Thursday, September 22, 2011

Finding Your Niche as a Project Manager

What are you good at? At what do you excel? What areas are project team members frequently complementing you on? Do you get positive customer feedback in a particular area on a regular basis?

For me it’s communication. I once had a business analyst tell me that of all the project managers he’s ever worked with, he received by far the most email from me. He said he felt that he was included on all communications and always knew the latest status and where things stood on my projects. That made me feel good because I consider communication to be the #1 responsibility of the project manager. If you’re doing that right, then that’s half the battle.

Capitalize and accommodate

Everyone has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. No one is strong in everything. Think about those job interviews – you’re asked about your strengths and weaknesses. You know you have some weaknesses – you may even have a huge glaring weakness that you certainly can’t tell them about, but you have to tell them something during the interview because even they know that no one is perfect. But seriously, in order to be successful we absolutely must know our strengths and weaknesses – both in order to capitalize on our strengths and accommodate for our weaknesses. We have to find our niche – what we excel at – and run with it.

Like I said, for me it’s communication. I’m also pretty good at organizing, but I’m best served having a strong business analyst along side me on a technical project who can serve as that person to document the customer need well and ensure that we continue that process as the skilled technical team takes over and creates technical specs from functional requirements. I’m technical – I used to be a developer and an application development manager and have led developers on projects for years as well as being able to estimate development efforts with the best of them – but I’m best left to coordinate, communicate, assign and delegate and leave the detailed documentation to the skilled project team resources.

Why projects fail

More projects fail than succeed. I’ve always stated that more than 50% of all projects fail. A recent number I saw in a Project Management Institute LinkedIn group study showed that approximately 76% of all projects fail to some degree. That number is huge. Some just will fail because they’re poorly defined or never should have happened. Some will fail because funding will run out. Others will fail because of senior management or the customer brings it crashing to the ground because of ever-changing requirements. It’s hard to say what will cause a project to fail until you’re in the middle of it.

Project manager failure points

We must also admit that many projects will fail because the project manager was not equipped to handle the project. Either they didn’t understand what their limitations were, couldn’t communicate with their team or manage the customer well, or weren’t good leaders or decision makers, or we’re very organized. It could be one of a hundred things.

The key for a project manager is to understand how they think and work professionally and what they’re good at and what they must admit that they are not good at. Most importantly, they must recognize those weaknesses and filter those responsibilities to the team whenever possible. Then, and only then, will they give their projects and team members their greatest chance at overall project success.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Getting the Right Information to the Right People

As the purveyor of good, sound, efficient, and effective communication, the project manager must ensure that he’s not just tossing whatever status info into the air that he feels like to see what sticks to what individuals. After all, giving a C-level customer information on what scripts you ran today while testing the latest bug fix is not an example of good, sound, efficient, and effective communication, is it?

I’ve even gone so far as to create what I would consider a very detailed, yet high-level status report for the client project sponsor of an organization I was consulting for only to have him wave his hands in the air and say, “I don’t want to see this level of detail.” I was astonished, because I thought it was exactly what he would want to see. Next I gave him a detailed issues list with dates, assignments, and status updates and he exclaimed something like, “I’m in heaven, you get it!” You never know who wants what till you try, I guess.

It all depends on the individual – that end user of your information. As the project manager you can spend hours putting together great detail every week but if it’s the wrong information for the wrong individual – even if it’s great info – you still failed.

Set and get expectations early

As the project manager you want your status information to be seen by the masses – for your career, for your reputation, and for the visibility of your project. But you also want to make sure that the status information you send out means something to the receiving parties. In my example above, what I originally prepared was going to be totally ignored by my customer and he wasn’t going to be very happy in the long run.

Go into project kickoff with your customer with an example of what information you intend to disseminate on a weekly basis. Use that as a starting point to work from. This is the best time to get their input and to fine-tune the details that you provide them with. You may even need to create a higher-level summary report for their senior management. And, of course, meet with your senior management and identify key data that they would like to see on an ongoing basis. They aren’t likely going to want your detailed issues list, but they probably will want your budget analysis and forecast every week – that means a lot to them especially if you’re managing a large, high-dollar and profitable project.

Refine as needed

Finally, refine what you provide each party as needed throughout the engagement. Rarely do I find that my first status reports on a project are identical in format and content to my last. Things change, needs change, priorities change – and all this affects who wants what from the ongoing status information on your engagements. One solution is providing a customized project management dashboard like the one offered in Project Drive, the effective web-based project management software product.


Project managers must be rigid at times and follow best practices in order to help ensure project success. But project status reporting is one area that where it’s ok for the project manager to show flexibility. After all, it is the project manager’s responsibility to be effective and efficient communicators and the foundation of that is getting the right information to the right people at the right time so that good and timely decisions can be made for the project.

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