When you talk about beer buddies, 99 times out of 100 you won’t have your boss in your mind fetching the pitcher. For most of us and especially those in IT, your boss is often a project manager.
Project managers are probably one of the least understood and most ridiculed people in the Industry. He’s the one who sets up those long yawny meetings, likes to micromanage tasks and generally have no clue about the technicality of the problem. Well, from my experience of being on both sides, I can tell you: It’s not much a theme as it is a cause of worry. More often it’s a case of a project manager loosing his touch with the core aspects of project management and ending up with a convoluted view of what’s Project Management. So what is the correct view?
1) The hard skills aren’t that hard
Probably the worst kept secret. With the myriad of tools and softwares available these days, creating milestones, allocating tasks, approving timesheets and monitoring risks are but just a few clicks away. A 2012 PWC report noted that 44% of project managers use no software, even though PWC found that the use of commercially available PM software increases performance and satisfaction. I have seen and personally used MS Excel on occasions but that’s either very specific or just a waste of time and opportunity.
Most of the managers I have come across seem obsessed by the triple constraints of scope, time and effort. To some it is the most important facet and yes a project manager should deliver his project but how many of these factors does a manager really control and to what extent. When a project runs over budget as over one-third do (Source: Standish Group), it is the negotiation skill that comes handy and is the 2nd point on the list.
2) The soft skills are the tough part
Probably the most common interview question any project manager would face is “Tell me about a crisis situation in your project/work life and how you overcame it”. The honest fact is 100% successful projects are as common as unicorns. But what can a PM do ? The hard fact is PMs cannot take unilateral decisions about any parameters of the Triple constraints. In majority of the firms, PMs cannot hire or fire people. Quite often a PM may not be a line manager as well. It becomes especially frustrating when decisions made or overturned by senior management run contrary to a PMs plan, sometimes even without the PM knowing about it. The truth is PMs tend to have low granted authority but have real accountability of the project.
When I first started out on my PM journey, I used to struggle with these concepts. Slowly a mix of experience, observation and suggestions made me realise that these negativities weren’t the challenge, these were constraints. Once you make the wind your ally, you can sail faster and further and in this case the wind was the illusion of power
Power resides where men believe it resides.
A PM is a figurehead representing owner, arbiter and authority within a project. However this power needs to be projected…subtly. How you project one’s communication and interpersonal skills. The Best definition of a project manager I have come across is: A project manager controls and reduces risk in a project. The risk may be real or perceptual after all it’s still a “risk” and not an “issue”. It’s how one communicates and showcases control decides its severity.
3) Its people who do the work
One of the reasons you assign the words nimble to a startup is because they get work done…quickly. And why is it so ? Faster decisions, less processes, agile teams all good explanations but in reality its the same mix of people. the difference is in the mentality. organisations when they grow large try to implement processes and best practices and many PMs fall for the trap of following it to the letter. More often PMs are tied up by the same processes that was intended to help them.
when sports persons talk about being in the zone, having the rhythm going, they aren’t impervious to the goingons around them, it’s just they are performing better in the same situation. A PM should not alter the situation. Many get into the habit of micromanagement for the sake of illusion of control however people are just not meant to work that way. People like to be in a state of flow and herein a good PM must realise not to oppose the tide but rather channelise it. He should be an enabler.
Just try to remember that processes do not do work, people work and happy people do better work. Ensuring the team is motivated and shares the same goals as the PM does is half the battle and the most important quality for a PM to have.
4) Certifications are just another check box in resume
Imagine being rejected not once, twice but 10 times from a bschool and then just to top it off being rejected by McDonald’s for a job selling happy meals. Now imagine the same person being one of the richest man in the world. That’s the story of Jack Ma. Ma didn’t need Harvard to teach business or McDonald how to handle sales. Hee still ended up founding Alibaba!
See, Knowledge isn’t power. It’s the application that matters. Sadly even today most of corporate L&D focusses on how many certifications you got in the year rather than how deep one’s skill level is. In the race to tick those checkboxes we seldom question the drive, motivation and takeaway of that certification.
A PM job isn’t a technical job, it’s a personality job. How much a PM can influence people, network, build relationships and then leverage all of those to derive the maximum output is what makes a good PM. The checkboxes never help especially when you can google for a best practice but not for a personality.
5) People hate meetings
In this article in Business Insider, Drake Baer gives a wonderful insight into how the late Steve Jobs used to run his meetings. Drake’s quotes an incident from longtime Jobs collaborator Ken Segall.
Jobs was about to start a weekly meeting with Apple’s ad agency.
Then Jobs spotted someone new.
“He stopped cold,” Segall writes. “His eyes locked on to the one thing in the room that didn’t look right. Pointing to Lorrie, he said, ‘Who are you?'”
Calmly, she explained that she was asked to the meeting because she was a part of related marketing projects.
Jobs heard her, and then politely told her to get out.
“I don’t think we need you in this meeting, Lorrie. Thanks,” he said.
It is no brainer that people loose interest in mundane and things they deem unnecessary. A PM must realise the importance of time and when something is working and when it’s not. There is no point in doing meetings just for the sake of it or as a measure to keep tabs. Do it with a purpose and when you know that everyone who’s attending is bringing something of value to the table.
Jeff Bezos is a prime example of how to run a meeting. Before he meets with a product manager on a new idea, he requires the person to send him a 6 page writeup about the idea. The rationale behind this being, it’s easy to hide behind powerpoint bullets but if someone is really committed to the cause, the writeup will provide a true reflection of his/her commitment.
6) Bring Donuts
If all else fails bring Donuts! On a lighter note a PM should be relatable, approachable and perceived human. It helps if your team shares a laugh with you sometimes.