At a recent holiday dinner party, while we were discussing local jobs, one of my friends said that the project manager position pays less when compared to others IT jobs like technology architect etc. The reason for this is because in some organizations the project manager is seen as a project coordinator. I don’t know if this argument is true or how many of you agree with this. I did not. For past few weeks I was thinking of writing a blog on project management but this got delayed due to holidays. So, I decided to start my new year with this blog.
My view of a project manager:
I visualize a project manager as a highly knowledgeable and experienced professional with a unique combination of the following skills: (a) knowledge of product and services (b) project and people management experience and (c) leadership skills. I believe that a project manager should possess all of these attributes in order to successfully start and finish a project. I will try to elaborate more on these 3 keys to successful project management in the following paragraphs.
Key #1: Knowledge of product, services and business processes:
The PMI (Project Management Institute) definition of a project says “A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” Keeping this definition in mind, I would like to talk about why I believe that before you can become a project manager, you need to know what it takes to create a product or implement a service. If the project is implementing an ERP software (e.g. SAP, Oracle) for an organization, then it is important that the project manager has prior experience in this field. What this means is that the project manager has, not only the prior experience of managing such project and leading a such project team, but has played a team member’s role in the past. This is what I meant by knowledge of service. Knowledge of the product is equally important. In today’s age of innovation, everything is going through rapid changes. Technology is changing the way we sell and consume products and services. So, it is important that the project manager understands the latest capabilities of the product and the methodology of how the product related services are offered to customers. For example, if you are implementing an ERP software, the project manager should have knowledge of the different capabilities of the ERP software and what it means for the organization; how this can be leveraged to get the most out of it. A good understanding of the product will help the project manager ensure that he has right people, with the relevant skills and experience, on his project team. Then he can lead a meaningful discussion with his team and the customer while effectively monitoring deliverables from project team members.
The next important knowledge domain, relevant for a project manager, is business process. The customer of an ERP implementation project may belong to any industry: consumer goods, wholesale, banking and finance, technology, just to name a few. A high level understanding of business processes related to the customer’s industry would be a great asset for the project manager. As a leader of the team, a project manager needs to get the Big Picture. Knowledge of industry business processes and related best practices will help the project manager understand and appreciate his customer’s expectations and as the team delivers the same.
Knowledge of service pertains more to consulting service projects. Here the project manager is expected to be on top of project methodology, tools, templates and best practices.
Key #2: Project and People Management Experience:
The Project Management Institute (PMI) definition says that a project consists of four important phases: Planning, Execution, Monitoring & Controlling and Closing. So, it is expected that a project manager is knowledgeable of the processes of these project phases and how they are integrated and work together. A project may be developing a specific product or providing a specific service to an organization. Although PMBOK is the most well-known project methodology, there are other methodologies available for specific product or type of service. As an example, “ASAP” is the project methodology widely used for implementing SAP ERP software for businesses. It is expected that the project manager is well-versed with the methodology relevant for the product or service and have experience using it in past projects.
The PMI is considered as a globally recognized institute for project management standards. “A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge”, aka PMBOK guide, is considered as the bible of project management. A project manager should have read the PMBOK guide before starting a project and used it as a reference during the project. Project management certification on top of project management experience is always a good credential to have.
I especially stress experience because the success of a project depends on the knowledge, experience and style of a project manager. In other words, there are both science and arts sides of project management. Science of project management is something that can be learned by reading books on the topic. The art is something that you can learn from your and other’s experience of managing projects and end customers. Understanding the organization, its culture, its people, its politics and key stakeholders, play an important role in the success of a project. How well you can do this will depend on your ability to manage people, interpersonal relationships and communication style. Reading books on the topic may help you become a master in the science of project management. But, the art of this comes to you only with your experience. You progressively get better at it as you manage more and more projects.
Understanding people’s psychology, work habits and history and interaction with other coworker is another area where the project manager needs to spend time. A project consists of many stake holders: project team members (who work on specific assigned project tasks), team leads, sponsors and executive management team (VP, CIO, CFO and CEO). The manager has the task to understand and manage the expectations of all of these stakeholders and earn their trust. Team members need to trust their project manager and look upon him as their leader. Team members need to complete their individual project tasks and report the daily/weekly/monthly status’ to the project manager. The sponsors and executive management team must support the project manager through all phases of the project; they need to work with the manager as he deals with issues impacting time-quality-cost constraints of the project and manages the change control process in the project.
Key #3: Leadership
The project manager is the leaderof the entire team. His or her responsibility is to keep the project team focused on the project goal and aware of the expected deliverables and deadlines. He is the person whose decision- making and leadership skills are tested when the project team faces a crisis. His ability to implement appropriate processes can help minimize risk to the project. Just like a leader of an organization, the manager needs to possess, showcase and exercise management skills throughout all phases of the project. For example, during the planning phase, the project manager can lead the project team by helping them define attainable and realistic project scopes. Following is the list of a few tasks that the project manager can use to showcase his leadership skills:
1. Update project plan, reviews project status and upcoming deliverables with the team and management.
2. Ongoing adjustment of the project plan and team’s schedule when necessary, keeping customer’s needs and project charter in mind.
3. Review status of deliverables from team members and take necessary action to prevent delays with deliverables.
4. Establish open communication with team members, understand their concerns and earn the trust of the team and management.
5. Coaches and mentors team members and helps them to be successful.
6. Monitors team member’s performance and provides feedback to help them be better at what they do.
7. Ensures the project quality reviews are done based on the quality guidelines.
8. Ensures that end-to-end testing of the product or service is done using best practices.
9. Works with the team to resolve project issues. Asks for management’s help to resolve issues when necessary.
10. Collects lessons learned from the team and documents them for use by future projects and other project managers.
11. Try to be passionate about everything you do as the manager and infuse your passion into team members.
The list of tasks that are on the project manger’s plate at any given time can be overwhelming. So, like a leader, the project manager needs to delegate some tasks to his sub ordinates (e.g., team leads) when it makes sense. As the project manager develops a relationship of trust with the team, he can count on their help for success.
The topic of project management is too vast to address in just one article. With this article, however, I want to shed light on three important keys of project management. I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and will share your valuable comments. I wish you a Happy and successful New Year.