We’ve talked and thought – a lot -- about what makes a good project manager. It’s all in what that person does, and I’m now down to three Ps in describing it: preparation, persistence and perspective.
Preparation. How many project problems, hassles and stunning bad surprises can be traced back to sloppy and/or incomplete work at the outset?
Do we, are we allowed to, invest adequate attention up front in gathering, organizing and analyzing enough information so we are confident we have the right problem definition, a sound situation analysis and a clear purpose statement?
Are we empowered? Has our organization’s leadership delegated to us sufficient authority – and made it fully known down the hierarchy – that we carry full authority to ask for support and resources adequate for the needs of the project?
Is the team up to the challenge? Do we have enough team members, and do they have the right skills and intentions, to do what it will take?
Persistence. How can you be sure you are you sticking with a tough challenge through thick and thin, a rare and noble thing? When are you just being stubborn, refusing to see the obvious that everyone else sees in a losing proposition?
How can you know the difference, and how can you tell when the prospects switch from favorable to hopeless – or in the other direction, from lost cause to golden opportunity?
Answer: You can never know, you can never be sure.
One certainty, though, is that worthwhile opportunity, really worthwhile opportunity, always comes with risk. Generally speaking, the higher the potential payoff, the greater the risk in pursuing it.
All you can do is stack the prospects in your favor as much as possible (see preparation, above).
Perspective. This is an operating function of wisdom. It is a clear view of the ongoing balance of the odds in this dicey operation we call project management.
As project decisions, efforts and investments produce results, there is constant realignment among the three competing imperatives: cost, schedule and quality. By the time there is much evidence of the direction of the project, it may be too late. A clear perspective is an outcome, not a working tool.
Perspective is essential to the project manager, and it requires confidence in one’s judgment arising from competence in the first two Ps. You know when the project meter ticks into the red zone because your accumulated experience alerts you to it.
For the professional project manager, preparation is pretty much a continuous thing. You don’t just live in the moment, and you have little use for unreliable human memory.
While you’re continuously alert to every part of your project, you ensure that all meaningful facts about its functioning are captured, in real time, in a permanent record. Understanding the meaning of that record contributes to fine tuning of managerial judgment.
The project manager gets better and better at knowing just when to introduce change. When any part of the project has been squeezed for every bit of value, the leader pulls the plug. Not a moment too early or too late.
We’ve all admired people who stuck with some worthwhile endeavor long after we suspect we would have packed it in. And they pulled it off.
We’ve also seen people too stubborn to admit defeat, who forced their team and their organization into a lost and senseless grind. And, conversely, those who just gave up.
When to quit. Part of knowing how to succeed.