Lindsay Scott’s One Simple Thing: Emphasize “Management” in PM

Lindsay Scott

(The following article is part of our One Simple Thing…to Improve Projects series. It was contributed by Lindsay Scott. Lindsay is a Director of Arras People, the UK’s project management recruitment specialists.

Lindsay started the company with a colleague 10 years ago. Prior to that she worked within PMO for Hewlett-Packard in the UK. Lindsay also blogs at How to Manage a Camel on project management and recruitment issues. You can also follow Lindsay on Twitter @projectmgmt.)

[NOTE: Lindsay's organization is now conducting their Arras People Annual PPM Census. So stand up and be counted by completing their brief online survey.]

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“What is one simple thing that can improve projects and/or project management?”

 Put the emphasis on management back into project management.

‘Management’ and ‘manager’ are big words that are often overlooked when thinking about project management. So often we concentrate on the project. Yet in simple terms projects are all about people and if we want to achieve our goals, we need great managers, managers of people.  

Is it a simple thing to emphasize the management in PM? I think so — especially if it is considered during the hiring process when organizations are looking for new project managers.

When organizations set out to look for new project manager’s their job specification will include role and responsibilities, success criteria, essential and desirable skills, etc. However if we take a closer look at the job specification there will generally be an emphasis on project management techniques, methods, tools and qualifications. When it comes to the managerial competencies like leadership, team management, communication and conflict management, these are generally tucked away somewhere near the bottom of the specification.

The behavioural skills and characteristics that are required to be an excellent manager within this organization are often relegated to a bullet point or two! Is this because defining behavioural skills is hard? Or is it because we have got sucked into the project mechanics which are much easier to list?  Assessing these skills in an interview is harder still and that is why I believe so many organizations steer away from really focusing on them in any great detail.

Back in 2010, in Arras People’s Benchmark Report*, 1500 project management practitioners were polled on project management competencies. We wanted to find out which competencies were the most important to a project management practitioner. For a project manager, the order of importance (most important first) in competencies were:

  • planning and organising;
  • communication skills;
  • relationship management;
  • adaptability;
  • leadership;
  • the technical skills of project management.

The most important competencies from the project manager’s view are all the basic managerial skills you would expect to see in any good manager. In the 2003 book The New Manager’s Handbook seven skill areas were identified to perform the role of manager effectively. These were: communication, interpersonal skills, presentation skills, developing other people, change management, strategic management and time management. These are all important core skills that should form a firm foundation for the project manager.

So reconsider the hiring organization that is just about to select and interview candidates for a project management post: Are they putting the cart before the horse? Is the assumption all too readily made that a practitioner who can demonstrate “the technical skills of project management” will by default have the necessary “management skills”?

My proposal is that we get back to basics. Hiring companies first need to look closer at their organizational culture and define better what kind of manager they need. “Cultural fit” is a term that is often bandied about to ensure organizations get the right people working for them. But in reality what does this really mean? What style of management works well in the organization? We need to benchmark our great managers to see what characteristics and skills they actually possess. What kind of teams do we have? How do these people like to be managed? What do our customers like about the people we have working for us?

The selection and interviewing process should be turned right on its head! It should focus on the core competencies of management before looking at the project-specific experience. We select interview questions that really focus on leadership, team management and relationships etc. We devise scenarios and tests that are aimed at really understanding the candidate’s core management skills first and their project management skills a close second. We take seriously any profiling tools that are out there that can give us a greater insight into personality, leadership style, team fit etc.

We place a greater importance on the core management skills that are displayed by the candidate and are evident throughout the recruitment process. Once we are satisfied that we have a great manager we can then move on and see if they’re also a great project manager.

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*2010 Arras People Benchmark Report – http://www.arraspeople.co.uk/assets/ckeditor/ckfinder/
userfiles/files/BenchmarkReport/ArrasPeople_PMBR_2010-4PRINT.pdf

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HELP WANTED WITH ANNUAL PM CENSUS!

Stand up and be counted! And help Lindsay’s organization by participating in the Arras People Annual PPM Census 2011. Go to:

Arras People Census

http://survey.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_1B2NgaisSqiGgn2

Posted: January 11th, 2012 under One Simple Thing, Project Management.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Comments

Comment from Deanne Earle
January 12, 2012 at 5:09 am

Lindsay
Excellent post on an excellent topic. “Hiring companies first need to look closer at their organizational culture and define better what kind of manager they need” resonated loudly. In a previous life I made a point of creating a ‘person specification’ as well as a ‘position specification’ when hiring. The basis for this was I knew I’d get gazillions of applicants with the ‘right’ technical skills but few applicants with the ‘right’ cultural fit for the team and the organisation. These ‘person specs’ helped our HR people better position my needs and in turn meant the agencies could help candidates assess their fit before being put forward. It also streamlined the interview process by signalling ‘you’re here because you have the technical skill, now let’s see how we fit each other as people.’ It means you have to know the characteristics and style that works but the ROI on the effort of finding out is huge and goes a long way to eliminating the square peg in round hole syndrome.

Deanne

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January 26, 2012 at 10:25 pm

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Comment from Sarah
February 1, 2012 at 3:41 am

I do agree that being a manager is all about great people skills and leadership skills. The problem is that it is hard to recognize these skills in a job interview, so you only know who to hire if they have previous experience and good references. This makes it really hard for new people to break into the job scene. Let’s not forget that many of these skills can be learned, and using project management software to organize and communicate with your team can really enhance your management skills.

Comment from Michael Greer
February 1, 2012 at 8:16 am

Good point, Sarah! I know I am always more confident about making assignments and give clearer instructions when I have a “high resolution” plan backing me up. And PM software helps create such a plan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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June 18, 2012 at 2:38 am

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