Better Managed Jobs

Nov 03, 1997

I have said before that I think most project management training is ineffective. But that doesn’t help the majority of our readers— owners and managers of firms who depend on having good enough project management capabilities that they can make a profit and not accumulate any liabilities that will bankrupt their companies. A lot has been written on this subject. I’ve written about it in The Zweig Letter numerous times (157:April 22, 1996; 160:May 13, 1996; 169:July 22, 1996). But the more I get into it, the more I learn. Here are some additional ways you can make project management more successful in your firm: Use experienced project managers for PM roles. One reason firms are unhappy with project management is that they don’t have project managers doing the job. Instead, they have design architects, design engineers, or environmental scientists with a particular technical and project experience background that in no way qualifies them to be project managers! In most companies, the person’s technical background takes priority over their proven managerial capability. Is it any wonder we have so many lousy project managers?? Don’t think just anyone can be a project manager. If your engineer, “Ed,” is a good guy, capable technically, but incapable of holding a conversation with someone he hasn’t known for 20 years, reconsider trying to turn Ed into a project manager. He probably doesn’t have the interpersonal and communications skills it’s going to take to effectively fill the role. Ditto for “Debbie”— she’s an incredible design talent but so disorganized that her office looks like the inside of a dumpster. It’s kind of unlikely that she’s going to be diligent about reviewing her draft bills, reading every specification from cover to cover, and spotting errors made by other disciplines that she hasn’t even been formally schooled in. Yet those are skills that every project manager has to have. Do PM spot checks. I often wonder what would happen in some of the firms we consult to if the CEO walked out on the floor, looked over the shoulder of one of their project architects or engineers, and asked that person what they were doing, what the contract called for, how much budget they had to do it in, and when it was due— then did this again 19 more times that day. My guess is that no more than 3 out of 20 people could answer these questions. Yet, the ability to answer these questions is essential to each member of a project team if the job is going to be done right, on time, and within budget. Maybe if more people in high places in A/E/P and environmental firms tried this approach, they’d realize just how critical the situation is as it relates to project management in this industry, and then actually do something about it!! Create shared project management files. Set up desktop scanners at all or selected workstations. Scan every correspondence that comes in related to each job and store it in a shared project directory, based on your project numeration scheme. That way everyone can see everything relevant when it comes in, from project meeting minutes to client correspondence to specification sheets on equipment. Having all this information easily accessible just makes sense. Use your best project managers to train and mentor the crop coming up. Many firms do the exact opposite— their best people are busy working with clients so the drones who have nothing billable to do become the trainers for the firm (often under the guise of titles such as “Director of Quality Control” or “Senior Director of Special Projects”). The last thing I want is to have the least productive people, those who don’t, won’t, or can’t do the job expected of them, teaching my young people how to do their jobs— it’s absurd, don’t you think? Yet I often see that “Cranky Old So-and-So” has been designated as the mentor to “Up and Coming Hot Shot.” Concentrate on fixing one aspect of your firm’s project management at a time. If you have a hard time getting your PMs to send their bills out and make collection calls, work on that. If project profits are your big concern due to WIP write-offs, work on that. If getting follow-up work is a problem, work on that. But don’t try to do everything simultaneously. You won’t make any headway anywhere! The profit numbers quoted from the latest Harper and Shuman, Inc. (Cambridge, MA) Operating Statistics Survey in last week’s issue of The Zweig Letter show we’ve got problems with project management as an industry. Let’s start doing something about it instead of just sitting around talking about it. Originally published 11/03/1997

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.