Tag Archives: project manager

Key Areas for a Project Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I was in your workshop last week. When you look at qualified candidates for a role, you say “It’s all about the work.” We are looking at a project management role. What do you consider the three most important parts of project management?

Project Management is a classic Strata II role. From a macro level, it involves the coordination of people, materials, equipment and project sequence. Three core Key Result Areas (KRAs) drive the project forward.

  1. Project Planning (creating a comprehensive project plan including milestones and accountabilities).
  2. Task Checklist (documenting and tracking all the details for completion and quality).
  3. Project Schedule (creating and monitoring the project schedule, prioritizing and sequencing time frames associated with changing elements of a project).

The value adds for Project Management are project control, accuracy to project specifications, timeliness and completeness.

Other KRAs would include –

  • Pre-con Hand-off Meeting (critical meeting where pre-construction hands the project over to project management).
  • Punch List (audit of the project checklist, when everyone else thinks the project is complete).
  • Buy Out (assembling the list of material suppliers and subcontractors, with competitive cost information).
  • Customer Relations (creating the necessary customer relationship that addresses project discrepancies, project change orders and avoids litigation)

All of these would make the basis for a comprehensive role description for your Project Manager. -Tom

How to Interview for Project Management

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

All of our projects are different. We never know what our customers will want, in advance. It’s almost always a custom solution. So, when we are hiring a project manager, it’s difficult to determine what skills the candidate will need to be successful. That’s why, most of the time, we wing it, when it comes to interview questions. How can we do a better job in the interview, instead of just working off of the resume?

We may not know anything about the project, but we can still work on preparedness. So, think about behaviors connected to being prepared.

  • Diagnostic questions
  • Project planning
  • Short interval planning
  • Project adjustments
  • Discipline

The only way to work through an ill-defined or unknown project specification, is to define the project. You are accurate, that many customers don’t really know what they want. Sometimes your best contribution, in managing the project, is helping the customer to define the project. What are the problems to be solved and the decisions to be made as the project meanders its way to completion?

Determine questions related to diagnosis, planning and project adjustments.

  • Tell me about a project you worked on where the customer was not clear on what they wanted?
  • What was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • What was the purpose for the project?
  • How did the customer describe the project?
  • What was the real project?
  • How did you determine the real project specification?
  • What changed about the project when it was better defined?
  • What changed about the resources required when the project was better defined?
  • What changed about the budget when the project was better defined?
  • How did you explain the changes in resources and budget to the customer?
  • How many people on your project team?
  • How did you explain the changes to your project team?
  • What mid-course corrections were required?
  • How did you discover the mid-course correction?
  • How did you determine the overall project met the initial purpose of the project?

These questions will get you better data, than just winging it off the resume.

Is It Just Red Tape?

“Just to be clear,” I repeated. “You expect a junior accountant to work overtime on your project, or if she cannot work overtime, to leave her other work undone while she finishes your work?”

“Look, it’s her work, now,” Roger replied. “She controls the pace and quality of her work. It is up to her to get it all done.”

“But, you arranged, with her manager, for five hours per week to do the accounting on your project. Because the job is bigger than you thought, it takes ten hours. Who resolves the conflict?”

“Her manager manages her other work. I am her manager on this project. She has to figure it out.”

“So, she has two managers? Are you her manager?”

“Yes, I am her manager for this project,” Roger insisted.

“So, if she underperforms or makes an egregious mistake, you can fire her from the company?” I wanted to know.

“Well, no,” Roger said. “Her other manager is in charge of that.”

“And, if she needs skills training, you would make arrangements to approve and send her to that training?”

“No,” Roger shook his head. “Her other manager would do that.”

“Then, you are not her manager.”

Roger sat up straight. “I am her manager on this project,” he stated flatly.

“Roger, you are the manager of this project. You are getting a service from the accounting department in the form of five hours of Nancy’s time per week. You have prescribing authority to directly give her task assignments, up to five hours per week. But if you need ten hours per week, you have to go to Nancy’s manager and negotiate for more time.”

