Choose the right captain to get your ships through troubled water

Recession might create a massacre again in the freelance business and that includes Project Managers. Up goes the energy in any Purchase Department … reduced market demand and still a high supply, time to squeeze the lemon (a bit more). But if you are a Senior Manager initiating a key strategic project, you hopefully look beyond the bright and happy face of your Purchase or HR Manager who cannot wait to tell you at what ridiculous low price he has found you an external Project Manager. Reality might be that finding the right Project Manager for your strategic project is more than ever a challenge, the more troubled the environment, the smaller the group of experts that can bring you where you want to get.

The big risk is that all stakeholders lose (but that some only realize it within a year):

  • The senior manager who saw his bright project idea slightly disappearing into the fog although he got a “big CV” PM at low price allocated.
  • The purchase manager who gets the blame and is transferred to the role of ordering pencils, pens and… toilet paper (sorry for this one).
  • The expert Project Manager who was the best fit for the job but also refused to be treated like a “commodity” when negotiating an acceptable tariff.

When Senior Managers have reduced means to do strategic projects, they will logically become more severe on the expertise of the Project Manager leading these projects. However, they are often experts in their business domain and in setting direction for that business (content), not necessarily in profiling Project Managers. Because of this, they translate their uncertainty too often into only one of the 3 aspects of a Project Management role: business expertise (Does this Project Manager know my business?). Logic, it is what they know best… but risky.

Based on our experience, we always use three axes to capture the needs for and match the best candidate for any Project Management role (PMI Talent Triangle):

  • Technical project management: The knowledge, skills, and behaviours related to specific domains of the project, program, and portfolio management.
  • Leadership: The knowledge, skills, and behaviours needed to guide, motivate, and direct a team, to help an organization achieve its business goals.
  • Strategic and business management: The knowledge of and expertise in the industry and organization that enhanced performance and better delivers business outcomes.

But still that is just the framework, in what follows I am sharing some practical tips you can take along when selecting the right PM for a key project. Or if you are a freelance Project Manager, these tips might guide you to the right kind of job or show you where to keep developing yourself.

5 Tips to get Value for money on your key Project Management roles

1. Quality over Quantity – Lead by example:

If you are a senior manager with a portfolio of say like 10 projects in your department, then it seems almost impossible that all 10 of them have an equal (= average) importance. Then why are they so often managed by a homogeneous (equal but average quality) pool of Project Managers? Our advice is that a diversified portfolio needs a diversified pool of project managers:

  • Lead by example: Dare to invest in one exceptional Project Manager for your 1 or 2 most strategic projects and put more junior (internal) project managers on your smaller projects. Set a good example and let others learn!
  • Or look at the potential of building a Strategic Program for your department and let a solid Program Manager take the Lead by example role.

2. Go for a good PM with broad business knowledge – Not for an expert with some PM experience/skills
Pitfall described above but a very important tip:

  • Yes: any PM should have a broad interest in and knowledge of major trends like digitalization, AI, big data, environmental trends, …
  • No: Threon will not put a Construction PM with 20 years of experience on a complex IT architecture project. There is a limit.
  • But: When selecting the right PM, then select a PM and not an expert.

3. Broad knowledge of management techniques goes before “fundamentalism”
Whatever methodology your organizations has chosen to manage projects, do business analysis, deal with architectural issues, … always go for broad knowledge of techniques like PMI, SAFE, Prince 2, BABOK, Scrum, Lean,… when selecting a Strategic Project Manager. Be aware of any senior consultant or PM who swears to use one and only one methodology, none of them are perfect and complex projects benefit from a senior PM who can select and use the right technique at the right time.

4. Trust but check – Certification & References: There are excellent actors on this earth that might be great at empathizing with the role of Project Manager. However, you do not want to hire an actor/actress… well at least not for your most strategic project 😊. Certifications like PMI/PMP and SAFE can give you a first evidence of proven competences, checking references of key projects executed can complete this point. One thing we know from 20 years of Threon Academy: our certification business always pops up in times of economic downturn ; not just because people have the time, also because they want to show proof of their competence in certain domains…

5. Quality control – Selecting the right PM is only step 1:
Pffeeeeeeew! That is it? Sorry but no … I needed 4 tips just for step 1, selection is only the first step of qualitative project delivery. Guaranteeing quality of Project Management is a continuous process where clarifying the assignment at the beginning, coaching or a 4-eyes principle during execution and a proper closure/handover at the end are also crucial elements. Do not forget them!

Worried about who to allocate on your key strategic projects or doubting how to restructure (diversify) your current PM Resource pools based on the tips above? Just contact us and let us discuss this!

Tom Dedecker

Tom Dedecker
CEO Threon

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