You Need a Project Manager Quickly – Whom Do You Choose?

During the day-to-day running of every organisation, there are going to be times when something lands on your desk that requires immediate action using resources you hadn’t planned for.

A colleague of mine was recounting a situation when they won a huge contract with an infrastructure company which meant the entire business had to mobilise and get a team on-site within a month. This timescale didn’t leave them enough time to recruit the skills necessary externally, so internal promotion was the only choice. But whom should they choose?

The most important role was that of project manager.

The initial thought was to look at the current organisation chart and pick one of the line managers who had already worked their way up the ranks. It would be assumed that because they had made it to manager, they could, therefore, manage a project.

However, this is not necessarily true.

Different organisational departments will tend to have different methods for promoting their staff. For example, an accounts department will often be managed by a highly qualified accountant. He or she may have risen through the ranks, but they will have attained their position because of their skill and authority in their particular skill set. Whether they are a good ‘people person’ or know traditional management techniques is usually a side issue.

Could they manage the intricacies of a large project? Their accounting qualifications wouldn’t give you an insight into this; you’d have to dig deeper.

Conversely, some managers have very little technical knowledge of the departments they run. In the IT world, it’s common to see an office full of extremely technically skilled staff led by a manager that has been promoted from other departments. It’s common to find that technical staff do not have the managerial skills necessary to handle the day-to-day running of a department, and their manager couldn’t even begin to work within department he is managing.

And so choosing a project manager can’t simply be a matter of cherry picking people from an organisation chart. You need to have better selection criteria.

Luckily for my colleague who needed a project manager quickly, their training manager had been involved in PRINCE2 training courses and called for assistance from a mentor. They came up with a selection criterion which, although not comprehensive, was enough to allow them to choose someone quickly.

Here’s what they based their decision on.

Excellent organisation skills

In every company, you will find people who know exactly where everything is and be able to take you to it straight away. You ask for a report, they reach behind and pull it out of a bookcase. You want to know the details of an upcoming sales event; they know everything about it and give you the details there and then.

Conversely, there are those that have to dig through a desk full of paperwork, find things ‘filed’ in the bin and forget to log significant events.

Good project managers are often the former type. They know where things are when things are happening and they don’t leave things to chance.

Great attention to detail

This actually goes hand-in-hand with organisation skills. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the detail” and so many issues can be caused by people making incorrect assumptions based on incomplete information. When this happens, there’s potential to cause bigger problems and delays further down the line.

Being able to scan the minutia of a project’s details and pick out where things need more information is a skill that not many people have.

Although you don’t want to choose a pedant who picks up on every tiny little issue, you need to find someone who can work out what’s important to raise as a potential problem, and which they know does not warrant further investigation.

The perfect person in your organisation could be the one that, while generally quite quiet during a presentation, spoke up when they noticed something small, but significant.

Excellent communication skills

Communication is consistently the one area which is cited as the leading cause of failure in projects. Project managers must be able to communication and articulate well, otherwise ambiguity can creep in, and this can lead to project failure.

If you’re on the lookout for a member of staff to quickly fill the role of a project manager, then look for the one that communicates well, can get a point across with no vagueness and, importantly, listens. Communication is two-way, it’s not about barking orders, it’s about assessing feedback and adapting to it.

Ability to lead

This actually goes hand-in-hand with communication, as good leaders are generally good communicators. The real leaders in your company are those that are always out and about with the staff, understanding what makes them tick, and being able to get the best out of them.

It’s very rare a manager that is aloof and is rarely seen with his or her staff is described as a good leader.  Old-school managerial techniques don’t work here, and you’re looking someone that staff already respect.

Good IT skills

Although you won’t be recruiting your new project manager on his or her ability to use Microsoft Project, you will want them to have at least a basic understanding and appreciation of IT systems.

Most communication with the client and project team is going to be via technology, whether that’s email, messenger or Skype, so your project manager cannot be a Luddite.

In some cases, they may be managing remote teams or even third party organisations. Again, they can’t be caught like a rabbit in the headlights when someone announces they need a particular type of technology to get the work done. They must be ready to adapt.

Choose wisely, choose once

Choosing someone to become a project manager, when they’ve never done the job before, isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, nor is it fair just to dump the position on them and expect it to run perfectly smoothly. Of course, it might well work absolutely perfectly, but it might not, and you need to be able to help them when it doesn’t.

When possible, for example, it would be ideal to get them signed up to a course that would help them specifically with their new role, for example, “Suddenly I’m Running a Project”, a course run by Qeons that provides all the help needed to give your new manager the skills and confidence to ensure the project is a success.

But, above all, ensure a good support structure is in place. Provide access to resources, budgets and useful contacts where necessary and, if all goes to plan, you can look forward to a satisfactory conclusion.

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