them and company leadership will have more confidence because they know he’s in control – that he’s managing the project to the best of his ability. Effective communication doesn’t guarantee success – nothing does – but it sure goes along way in winning your team and your customer over and gaining everyone’s confidence and participation.
Good negotiation skills
The project manager often has to play the role of negotiator. This usually comes in to play the most when scope is an issue or requirements are changing. The experienced PM who knows how to give and take or how to smooth over that $40,000 change order and make the customer actually happy to pay for it is doing something right. It certainly isn’t all about managing the project on paper – and good negotiation skills with the customer don’t just happen overnight.
Acceptable amount of stubbornness
One thing a project manager must do is carefully manage the scope of the project. This is not an easy thing to do. It requires experience, subject matter expertise, and a high level of confidence in handling the customer and the financial side of the project. A project manager who is good at managing the project budget is likely going to have a good handle on the scope management as well. And watching closely for issues and requirements that affect the overall scope of the project requires stubbornness. The PM cannot be too flexible. If they are, they can end up giving away the farm and the result will be a project that likely can’t be delivered on time or on budget.
Everyone has a list like this. You have mine…and ask me again in 30 days and I might give you a slightly different one. But these four items listed above are key. And if you can find a PM that is good at these four things – then their probability for success in an organization and with a customer will be very high over the course of the projects they manage.
Tags: customer, project, project management, project manager, project managers, Technology, Tools