The Portrait of a Project Manager

You study to become a project manager, accrue experience as you lead project after project, update your management skills by attending workshops, exercise leadership each day, and learn from your mentors. But have you wondered what personality traits you need to become an effective project manager or, ideally, a leader? Find out which personality traits are especially useful for a project manager.

Generally, an effective project manager is:

  • Honest
  • Open
  • Diplomatic
  • Assertive
  • Persuasive
  • Able to see the “big picture”
  • Able to handle uncertainty

Probably the most appreciated quality of a leader is honesty. Always keep your promises if you want the team to trust you as their leader. Being open with your intentions and open to suggestions is also something you want to be known for as a project manager if you want to gain your team’s trust and maintain it. Being diplomatic is essential when managing people, as you’ll be managing a palette of personalities, some contrasting with yours or with each other, and you’ll have to make sure the team functions harmoniously as one entity. You’ll have to resolve conflicts, motivate the team to do what they don’t feel like doing, communicate bad news to the key stakeholders, negotiate budget and schedule extensions, and more—all tasks requiring diplomacy. Along with diplomacy, you’ll need to exercise assertiveness and persuasiveness to convince others to support your decisions.

A project manager who cannot see the forest for the trees will be far from an effective manager, and likely lean towards micromanaging. The project manager has to be able to see the big picture at all times, not get lost in details and letting the project’s budget slip while focusing too closely on the tasks being done perfectly according to schedule, for example. Of course, as a project manager, you cannot know everything about every aspect of the project at any time, and this is why you should learn to delegate tasks. This allows you to focus on the big picture of the project at any point along its lifecycle so that you are able to make swift and good decisions should a crisis arise. (more…)

Autocratic or Participative Project Manager: Which Type Are You?

By | August 26th, 2014|Project Management|0 Comments

There are as many types of project managers as there are projects, so any attempt to create the ultimate classification of project managers would equal chasing rainbows. However, since a project manager is essentially a manager, I’ll talk about the two main types of project managers classified according to the style of management they are adopting: autocratic and participative.

Autocratic Project Managers

Autocratic management strictly means the manager makes all the decisions, without involving the team members. But such a project manager would obviously be a bad project manager – imagine planning a project without involving the team, estimating the duration of tasks without the team’s input, making all decisions without considering the team. So by autocratic project manager, I mean a project manager with a tendency towards autocracy, not autocratic in the purest sense of the word.

You can think of this kind of project manager as the traditional manager – not the “whip in hand” manager, but one who makes most decisions unilaterally, with minor input from the project team. Such a project manager is able to make quick decisions and, if he or she is technically competent and experienced, those can be good decisions. When you have a newly formed team, unwilling to express their opinions or give their input, an experienced project manager with an autocratic tendency may be what the team needs. Also, in a crisis requiring swift decisions, an autocratic project manager is what it takes. Nevertheless, such project manager imposes authority rather than solves problems through negotiation with the team, and on the long term, the project may suffer from poor team coherence. (more…)

5 Reasons Even a Small Project Needs a Project Manager

By | March 13th, 2014|Project Management, Risk Management, Team Management|Comments Off on 5 Reasons Even a Small Project Needs a Project Manager

Why hire a project manager for running a small project? “The team can multitask; they just need to organize their workload.” “The project is simple; the team needs no leadership – they just need to get the work done.” “We can spare no money; a project manager is a luxury we cannot afford.”

A project manager may seem an extra cost to the organization, but in reality, a good project manager helps to keep the cost of the project low, the customer’s satisfaction high, and the risks to the project under control. If an organization wants its small project to succeed, that project needs a project manager. If resources are limited, a part-time project manager might be the choice. Indeed, some small projects may be simple, and team members can, and usually do, multitask, but the need for a project manager remains. Project managers do more than just organizing the work of the team members. Here are just five reasons even a small project needs a project manager.

