What is the True Measure of a Project Manager?

Posted by Brad Egeland

ProjectManager What is the True Measure of a Project Manager?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.

Summary

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.

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Related posts:

  1. Doing the Right Things for Your Customer
  2. Project Success Series: Ensuring Revenue and Profitability on Your Project
  3. Communicating Project Scope
  4. PM Best Practices for the New Project Manager
  5. Does the Project Manager Drive or Just Steer?

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12 Comments to “What is the True Measure of a Project Manager?”

  • Some of the points are good. in my opinion what make a project manager great is to be able to let everyone do what they are capable and responsible. What I mean is that a project manager who can let
    Business provide what is of value for business
    Let individuals provide estimates for work they do
    Let the developers do the work they are doing
    Create an environment for management to provide vision and goal for team

    These are few I can think it , it time we have more leaders in the world and less managers , leaders who can set examples and let people self organize and work in an autonomous fashion

  • What a great post!

    I would also believe a strong sense of perception…people and risk. Knowing which employees need individual praise, which need to be left alone, etc is huge in keeping the team motivated. As far as risk, knowing when to involve the customer..never too soon, they will question your ability to lead and never too late or you will lose their trust.

  • the true measure is how long he can keep his job

  • Excellent question and an outstanding composite answer – and good comments so far.

    However, I have a controversial addition.

    First, let me say that I took pause at your question at the words “true measure”. These words struck me as critical to the question.

    Of coruse, success is measured by the PM’s ability to deliver the outcome such that the customer/sponsor and all other stakeholders are fully satisfied, and for their own enterprise, they do that while bringing the project in on time and under budget and leaving as few bruises and bumps on the project team as possible.

    That’s all good.

    But if we truly look at the outcome – the product of the project – that’s where the controversy comes in. At EarthPM we assert that the project manager’s job *includes* (at least *considers*) the long-term operation of that product. It does not mean that the PM becomes an operations manager, but they should be thinking about that product’s long-term effects.

    In other words, sustainability.

    For example:

    Did the PM responsible for delivring the rig for the Deepwater Horizon consider the operation of the rig? Did they speak out when – even though not required by law – management chose not to install the acoustic sensor which could have prevented the shutoff failure? Looks like $20-30 billion will be spent on this cleanup. There are already lawsuits. There is tremendous loss of reputation for BP, which is trying to create a “Beyond Petroleum”, green image for itself. Is this truly a successful project?

    Did the PM responsible for the development of the Keruig single-serve coffee brewer raise an alarm when they noticed that the plastic in the K-cups was not recyclable?
    The product is clearly a ’success’, but the disposable cups from 2009, 2010, and 2011, placed end-to-end, will be long enough to circle the Earth eight times. So is *that* truly success? Should we be lining up to congratulate that PM?

    We think that the project manager needs to increase their ability to do longer-term thinking and to be a change agent in order to truly serve their companies better.

    OK….let the responses begin…

    Rich Maltzman, PMP
    http://earthPM.com

  • Great article, I love the part about being a negotiator–this is so true. This article actually reminds of a video I saw recently on the 5 habits of a good PM. http://www.nuwave-tech.com/it-project-blog/bid/39717/Project-Management-How-To-5-Habits-of-a-Successful-Project-Manager. These two articles work very well together.

  • Agree with Rich: the “true measure” must include not only the delivery of the project, but the ability to deliver meaninginful, positive results for the longer term. One if focused on activities to bring the project in on time, within budget, etc (which by itself, could lull us into narrow, short-term thinking even about its outcomes), the other is focused on the health of those outcomes, including their systemic impact. An implication to the PM skill set then is that s/he needs to know how to assess the longer-term, larger impacts, and incorporate those into the business case that justifies the project to start with (and convince others about the merits of considering this larger view). Many of the skills noted in the other postings clearly come to good use in gaining the support that’s needed for making a difference for the longer term, but given that this may also represent a fundamental change in organizational thinking, I would add another skill set: the ability to affect positive change. Thanks for the posting — good for thougth!

  • Agree with Rich: the “true measure” must include not only the delivery of the project, but the ability to deliver meaningful, positive results for the longer term. One if focused on activities to bring the project in on time, within budget, etc (which by itself, could lull us into narrow, short-term thinking even about its outcomes), the other is focused on the health of those outcomes, including their systemic impact. An implication to the PM skill set then is that s/he needs to know how to assess the longer-term, larger impacts, and incorporate those into the business case that justifies the project to start with (and convince others about the merits of considering this larger view). Many of the skills noted in the other postings clearly come to good use in gaining the support that’s needed for making a difference for the longer term, but given that this may also represent a fundamental change in organizational thinking, I would add another skill set: the ability to affect positive change. Thanks for the posting — good for thougth!

  • Agree with Rich: the “true measure” must include not only the delivery of the project, but the ability to deliver meaningful, positive results for the longer term. One is focused on activities to bring the project in on time, within budget, etc (which by itself, could lull us into narrow, short-term thinking even about its outcomes), the other is focused on the health of those outcomes, including their systemic impact. An implication to the PM skill set then is that s/he needs to know how to assess the longer-term, larger impacts, and incorporate those into the business case that justifies the project to start with (and convince others about the merits of considering this larger view). Many of the skills noted in the other postings clearly come to good use in gaining the support that’s needed for making a difference for the longer term, but given that this may also represent a fundamental change in organizational thinking, I would add another skill set: the ability to affect positive change. Thanks for the posting — good for thougth!

  • I would add just one small comment which buttresses the idea that one should be a good communicator. I’ve always thought that an important component of being a good PM is to be a good diplomat. He or she must have the ability to navigate the sociopolitical waters without “turning off” key stakeholders. So, disagree without being disagreeable. And be able to deliver bad news – if such is needed – when the situation calls for it.

  • Lack of negative surprises. This I think is at the root of at least the first three of your criteria, and also addresses the sustainability points raised. I measure my success by the number of times the questions and probing I do on a continual basis, throughout the life cycle, elicit those little gasps of comprehension when people realize what they just avoided. The hardest problems to solve and recover from are the ones you uncover too late.

  • Nice post. I love the focus on competency and behaviors, which works really well when coupled with the metric and measure of customer satisfaction.

    The two things I would add would be:
    - a reputation for inspiring others
    - a reputation for building trust

    I have found PMs (and leaders of all shapes and sizes) with these capabilities rarely fail.

    Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist
    http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

  • Brad, I think you presented accurate information from start to finish. There is such a big debate about “good” project managers having their PMP or other type of certification, and I have to say that it WILL provide invaluable skills. By being certified you are joining ranks with others you can share information and thoughts and ideas with who get your language. This, however, does not always translate that well with a company who doesn’t want to abide by project management best practices. Still valuable information, but how do you use it? So, on to your other points – you can do all these things and accomplish successful projects every time! That’s the beauty of learning how to be a PM. You cannot accomplish successful projects if you DON’T do these things, no matter how well you scored on your PMP exam.

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