Project Management

How to Produce a Great Project!

Some folks say that hiring good Project Managers is now more science than art. I have always found that meeting a person and talking with them providing examples of project problems and hearing their approach and final answer to solving the problem is vital.

PMP certified project managers understand Project Management at a certain level as defined by the requirements set by PMI. Those requirements include a number of hours of experience and training before allowing them to even take the certification test. Then they take the test and after passing it they receive their PMP certification.

If the person you are trying to hire has the certification, you can assume that they understand project management, scope management, risks to a project, schedule management, quality management, communications management  and can notify management of potential issues. To see what they are taught you can look at the PMBOK located on

They have had hands on experience creating project plans and all the necessary artifacts to ensure a smooth running project. Certified PMPs have to have a few good-sized projects under their belts before they get this certification. They also have to have 30 hours of PMI certified training.

Sometimes you need to go deeper than the PMP certification. The certification tells you that they meet the standardized requirements of a Project Management Professional, but it does not address style, critical thinking, and approach to challenges, personality and more importantly, motivation. I am a very relational person, and I can usually tell in a few minutes if a person will click with the culture and customer they will be dealing with.

What PMOs need are Project Managers who have a project management core knowledge set and experience with visioning skills, leadership skills, a quality focus and a knowledge of all the PMP tools and tricks.

The Project Manager and the Business Analyst get all the requirements down working with Stakeholders. The business manager signs off on the core elements. The Project Manager creates all of the elements of the Project Plan and then the Project Manager monitors and controls the project on a daily basis.

Engineers often say “we can do it this way to meet the timeline, but this feature won’t be available” and the project manager says “we need that feature and the deadline is immovable.”  This is when the Change Management process comes in. Each Project should have a Change Management team and process. Options are shown to the Change Management team, often trading off either time to market, resources or functionality. Sometimes, if the change is approved, something different than the original project plan occurs and the original Project documentation is updated. If time to market is not changed, the product may be released on schedule, but fizzles. $xx million is not realized and the project is a failure. The project manager did his job. It was released on time and within budget, right?

The Project Manager is so wrapped up in project risk factors, slipping schedule, and budget that he/she can’t see the forest for the trees. Once you are in a project, there are pressures from all sides. The developer can’t do it this way unless he re-writes an entire module causing a two-month delay. Or the developer says that something just can’t be done and pushes back on the Project Manager. Or the business manager cannot articulate why something needs to be a certain way.

What is needed here is a Project Manager with the knowledge and the intestinal fortitude to push hard. She pushes herself hard to fully understand the vision of the business manager: All the subtleties, all the subjective qualities and the reasons for each of them. She doesn’t stop pushing herself until she fully sees the vision of the business manager and that vision becomes hers as well. Now you have someone who understands technology and sees the full vision of what is needed to make the $xx million in 18 months.

Now this type of Project Manager pushes back on the developer. She knows if the developer is trying to blow by a fast ball. She also has the leadership skills to push the team above and beyond in order to fully realize the vision. Short cuts and compromises are not part of the process. “Not good enough” is frequently uttered by this Project Manager. If something is more difficult than anticipated, the Project Manager can speak with the change management team and fully explain the benefits of a delay or the impact of adding the feature or function in a follow-up release. If the feature is going to take two months, the Project Manager works her leadership magic and pushes the team to get it done in one month. She examines the critical path; she may move resources around and do whatever it takes to come in on time.

Developers are a very smart and creative group. There are always new ways to approach something to trim a schedule and still meet or exceed requirements. They love to build a Cadillac when the project plan calls for a Volkswagen. They just need to be led appropriately. I’ve never met a developer who didn’t love a challenge. They just hate getting beat up all the time for missed schedules or a buggy product that tends to be out of their control anyway. When you let a good developer be a good developer, you get amazing results.

Now all the tools and tricks the Project Manager learned during PMP certification come into play. These tools combined with leadership skills, visioning skills and a quality focus makes this Project Manager a Seasoned Project Manager.

Finding a Seasoned Project Manager is no easy task, because basically, you’re hiring your replacement. See how succession planning just kind of happens when you hire the right people?

So where have these Seasoned-Project Managers come from? One successful combination is a very good Business Analyst that became a developer and then moved into project management. Good Business Analysts inject themselves into the visioning process when they’re gathering requirements. They just become too far removed during the development from the finished product to really have an impact on product quality during the process. That frustration is typically what drives these Business Analysts to become developers and then Project Managers. This combination has worked six out of seven times for me personally.

During an interview, ask the candidate to define visioning. How has that candidate used visioning in the past? How has this skill led to delivering successful solutions? Have the candidate tell you about a project that failed and why. What were the lessons learned? What would he/she have done differently? Did they keep a record of the lessons learned so that they can use this historical data for the next project?

Ask the candidates to describe their relationship with the technical teams. Find out if it was an adversarial relationship or more of a high-powered team. If it was more of a team environment, you should see a change in the candidate’s face when he/she describes it. These Seasoned Project Managers thrive in team environments. They have an inherent, almost genetic, understanding that things can never be done alone and can describe how, at times; the team members could almost read each others’ mind.

Ask candidates to define “good enough.” When you hear enough of these answers, you’ll know what you’re looking for and more importantly, what you don’t want. This is just an opinion based upon my personal experience. I started out as a Software Engineer and moved on to Manage/Direct engineering groups. When I got my PMP I was well equipped to work with the Software team.

Great projects are like great works of art. They are memorable and live beyond their time!



November 6, 2008 - Posted by | Business Analyst, PMP, Project Management | , , , ,

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