The art of project management

Nov 09, 2009

Project management training tends to emphasize the legal and liability aspects of what we do, along with scheduling and budgeting techniques. But, there is so much more to it beyond the science of project management. There’s the “art” of it. Maybe artistry— at anything— can’t really be taught. So, why bother? When it comes to project management, the reason is that these other skills are too valuable not to try to teach them! Good— make that great— project managers understand the softer side of their discipline. And, one more thing: for the purposes of this article I am not going to try to define the differences in “project manager” vs. “project principal” or “principal-in-charge.” I am simply referring to the person who is really running the project. Here are some of those elements: Client selection. The artist inside a good project manager does not work for just any client who will pay the bill. They “select” the client every bit as much as the client selects them. They don’t want to work for anyone they don’t think they can be truly successful serving and are not afraid to subtly communicate this to the client. Doing this well sets the stage and creates the proper dynamic for their ultimate success with the project. Knowing what you can charge. The artistic PM does not just think about cost plus a “fair” mark-up (whatever that is). They instead think about what the market will bear and charge what they think they can get away with. This could be more or less than a “fair” mark-up, but is based in the context of the overall client relationship and that exact moment in time. Project team selection. The PM artist can assemble the right team for the specific client and project at hand. He or she understands the personalities of team members, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they will mesh with each other and the client. He or she also understands how to motivate (or how to avoid demotivating) each of these people so they do their best work. Project team composition over time. The team may need to change if things aren’t working out. The artful project manager has a good sense of when and how to change the team make-up, and is not afraid to make a change if it must be made to have the right team for the job. It takes guts, and a willingness to confront. Knowing when to show up and when to exercise influence. The PM probably cannot be there all of time yet has to be able to control the job at all times. Knowing what is really critical to the client and what they don’t care so much about. This is an art, without question. It is also an essential skill that is not easily taught. You have to be sensitive, ask lots of questions, be observant, and be able to generalize and learn from past experience. Knowing when things are starting to get off schedule and how to prepare the client to hear it. Not everything is within your control and not every schedule can be kept. But, those experienced in the art of project management can see it coming and prepare the client for the bad news so when it does occur they are not dissatisfied with the PM’s performance. Learning from mistakes made over the course of a project and applying these lessons to subsequent work. Art involves practice and learning. A good PM learns from his or her mistakes and uses that knowledge. Originally published 11/09/2009

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