Jul 222011

We have a shortage of PM’s on the ground at the moment and so I’m interviewing candidates. This has raised several important questions – What makes a good PM? What does a PM’s career path look like? What should the corporate PM KPI’s be?

I interviewed a candidate the other day; more of an informal chat than an interview. When asked the question on why he wanted the PM role, the ultimate, between the lines answer was that it was a useful skill to have in his toolbox. For me, at this stage of my life, that’s an interesting aspect of most people’s lives – the belief in a career path. In the business world, with it’s dominant growth paradigm, it means that most people view their career paths as growth paths. Ask any corporate HR guy and they will strongly come across as advocating a well articulated 3 to 5 year plan. While there’s nothing wrong with growth I think the way the business world works puts an insidious and potentially dangerous spin on the traditional career path. If you don’t consciously analyse it it’s easy to fall into the growth at all costs trap, forsaking day-to-day happiness in the hope of some future pot of gold at the end of the career rainbow.

What makes a good PM?
I suppose that depends, to a very large extent, on one’s personal view of the corporate world and life in general, but I suppose that it’s worth taking a stab anyway since there will be much common ground no matter the worldview.
If I had to summarise in a single sentence or paragraph it would be:

“The ability to get things done in a logical, clearly defined way”

Some further thoughts:
* Team building, facilitation and motivation towards a common project objective.
* A good understanding of the corporate environment in which the project must function and deliver.
* Ability to identify people’s sweet-spots and harness their strengths to advance project objectives
* Know and follow the rules enough to provide structure and repeatability but regularly explore the boundaries of the rules in order to constantly innovate and work in more effective ways
* Plain old hard work but effective hard work, not busyness.
* Technical subject matter knowledge, while not essential, certainly helps.
* The ability to create calm order from chaotic panic
* The ability to see and understand the big picture [corporate executive strategy] and, rather than being overwhelmed by the size and complexity, translate that into smaller achievable packages and getting those executed.

So if these are indeed true, the next trick is how to interview and extract this information without directly asking the questions. A direct and straight-forward question in an interview invariably solicits the answer which the candidate thinks you [in the corporate growth paradigm] want to hear.

The obvious ones are:
* Schedule against baseline
* Margin against baseline
* Effective scope management
* Acceptable quality
* Proactive risk and issues management
* Transparent and effective communications
* Stakeholder satisfaction

To answer this sufficiently well I think one has to delve into another question – “What makes a project successful?” While there may be some suitably generic answers, ultimately each project is unique with unique objectives, unique stakeholders and unique expectations. That means there is a danger in only defining PM performance by generic KPI’s. If the PM is doing things properly she would have capture the project’s “success factors” in the charter. Maybe the best measurement then is to measure whether the project has met the objectives stated in the charter. A further question to consider is “What makes a good PM?”, much of which is not directly and quantitatively measurable. One also must consider the corporate environment within which the project operates. For example, a non-profit NGO organisation will place different emphasis on margins than might a large multi-national looking to grow the bottom line. All of this makes it quite difficult to impose a generic KPI measurement system.

So, because we must, and in keeping with the ethos of simplicity and effectiveness, I think I would propose the following in my large multi-national corporate:
# Profitability = Effective cost management and EAC forecasting [measureable via PM system financial reporting]
# Stakeholder Satisfaction = Internal and client-side [measureable by survey – client, internal and peer review]
# Quality = Demonstrable adherence to QMS process [project audit]

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