Project Management Made Simple

Apr 18, 2005

When it comes to project management for A/E/P and environmental firms, there’s one thing we all agree on— it could be done better. I won’t even begin to attempt to postulate why that’s the case. But I have thought a lot about this subject and would like to offer some suggestions on how to make things better: Make sure you have a PM who actually wants to be a project manager. Now, this may seem obvious. But you know what? There are a lot of ineffective PMs in this business who really never wanted to be a PM. These people may prefer design or technical work, but got into PM roles because they were asked at some point to take on a project. Or, perhaps they felt the only way to make more money was through a PM position. Either way, they don’t really want to be there. And the job they do in the PM role suffers accordingly. Set up systems that force your PMs to constantly look ahead. Knowing the critical path and looking ahead is the key to real project MANAGEMENT. But it often will not happen unless you force your PMs to do things such as provide continuously updated revenue forecasts and send weekly job status reports to the entire project team describing what’s coming in the week ahead. These are systems and policies management must create and enforce on a consistent basis, so PMs are anticipating and heading-off problems before they occur. Match up PMs to the right projects, clients, and internal teammates. People have different personalities. They aren’t all the same. This includes clients. You have to match them up with the right PM if you want to, first, sell the job, and, second, make some money and have a repeater once you do it. I always consider how the client is going to get along with the potential PMs. Do they have the same political views? Do they like the same sports? Did they both graduate from Ivy League schools or similar state schools? How old is the PM versus the client? These, among many other questions, need to be asked and answered every time when designating a PM for a particular client and project. The same thought process should be employed for internal team members as well. They need to be well-matched. A PM who is good with clients and contracts, but weak technically, needs to be sure those weaknesses are shored up by the right team members.
  1. Insist PMs meet the highest standard of responding quickly to phone messages and e-mails. Very few people live up to my standard on this issue, but those who do are greatly appreciated (and successful!). It has to be known in your firm how important it is for a PM to be responsive. Those who are not must be sanctioned. Those who are repeat offenders need to be taken out of the job. I know I sound like a broken record on this issue, but there are still way too many instances of delays in project communications that are completely unnecessary.
  2. If you do any training, make it assertiveness training. Being walked over by clients, subconsultants, contractors, and owners is a huge problem for weak project managers. Just being able to assert yourself in fee negotiations, extra services requests, and when confronting performance issues with other team members or contractors can make all the difference in a profitable job or not in the end. This type of training is far more critical than scheduling techniques. Yet, I rarely see it offered.
Always assign a PIC (principal-in-charge) to every project. There must be a safety valve on the client relationship. This is the job of the PIC. Someone other than the PM must have some knowledge of the job and the client should something happen to the PM. PMs quit, they get fired, they go AWOL, and they get assigned to other jobs. You must be ready to have someone else who can step in and act as a leader for the client’s work who you know is going to be there to see the job through ‘til its end. I hope these simple ideas are helpful to you. If you aren’t doing these things now, don’t you think it makes sense to try them? If not, write in and tell me why. And if you have something else to add to this list, please send it on! Originally published 4/18/2005

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