What makes a great IT Project Manager?
You’ll have read many posts on the subject. I have too.
This week, , ‘Never, ever fear failure. Seven powerful lessons you can learn when your IT project fails’, a
a post by David Cotgreave from Stoneseed got me thinking.
David explores the valuable lessons that IT Project failures can teach us. He writes, “We’re all encouraged to learn from and try to replicate best practice, but can more be learned from worst practice? … Both yours and that of others.”
David’s conclusion, that it can, leads me to wonder … could the negative experiences of Project managers, the skills gaps and the lack of certain natural characteristics within individuals’ make-up point to what makes a great Project Manager?
The following is based on feedback from Project Managers who have recently left the ‘industry’. With their permission, I’ll share some of the reasons they decided it wasn’t for them.
Their candid answers illustrate what you need to succeed as an IT Project Manager – so whether you are looking to hire one, seeking to become one or being one already you’re wondering why you’re not currently enjoying the success you feel you deserve – the flipside of each reason for quitting could just be the qualities that YOU should look for.
1 – “I’m great with people but it turns out managing them isn’t my strength!”
It’s interesting how often I hear this, usually from Project team members who have risen through the ranks to a position of leadership only to find that it can be quite isolating. You do have to make decisions that people don’t like, often people that you have worked with and had a laugh with. You also have to become a coach and mentor and some managers struggle with this at first.
FLIPSIDE: If you are a great manager and motivator of people you could make a great Project Manager! The key, I think, is to adopt a strategy of managing tasks and things and leading people.
2 – “I couldn’t get used to being hands-off”
Again, this is fairly common among individuals who have been used to attending to the day to day details and hands-on work of an IT project. As a Project manager, you have to trust someone else to do all that or you’ll end up drowning in details. Delegation can be a tricky habit to get into at first but it’s crucial if you want to succeed as a Project Manager.
FLIPSIDE: If you are a natural delegator you have a key skill of a highly effective IT Project Manager.
3 – “I struggled with added value”
When pushed to elaborate, this PM clearly saw her department’s function as a business cost centre. Along with janitorial supplies and A4 paper. Exciting!
To be fair this was the way the Finance Director and CIO saw the Project Management function too. Most organisations take a different view and through strategy aligned transformation IT Project Managers add real business value.
FLIPSIDE: If you see yourself more dynamic than a mop and can see how YOU can drive business value, efficiency and growth through IT strategy, then IT Project Management could be the perfect showcase for your talents.
4 – “I hated all the endless admin”
There is a lot of paperwork, scheduling, reporting, governance, documenting and communicating scope change, … etc. etc. …
You can’t hate it though. OK, you don’t have to love it either but it is such an integral part of the job that you at least have to make your peace with the ‘paper-work’.
FLIPSIDE: Spreadsheets rarely show up in Top Ten lists about stuff people love about their job. BUT if you have the discipline for the thorough documentation needed for status reporting and robust governance you could have the skills that many PMs admit they need to improve!
5 – “I’m not a process person – I found it restrictive and strangling”
As your IT Projects get more complex the more you will need to follow effective processes to increase the chance of project success. To be frank, if you’re more ad-hoc in your approach then your project management career could be a short one. Of course, it’s good to have that spark of creativity, especially when things go wrong. Often, PMs can enjoy early success on smaller projects working in this way and then find themselves out of their depth as they tackle larger projects.
FLIPSIDE: Great implementers of processes, who can follow through and communicate the benefits of a process with stakeholders make tremendous Project Managers.
If you are looking to hire Project Management talent it could be worth polling candidates on how they feel about each of these five statements. Having said that, if you have an effective IT Project talent recruitment partner, you should never interview a candidate who identifies with any of them.