Large or small implies the same constraints

A small project is no different from a large project in terms of constraints like cost and time. All project constraints must be taken into account for the project to succeed. To complete a project in time and within budget means the team needs to work efficiently. But usually the project team is more focused on making the deliverables successful than they are focused on making the project successful. The project manager focuses on both the success of the deliverables and the success of the project. By taking the burden of project management from the team members’, they can fully focus on executing the project. The project manager manages the project so that the team can manage the work.

Planning is a must

It is too easy to skip the planning phase of a small project. Because a small project is considered simple, the team might be tempted to skip planning and start working on the deliverables. But the lack of planning triggers rework, missed deadlines, and schedule delays. The motivational speaker Brian Tracy said, “Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution.” The project manager plans the project so that the team can efficiently execute the work and complete the deliverables. Ideally, there is no rework and, thus, the team spends less time on the project, which translates into lower costs for the organization. (more…)

How Important is Domain Knowledge for the Project Manager?

By | October 10th, 2013|Project Management|1 Comment

knowledgeBeing able to communicate effectively, manage people, quickly solve problems, or be organized are essential skills for any good project manager. Being a leader is even better. Knowing how to employ project management tools and techniques is key. But having domain knowledge, or a broad understanding of what the project is creating, is not usually considered an essential skill even though it can be crucial for planning a project properly, creating realistic schedules and work breakdown structures, and understanding the complexity of the team’s tasks.

What is Domain Knowledge?

Importantly, domain knowledge should not be mistaken for technical knowledge; one can have domain knowledge but not be an expert. It is true that sometimes it is not a good idea to have a project manager that is also a technical expert because a project manager needs to manage the people who manage technical tasks, and not perform the tasks in their place. But domain knowledge is essential considering the bulk of a project manager’s job is communication.

The Need for a Common Language

Communication is what takes up most of a project’s manager time, and effective communication is likely the common trait of good project managers. There has to be a common “language” between the team and the project manager, and this implies domain or even technical knowledge. First of all, the project manager needs to effectively exchange information and ideas with the team members. This would be impossible or just ineffective without domain knowledge. Second, the project manager needs to keep all key stakeholders updated with the project’s evolution. Knowing the technical terminology helps the project manager gain the stakeholders’ credibility.

Benefits of Domain Knowledge

From another stand point, a project manager that has first-hand knowledge of what the team is doing should -at least theoretically- earn the project team’s respect or trust more easily than a project manager who is an alien to the project domain. A project manager with solid domain knowledge is able to quickly grasp if the team’s schedule estimates are realistic, although this would be more a question of being a good project manager: earning the trust of the team and using historical data, like lessons learned, to back up the team’s estimates. In many cases, estimates are optimistic; other times, some team members might come up with overestimates just because they assume the domain-alien project manager has no idea of the tasks’ complexity and how long they take to complete. (more…)

Project Team Performance – Beyond Appraising and Reporting

By | August 29th, 2013|Project Management, Resource Management, Team Management|Comments Off on Project Team Performance – Beyond Appraising and Reporting

project team performanceOne of the project manager’s main responsibilities, team performance management is more than evaluating, monitoring, and reporting how the team is doing. It implies planning and creating the right environment for performance, monitoring performance, providing team members with constant feedback on their performance, finding solutions for below-expectations performance, and rewarding good performance.

Is Team Performance Evaluation a Good Thing?

Appraising team’s performance using the appropriate metrics remains an important, though not essential, part of performance management. The objectivity of performance evaluation is a soft spot. Some claim that no evaluation of an individual’s performance, whether done with the right metrics or not, is objective since performance is not a quantitative measure. Others claim that evaluating individual performance instead of team’s performance is detrimental to the team’s morale and productivity, as well as the quality of the project’s deliverables. Comparing one team member to another can destroy team cohesion and trust, but not comparing team members to each other can allow some to take a free ride.

Is it Necessary for a Project Team?

