The Ten Commandments of project managering
Complex, highly technical knowledge, tools and techniques are all well and good, but sometimes it helps to refer back to basics.
by David A. Connell
TECHNICAL KNOW-HOW equips us to handle complex, pressure-filled project challenges, right? Yes, but that's not the whole story. Much of a project manager's effectiveness derives not from deft use of work breakdown structures, resource leveling and earned value analysis; these tools are only half of the management equation. The other factor is the art of project managering.
Project managering means controlling such elusive influences as the human factor, Murphy's Law and unsympathetic management. Project after project, survey after survey, has revealed frustration caused not by deficiencies in the WBS or poorly constructed schedule networks, but rather by people. Whether it's a hostile vice president who doesn't share the critical of the critical path or an unmotivated engineer who has covered up budget overruns, the project manager must anticipate, deal with and overcome “people problems.” Success may hinge more on how a project manager talks to someone in the hall than on the most sophisticated of tools. Project managering must be concerned more with PERSonality than with PERT.
Accordingly, the science of project management is evolving to address higher issues of project manager effectiveness. And this evolution reflects a higher trend: any reader of the business press can confirm the recent metamorphosis of management focus from technical to behavioral, from cost estimating and contract administration to team building and situational leadership.
I‘m sure that if a modern-day Management Moses descended from Mount PM, his message would be “Honor Thy Managering As Much As Thy Management.” His stone tablets, containing the Ten Commandments of Project Managering, would show the way to project salvation.
I. Always Be Positive. The project manager carries the flag, so he or she has to portray issues in the most promising terms. Whether outlining requirements, introducing a rookie team member, or negotiating with a functional division for resources, project managering must tune in to motivational and inspirational influences; all, of course, within the bounds of honesty.
II. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Human resource behavior is built on effective communication. Project managering must always abide by the three most important steps in coordinating and directing human resources: communicate, communicate, communicate. A corollary: Never Assume People Know Things.
III. Be Compassionate But Firm. As a leader and supervisor, the project manager must master the fine art of understanding the cross-currents of project matrix organizations and the pressures that limited schedule and funding can levy on team members. The project manager, tasked with accomplishment within a maelstrom of obstacles, requires talents that are part TV talk show host and part cattle driver.
IV. Gain Commitment. The project manager must be a deal-closer. Project managering is the hub of the wheel, negotiating with and relying on a 360-degree field of customers, upper management, team members and contractors for resources and performance. Project managering that can secure reliable participation, whether through contract, barter, by hook or by crook, will tell the tale about project performance.
V. Be Specific. Projects rise and fall on matters that fall through the cracks. A project manager must make sure that everyone dots their i's and crosses their t's. Of course, this reminding and overview can make the project manager a colossal pest. Project managering must delegate the management of minutiae to the team performers themselves, while still maintaining a lust for—or a high tolerance of—detail. (Being a near-pathological neatnik will help.)
VI. Encourage The Individual; Stress The Team. Creativity and innovation is brimming within team members; blending it with the conformity needed for team performance is a huge project managering challenge. No recipe exists for this behavioral handling. Yet project managers had better know the finer aspects of terms like flexibility, broad view, recognition and reinforcement. All team members must feel that their performance is the most critical aspect of project success, but behave like they are equal parts of the whole.
VII. Treat Others With Respect. More important than resource responsibility matrices or resource leveling is dealing with human resources with respect and dignity. Getting the most out of personnel means knowing what “the most” is and where the law of diminishing returns takes over. Many projects fail simply because of low morale caused by an inconsiderate, aloof, or overbearing project manager. Conversely, projects have overcome resource limitations through a motivated staff's sheer determination. Project managering is at its finest when personnel feel they make a difference.
VIII. Make The Most Of It. A project manager cannot be a whiner. Period.
IX. Be Consistent. Project management enforces the concept of fixed performance baseline as the cornerstone of project control. Project managering must adhere to a fixed baseline of ground rules and work environment limits as a cornerstone for staff control. Knowing and communicating these strictures will prevent the project manager from becoming wishy-washy—a damning characteristic when trying to lead.
X. Learn Thy Art Of Persuasion. If the project manager cannot persuade others, the project manager cannot manage. The project manager must be able to show others the promise in adversity. Project managering is the practice of persuading others to contribute, perform, achieve, plan, control, evaluate, and to apply the tools of project management. ■
David Connell conducts management courses for Educational Services Institute. He has practiced, taught and consulted on project management matters for 30 years.
PM Network • May 1997