How to make a good PM

Jun 21, 2010

I hear the question all the time: “How can we make good project managers out of our people?” The answer— like it or not— is, “You may not be able to make good project managers out of your people.” Why do you think that is? You may not have people who possess the necessary attributes. Those attributes are multi-dimensional and not universal, but they certainly include the ability to juggle many things at a time, good verbal and written communication skills, responsiveness, design or technical competence, integrity, ability to empathize— and many more. Some of these attributes can be improved with training or tools but many cannot. The fact is, if you really want good PMs, you may need to hire them away from a competitor or client. Both have advantages and disadvantages. It is always nice for you to be able to hire a good person away from a competitor. They will know other people with their former employers and some of them may want to come along also— and, they may have some new client connections you don’t now have. On the other hand, these people may be hard to identify and cost a significant recruitment fee— compensation that could be above and beyond what you are paying your other people. Getting someone from a client or potential client can be either harmful or helpful to your marketing. The client may perceive some sort of conflict of interest, either real or imagined, that would keep them from hiring your firm because you have one of their recent former employees working for you. Or they could think it is great and be glad that they have someone in an outside design or environmental firm who really understands their needs. The other risk is that you hire the wrong person. If you hire someone who was not respected in the client organization, it may hurt your ability to do work with them when your intent was to help it. I find that a lot of training is not all that valuable. Of course, you have to educate people in the tools they are employing, such as specific software applications. Other types of training in how to sell, finance, liability reduction, and communications can all be helpful to an experienced or budding PM. If I hear about another Good to Great seminar as the panacea for all of a firm’s managerial woes— PM or otherwise— I might get ill. It’s a fine book and all, but when will management learn that trying to force this kind if stuff down their people’s throats backfires when one too many utterances of “we have to have the wrong people on the bus” is heard by no-nonsense technical or design professionals who feel somehow the whole thing is just another attempt by “the suits” to manipulate them? Originally published 6/21/2010

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