“That seems like a lot of red tape to me,” Roger announced, as he stormed out of the room.

Does Increasing the Number of Projects Impact Level of Work?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

You seem to base level of work on time span. But can’t the level of work also be defined by the number of simultaneous projects? It seems odd that doing (1) six month project is the same level of work as doing (3) six-month projects, at the same time. The time span is still six months, but juggling three projects seems more complex than executing one project?

Yes, the number of simultaneous projects does impact the level of work, but not in the way you might think. In your example of the project manager, who effectively executes (1) six month project, what is the level of work? The time span of the project would indicate that this would be S-II level of work.

And so, her manager assigns (2) simultaneous six-month projects. What is the level of work? Though the project manager may spend more hours during those six months, the level of work is still S-II.

And so, her manager assigns (3) simultaneous six-month projects. What is the level of work? Though the project manager may spend even more hours during those six months, the level of work is still S-II.

At some point, however, the project manager simply runs out of hours. The level of work doesn’t change, but the project manager passes out from exhaustion.

And so, her manager assigns (4) simultaneous six-month projects. In fact, to make the point clearer, her manager assigns (50) simultaneous six-month projects.

If the project manager is out of hours, (50) simultaneous projects cannot be done at the same level of work. To effectively execute (50) simultaneous projects, the project manager will have to delegate the direct work and create specific systems for monitoring progress and gauging quality control. The work creating the systems to monitor progress and check for quality is solid S-III.

And while the projects themselves may be completed in six months, the planning, recruiting, system design, and system testing will easily add months prior to project mobilization. Add the audit work to ensure project accuracy, phase completion and quality standards at the end of the project, and you are well over twelve months time span for these (50) projects.

So, you are correct that increasing the number of simultaneous projects impacts the level of work, but only when you run out of hours.

The Shift in Becoming a Manager

“What would you have to do differently to accomplish ten projects in the same time that you now run five projects? No overtime,” I challenged.

“One thing is for sure, I can’t keep it all in my head,” Roger mused. “You know, some projects, you can manage with sticky notes. When you gave me my third and fourth project, I had to start making lists. When you gave me my fifth project, I realized my lists had similarities and I created a template with all the possible elements. Given another project, I can start with my template rather than creating a list from scratch.”

“But if I give you ten simultaneous projects, what would you have to do differently?” I repeated.

Roger shook his head. “I can’t manage ten projects at the same time, even with my templates,” he concluded. “Something would always be falling through the cracks. I would need some help.”

I nodded in agreement. “Roger, we didn’t start working with you because you could manage a project, or two projects. To manage ten projects, you will need some help, you will need a team. The reason we want to assign you ten simultaneous projects is not so you can build a better template (though that is helpful), but so that you will build a team. This is a dramatic shift from being a supervisor, to becoming a manager. It’s a higher level of work.”

How to Hire an Energetic Project Manager

“We think our problem is not having enough candidates respond to our ad in the newspaper,” lamented Joanna. “Or maybe it’s just that the people who show up aren’t even close to the type of person we need to fill the position.”

“First, let’s look at your ad,” I said, reaching across the desk.

Looking for a construction Project Manager with 3-5 years experience. Must have positive attitude and ability to relate to building owners. Knowledge of permitting process in South Florida helpful. Health insurance and 401k. Must be a team player.

“And how would you describe the applicants you are getting? Do they have the required experience?”

Joanna nodded, “Oh, yes, they have 3-5 years experience, but they aren’t very energetic. They wouldn’t last around here for more than a week.”

“Tell me Joanna, what kind of energy do you think you have in the ad? Does the writing portray the sense of urgency that goes on around here?”

“Well, not really,” she replied.

“Let’s try to put a little zip in the step.”

Commercial contractor in South Florida looking for a top-flight Project Manager. Our clients demand a quick-response person in this critical position. We work under tough building codes with stringent enforcement, so ability to get along with inspectors is important. Aggressive compensation and benefits package are part of the deal. Send us your resume or apply online through the employment section of our website. We need you now, let us hear from you today.

“Now, that’s better.”