There are plenty of very good resources freely available today on what makes a good project manager. Most of them focus on character traits and qualities such as integrity, enthusiasm, people skills, and so on. These attributes fall in the soft skills category, and are of course essential to the success of any project manager.
There are many kinds of projects, some very large, some small, some involving the amalgamation of many kinds of skills delivered by many professionals and possibly disparate organizations, and some involving very small numbers of very highly skilled technologists. No two projects are exactly the same, and in the same vein project managers in come in all flavours, each with their own style and personal qualities.
In order to provide a common denominator of project management skills, there are certifications available today, the most widely used one possibly being PMI’s PMP. There are other major ones such as CAPM and CompTIA Project+. What each of the courses leading to these certifications teach is a number of techniques, perspectives and approaches that turn vague concepts into formal and well-defined processes, the effectiveness of which can be measured using metrics.
But even so, statistics show that a high percentage of large projects fail. Is it always the project manager’s fault? No, but when I consider successful projects that I’ve known, I did see that there were certain characteristics that seemed common to all the project managers involved. Are these qualities guarantors or success? Once again, the answer is no, a project could still fail for other reasons. But all these other reasons and challenges being equal, perhaps these five things could make a difference in guiding a project to a successful completion.
Understands enough technology
A project manager does not have to be a technology genius nor does he even have to be an expert at the particular technologies used in his/her project. However it does help to have general technology awareness, a technical or applied engineering background, and at least a basic understanding of the technologies being used. It’s one thing to be able to rely on inputs from the technical team to make decisions, it’s another to understand those inputs well enough to be able to ask analytical questions or push back on whatever information is routinely given.
Constantly manages risk
This is perhaps one of the most important things that a project manager should continuously be doing. It’s one thing to solve problems when they occur, but it’s even better to be able to continuously scan for new problems that might lie ahead and take steps to mitigate them on time.
Is a hawk on the critical path
Every project has one critical path, and a good project manager knows from day one what it is and manages it tightly. A large project could have a huge number of tasks and charts depicting their dependencies, but from start to finish there’ll be that one path that determines the length of the project. All other paths will have slack, which means that delays up to a certain point won’t impact the final finishing date. The critical path is the one set of linked tasks that, if delayed at any point, will lead to a proportionate delay in the overall project completion. That’s the path that needs the closest management.
Is a strong leader
No project ever has all the right resources or the best quality resources. A good manager is one who, given his resources efficiently and facilities, works out how to use them for maximum efficiency. A leader, however, is one who inspires his team towards success. A team that has a shared vision and is motivated by a leader who is also a strong manager usually looks far beyond the achievement of mere efficiencies.
Communication is everything. There are project managers who have great ideas but fail to get their teams or stakeholders to buy into them because they didn’t know how best to communicate them. Project manager have to keep talking – to customers, their teams, to vendors, to support teams. Some communications are decisions or instructions that are not subject to debate. But the rest are about negotiations, or the selling of an idea, or the management of a conflict, requests for help, conveyance of status, and so on. The efficient managers are the ones who know how to frame the right message and use the right medium at the right time to send it, thereby achieving the right result with the least amount of discussion.
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