A Business Technology Place

What your infrastructure guy wants you to know

Looking for exceptional project leaders.

I have a special place in my heart for project managers. I was once a project manager and yet I still am a project manager. I expect I’ll always need to be a project manager. The skills of a PM are needed outside of the business environment. I use them in everyday life to plan, organize, and execute projects at home.

I previously wrote about the one the biggest challenges of a project manager. They sometimes struggle to find respect in a business setting and have to learn how to earn respect through business acumen and relational skills. When a PM gets the respect of the team they are leading then the project operates with efficiency and smoothness.

But not all projects in the portfolio have a PM. There are more projects than what the Project Management Office has capacity to fill. I’ve noticed projects without a project manager will most likely not get done or will struggle to make progress. That’s obvious right? Yes. It’s easy to reach that conclusion and it’s very logical. I call it Organizational Entropy.

The silent voice in the room.ServerRack

Without someone guiding and leading the team members on project tasks and timelines they are drawn by other competing tasks in the organization and will respond to the loudest voice.

The infrastructure and network team usually get the projects without a PM. I’ve noticed this in every professional position that I’ve served. It’s the software development projects that typically get a PM while the hardware projects are left to the engineers to manage.

Those poor network engineers. They are like the road crews that need to repair, widen, and repave roads. They have to work on weekends and at night when the traffic is the lowest. But they often don’t get someone to help them plan and execute.

This creates a focus problem. The engineers are pulled into changes that the software teams need. They get pulled into break-fix help desk tickets. Then it’s hard to focus and the loudest voice calling them gets the attention. It’s no wonder that many of their own projects fall behind or don’t get done.

What’s the best answer for this? I haven’t been able to answer it yet. Perhaps giving some volume to that silent voice is the first step.

Let me know if you’ve found the answer.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Gene Selkov via creative commons.

The project manager’s challenge

What makes a good project manager?

Pause momentarily and capture your first thought to answer that question. Most of us answer the question with attributes like setting proper priorities, keeping command of a group, effectively communicating, showing domain expertise, or resolving conflict. It would be rare to hear someone answer the question in terms of keeping tasks and a schedule. Yet this is one the most fundamental skills an IT project manager needs to have; the ability to drive a team to define and set a schedule. Why do task status and schedules encounter the most resistance in the life of the project? I think it’s because team members don’t like to give estimates and to be held accountable for meeting a specific schedule. To be fair estimating working duration isn’t easy and it’s not uncommon in IT to have partial requirements. 

“I’m not going to win any popularity contests”

An employee assigned to manage projects told me that a few years ago. Without missing a beat I replied “You aren’t paid to win popularity contests. But you are asked to be persistent to deliver results.” The context of the comment was about trying to get current status from team members so that the project could adhere to the schedule and deliver results. If you’ve ever served as an IT project manager, you know that feeling when team members are evasive and try to avoid contact.

The intangibles build the foundation for making a solid project manager.

All the intangible characteristics and traits that you thought of that make a good project manager are the very things that earn them the respect to gather task and schedule information more easily. When team members respect the PM for their domain knowledge, communication style, and demeanor they are more likely to provide better task and schedule data. That’s the opposite of how project management is taught in a classroom setting where core skills about documenting project scope and timeline are first. So I would suggest that to be a more effective project manager one should work on their business acumen and relational skills first. Then applying fundamental PM skills around scope, risk, and execution will become much easier.

Onward and upward!

(Photo credit: Generation Bass – https://flic.kr/p/8mxGWu)