Project Managers

The success or failure of a particular project often hinges on selecting the project manager.  There is always a temptation to recruit the project manager from outside the company in order to avoid actual or perceived problems of conflict of interest or loyalties to a particular function or department within the company.  However, bringing in someone new may not be the best idea since the person would not be familiar with the way that the company operates and others within the company may resent the newcomer and make it more difficult to complete the project successfully. 

Line managers normally do not make good project managers given that they have built-in conflicts of interest and will also be distracted by their normal duties and responsibilities.  In particular, if a line manager controls resources necessary for a project and also serves as the project manager she must often make difficult decisions regarding allocation of those resources between the project and the day-to-day functional activities that she is responsible for as the line manager. 

If at all possible, senior management should identify one or two persons from within the company who have the requisite skills and independence and assign them to full-time, dedicated positions as project managers.  Assuming that these persons do not have conflicts of interest, this is the best method for ensuring that projects can be executed effectively and efficiently since the project managers can focus all of their attention on the projects and build and nurture the skills necessary for effective project management.  This method works best when there is a steady steam of projects sufficient to justify allocation of resources to full-time project managers and it should be expected that project managers will handle several projects simultaneously. 

While there is a long list of desirable personal characteristics for a project manager, the two most important are communicative and interpersonal skills.  Assuming that the project manager will be required to interact with managers and employees from all parts of the company, many of which have high levels of technical expertise, it is essential for the project manager to be a good communicator, poised and an effective integrator of divergent opinions and personal styles.  In addition, the best project managers are able to balance technical solutions with the applicable constraints – time, cost and performance – and devote sufficient time and attention to planning and controlling the project.  Finally, the project manager must be able to identify and resolve problems and make decisions and explain them clearly and thoughtfully to all parties involved and impacted by the decision.

In order to be effective a project manager must understand quantitative tools and methods, organizational structures and organizational behavior.  Companies generally have a variety of quantitative tools and resources for planning, scheduling, controlling and monitoring work processes.  Knowledge of organizational structure of the company includes an understanding of how each line function or department operates so that potential conflicts between the responsibilities and goals of the project manager and each of the line managers can be identified and reconciled as soon as possible in order to allow the project to proceed smoothly and effectively.  Finally, organizational behavioral issues focus on the conflicts that will typically arise for functional employees when they are required to simultaneously report to their line manager and to the project manager of any project to which they are assigned.  In order to address problems from this dual-reporting structure senior management must ensure that managers and employees receive adequate training and guidance before imposing a project management overlay on to the day-to-day organizational structure.

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