In most cases, team performance evaluation needs to be done, whether it is to satisfy program management, to identify and reward top performers with a pay increase, or to identify and address any deficiencies in the team’s performance, which, if left unattended, may pose risks to the project’s schedule. But evaluating team performance is not only done for the sole purpose of creating a report for the upper management. A good project manager informs (in private) each team member of the outcome of his or her performance appraisal and works with each team member to find ways of improvement. (more…)

How to Minimize the Risk of Delaying Your Project by a Customer

By | March 29th, 2013|Business Management, Project Management, Risk Management|1 Comment

How to minimize risksWhen it comes to project delays there are several factors that can lead to such situation. The customer is one of them and there are two issues that can be discussed: what to do when the delay already happened and the other how to minimize the risk of happening such a delay.

Customer delaying the project is a major risk that should not be overlooked in any project. Minimizing this risk is not easy to be accomplished and its probability differs from client to client. But in case it happens mitigation actions must be performed.

Write clear specifications

In order to keep things clear and avoid misunderstandings it is important to create a solid project plan with clear specifications regarding possible project delays and the measures and penalties that apply. When it happens communicate clear factual evidence of the cost and timescale impact of delays caused by the customer. This is very important to keep things clear and to avoid the situation when the customers may argue that it is his fault and the contractor is suspected for hiding other delays behind those caused directly by them. Issues need to be resolved in a timely fashion to minimize risk and loss on both sides.

When dealing with external clients and when creating a contract it is advisable to add a clause that states that the client is responsible for prompt responses to ensure the project is not delayed. If the client provides delayed responses, actions etc. that lead to project delays then it nullifies timeline clauses in the contract. If the contract doesn’t have this kind of specifications then it is preferred to get a lawyer, or a better one in case a lawyer already exists.

In return when dealing with internal team the project manager has to take the same actions. Although there are no contractual terms that can generate a direct financial penalty, it will get noted at review time and possibly no raise…

Know the customer management

Avoiding the project delay problem is not a healthy thing to do. Escalation might reveal there are issues on the customer side where their project manager is not communicating clearly enough internally. This is why when contracting a new project it is good to know the customer and almost a must to know his management team. Knowing what to expect from them can decide whether to accept the new contract or to reject it. And even if the project is accepted contractual terms can be added to compensate the lack of professionalism on the customer management side. (more…)

What to Do when the Customer is Delaying Your Project

By | February 25th, 2013|Business Management, Project Management Software, Risk Management|1 Comment

customers delaying projectsContrary to the popular belief, the customer is not always right. In fact, sometimes the customer may be the one delaying the project by not giving the approval of a completed phase when required, by not communicating effectively, by missing deadlines for the review of the deliverables – shortly, by being aloof to the project.

Customer’s delay translates into delay of the project, monetary loss, and decrease of the motivation and morale of the project team. Sometimes the customer may be too busy, especially if he or she represents a large organization and yours is just a side project for them. Other times, the customer may not see the implications of his or her attitude or may be just relying on the project manager’s decisions. Regardless of the motivation, customer’s delaying the project is a problem that you, as the project manager, must solve.

Ideally, this situation could have been avoided by accurate project planning. A communication plan, including deadlines to be respected by both sides, and monetary penalties for project delays should have been approved by the customer. More important, since customer’s performance is actually a major project risk, mitigation plans for it should have been included in the risk management plan. However, in small projects, sometimes this documentation or part of it has been overlooked. (more…)

The Monkey Manager

By | December 17th, 2012|PM Jokes|Comments Off on The Monkey Manager

One day a man enters a pet shop. And while looking for a pet for his son he notices a young monkey for sale at $10.000. Intrigued by the price he asks the seller:

– Why do you have such a big price for this monkey?

– Well… He knows how to work with a Windows computer, he can work with office documents and writes HTML.

A little bit further another monkey with a $15.000 price.

– And what can this monkey do for this amount of money?

– He can work on Linux, knows how to do programming in Java and code in PHP.

In the end the man also finds a monkey valued at $20.000:

– Incredible! Can you tell me now what can this monkey do? That is a lot of money…

– Hmm… I do not know exactly what he does but the other two monkeys call him “Project Manager“.