Susanne Madsen

How to recruit an outstanding project manager – Susanne Madsen – Developing Project Leaders

Although it isn’t possible to provide one single definition of what a good project manager looks like, certain traits, skills and attributes seem to be advantageous for a person who is to lead a project.

Essentially, the job of a project manager is to take on a customer’s big picture vision and to turn that vision into reality within certain time, budget and quality constraints. To do that, the project manager needs to spend a considerable amount of time and effort liaising with the customer, understanding the vision and planning the project in collaboration with the team. The project manager must keep scope, quality, risks, issues and cost under control whilst liaising with stakeholders and providing leadership and direction to the team. All of this requires thoughtful consideration and a great deal of skill.

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The project manager is the central point of coordination and communication, one minute focusing on detailed tasks, the next liaising with the customer and providing inspiration and a big picture vision for the team to follow. He or she must be a proficient communicator and have a natural ability for organising events, building relationships and making things happen. He must have attention to detail and also have the ability to lead and focus the team. That’s quite a diverse skillset.

A good project manager is proactive rather than reactive and will seek to uncover risks before they turn into issues. He will never assume, but constantly ask if he has proof that something is working well. For instance, how do I know that my team is motivated and fully embraces the objectives of the project? How do I know that what we are developing is what the users want and need? How do I know that risks are being effectively identified and mitigated?

A great project manager is honest and approachable and focuses on people as much as on tasks. She knows that she cannot manage a project from behind her desk. Instead she works closely with team members and is not afraid of getting her hands dirty. She knows when to support and guide others, and when to challenge and hold them to account. In addition, she is able to manage her own state of mind and has sufficient self-discipline and personal insight to set an excellent example for others to follow.

In other words, a good project manger is so much more than a person who has the knowledge and ability to make effective use of tools and processes. It is someone who has the right amount of drive, attitude and confidence to mobilise others to get the project over the finishing line.

tSTEP 1 – Determine what kind of project manager you need
Every situation and every project is different, and the type of project manager required for each project will vary accordingly. Not surprisingly, successful project managers come in many guises. Some projects need a manager who is technical or who knows a lot about the client’s business area. Others require a manager who is good at organising a large undertaking and implementing generic systems and controls.The key to finding the right project manager for any department or project is to first and foremost understand what your needs are and what the company is looking for. To get started, visualise the type of project that needs to be managed and imagine the project manager doing their daily job. What is the project manager doing and how is he or she behaving towards the team and the stakeholders? How is the project manager dealing with risks and issues and with interpersonal conflict? Write down what you see, feel and hear.To help you narrow down your requirements further, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this a smaller technical project or a large complex business project?
  • Does the project have few or many difficult stakeholders to manage?
  • Is the project’s domain straightforward or does it require specific knowledge?
  • How important is the ability to manage tasks as opposed to people?
  • Is the project team already in place or would the project manager need to build it from scratch?
  • Has the project already been kicked off or would the project manager need to define and plan it?
  • Does the role require the project manager to have line management responsibilities?
  • Is a Project Management Office (PMO) in place to support the project manager with best practices and financial reporting or does the project manager need to be able to define the project management standards?
  • Which type of personality does the project manager need to be in order to best complement the existing team and company culture?
  • How important is the project manager’s ability to lead and motivate others?

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STEP 2 – Determine knowledge, skills and attributes required
Once you have a broad understanding of the kind of project manager you need to hire, the next step is to narrow down the description by creating a benchmark of the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to have. Although one candidate may not tick all the boxes, the likelihood of finding and outstanding project manager is much greater the clearer you are about what you are looking for.Read through each of the abilities below and determine the capability level that you would like the candidate to have. Allocate a desired score between 1 and 10 to each capability.

  • Understand the business domain and end user’s needs
  • Understand agile principles
  • Understand the end-to-end project lifecycle
  • Understand PMP/ PRINCE2 and project management best practices
  • Understand how to gather, document and verify requirements
  • Understand how to test and assure quality of end deliverables
  • Serve the customer and focus on business benefits
  • Effectively initiate a project and secure buy in from all parties
  • Set up an effective governance process, including steering committee
  • Plan and track project activities
  • Estimate and control project cost
  • Produce honest and regular project reporting
  • Be proactive in the identification and resolution of risks and issues
  • Formally identify, analyse and control change requests
  • Clearly communicate project vision and priorities to the team
  • Coach and grow team members with potential
  • Inspire, motivate and provide focus and direction to the team
  • Empathise and build strong relationships of trust with customer
  • Enable collaboration and build a high performing team
  • Value own contributions and say no to demanding stakeholders
  • Stay calm in stressful and challenging situations
  • Effectively manage interpersonal conflict
  • Maintain a positive mental attitude
  • Challenge and hold others to account
  • Delegate and manage own time effectively
  • Communicate effectively and with impact
  • Make effective and timely decisions
  • Act with integrity and take personal responsibility
  • Set a good example for others to follow
  • Effectively give and receive feedback
STEP 3 – Consider the project manager’s personality type
In additional to the above steps, you can generate further insight by considering the personality type you require. Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an assessment tool, which isn’t normally used in recruitment. We can however draw from the tool in order to gain a better understanding of various candidates.

