By Kevin Dwyer
Many skills are admired and sought by individuals who want to progress in an organization. But one which would make them more effective in an organization is usually treated indifferently, by the individual and the organization. People studying for their MBA and aspiring executives concentrate their learning on marketing, strategy, finance, e-commerce and organisational behaviour but rarely show an interest in project management.
Yet the skills of a good project manager, if practised, will improve an individual’s capability in almost all other disciplines and are every bit as valuable as those of a good CEO.
The basic skills a project manager must master include estimation, stakeholder management, sequential and parallel planning, contract management, scope management and risk management.
A good project manager is a good estimator. He/she is good at estimating time, cost and effort. They understand the level of error involved in any estimation. They understand the relevance of inherent errors from different data sources in making their estimations.
Project managers can sort fact from opinion. They can handle ambiguity and work through their project undaunted by the uncertainty of project elements as long as the degree of uncertainty is known.
Closely allied to being able to work within ambiguous circumstances is a finely honed understanding of risk. Good project managers plan contingencies based on their experience, their project team’s experience and other available data to ameliorate risk. The nature of the contingencies is dependent on the probability and impact of the risk.
Stakeholder management is a desired ability in a senior executive. The ability to talk with a wide variety of people from tradesmen to board level is seen as a valuable skill.
Project managers must be good stakeholder managers. Conversing at board level to report on milestones, issue management and risk must be as natural as talking to tradesmen about getting the job done to a standard, a cost and time.
Project managers must be able to develop a communications strategy understanding which mediums to use and at what frequency to communicate what message to which audience.
Strategic planning requires executives to be able to move from the overall strategic intent of a plan to the detail and back again. They need the “helicopter quality” that good project managers have. Good project managers are in control of the detail, understanding the impact changes in the detail have on the overall plan.
Further, good project managers are able to sequentially plan, determining the dependency of one activity, finishing before another can start. In addition they parallel plan those activities which are not dependent on another.
They plan and manage a complex set of activities which are either dependent on one another for completion or compete for the same resources. They plan and “manage to” an outcome in terms of function, time and cost. Good project planners have the skills of good business planners.
A good project manger is a good delegator. They understand the competence required to complete a task and delegate the authority to a person who has the competence to do a task. If the person does not have the competence they arrange for an intervention to improve their competency.
Senior executives require a good understanding of contract management, to be aware of what has been built into contracts and to be sure that their organisation receives the services to the quality stipulated in the contract for the cost stipulated in the contract.
Project managers not only have a contract management responsibility, frequently they are the individual who creates the contract.
The key skill of a good project manager, however is evident when they get done what they say they will get done when they say it will be done fat the cost for which they say it will be completed.
For a project manager to resist scope creep requires them to not only be in control of the plan, the estimates, the resource constraints, the risks, the communications strategy and the external service providers, if there are any, they have to be bloody minded in the nicest possible way.
Good project managers have the skills required of good CEOs. They apply their skills on a single or a few projects where a CEO applies their skills across several projects.
Projects may be difficult because of their length, their complexity, their political nature or their high profile. Difficult projects require good project managers.
Unfortunately, good project managers are usually not valued by their organisation and are required to move into general management to get recognition for their skills. Students at university shy away from the subject.
The corollary, of course is that unsuitable people are thrust into the role of project managers and most projects fail the test of full functionality, on time and on budget.
Are you undervaluing your project managers and at what cost?