MBTI measures a person’s preferences for how they normally focus their energy, how they tend to relate to the world, how they make decisions and how they organise themselves under normal circumstances. MBTI measures this on the four following axes:

  1. Extraversion vs. Introversion (how people prefer to focus their energy)
  2. Sensing vs. iNtuition (How people prefer to gather information)
  3. Thinking vs. Feeling (how people prefer to make decisions)
  4. Judging vs. Perceiving (how people prefer to organise themselves)
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It is important to stress that there is no right or wrong answer and no right or wrong MBTI style. There can be great diversity in the personality of successful project managers. Having said that, it’s worth looking out for extreme tendencies to ensure that the project manager you are recruiting will be the best possible fit for you. If someone is extremely introverted for instance, will that be a good fit for the role?

Extraversion vs. introversion in project management
Managers with a preference for extraversion get energised by interacting with others and will enjoy being around and communicating with other people. They tend to be expressive and action oriented and would potentially enjoy a high profile leadership role.

Managers with a preference for introversion prefer to take a less prominent role as they tend to get energised by reflection and time with their thoughts. They are more contained and may prefer to let others on the team take the spotlight while they organise and direct behind the scenes.

To find out if the project manager has a preference for introversion or extroversion, ask questions such as:

  • How do you tend to solve problems and become clear about a complex issue? (Would the person talk it through or think about it quietly)
  • How would it be if you couldn’t talk it through with anybody or
  • How would it be if you couldn’t get any quiet time to think things through?
  • How would you feel about being the central person of a project, having to constantly liaise and communicate with everyone?


Sensing vs. intuition in project management

Managers with a sensing preference will approach the world and gather information in a pragmatic and tangible manner, working step by step to solve real-world problems and deliver measurable and concrete solutions and projects. They are realistic and observant and tend to look at the detail before they consider the big picture. They will be very good at providing concrete direction to others.

Managers with a preference for intuition are theoretical and imaginative and tend to focus on the big picture before the detail. They are good at creating a vision for the team and seeing interdependencies between various streams and aspects of the project. They tend to be future focused and are good at conceptualising ideas and solutions.

To find out if the project manager has a preference for sensing or intuition, ask questions such as:

  • When planning a project or dealing with an issue, where is your preferred starting point: big picture or specific detail first?
  • How do you tend to lead and motivate team members, by giving detailed direction or by painting a picture of end goal?
  • Do you prefer to deal with the detail of the project or with the bigger picture vision and strategy?

Thinking vs. feeling in project management 
Managers with a thinking preference are good at making decisions based on objectivity, logic and rational thinking. They are often viewed as firm but fair managers who lead in an orderly and sequential manner.

Managers with a feeling preference will predominantly make decisions based on personal values and have a strong awareness of others’ point of view. They will be known as a people-person and are good at empathising with people around them.

To find out if the project manager has a preference for thinking or feeling, ask questions such as:

  • How do you go about making big decisions? (Does the person use logic and objective criteria or more subjective gut feelings)
  • When you last experienced a situation of conflict, what did you do? (Was the person unemotional and focused on facts and figures or did he empathise and see it from all sides)
  • How would you go about motivating team members? (Would the person provide objective and rational reasons or tap into the other person’s emotional and individual drivers)

Judging vs. perceiving in project management
Managers with a judging preference tend to be very organised and timely. They will often put work before play and will be good at creating timelines and plans and bringing projects to closure in a timely manner.

Managers with a perceiving preference are more flexible in their approach and comfortable in an unstructured or changing workplace. In managing the team they tend to give people a great deal of latitude and autonomy.

To find out if the project manager has a judging or perceiving preference, ask questions such as:

  • How do you work to deadlines and how do you work if there are no deadlines?
  • How would you prefer to delegate a task? Agree up front when it should be delivered or let them get on with it and see how it goes?
  • If catching a long distance train, will you prefer to get to the station well in advance, just in time or will you get there when you are ready and then take the next available departure?

STEP 4 – Carry out the selection and interviewing process
Steps 1 to 3 have been concerned with the preparatory steps of recruiting a good project manager. Only when the organisation knows exactly what kind of person it is looking for, should it attempt to carry out step 4 and do the actual interview.

You should carry out the selection and interviewing process by observing and listening to the candidate and asking open and probing questions about their experiences and abilities. You can ask questions such as:

  • Which steps would you take if you were to start up a new project?
  • How would you go about estimating a project?
  • What would you do if the sponsor kept changing the project’s scope?
  • What did you do on previous projects to engage and motivate the team?
  • How would you react if the sponsor asked you to deliver the project earlier?
  • Please give me an example of where you effectively managed conflict?
  • What do you think is important for the team to work effectively together?

Good luck!

Posted in Project Management.

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