This article originally appeared on our sister site, TechRepublic.
Project management pundits, myself included, have written extensively about the processes, techniques, and best practices of managing projects successfully. I thought it would be interesting to boil down what I consider to be the most important skills required to manage projects into a simple quiz you can use to evaluate your own skills.
I’ve tried to word the following statements in a way that will allow you to answer “true” or “false,” even though there are shades of gray involved in some of them. Your comfort in using a particular skill, or the lack of using it, doesn’t mean you’re a bad manager, but it does point out something about your project management aptitude.
Answer true or false
Look at these project management skills/traits categories and then answer “true” or “false” to each one. Be honest and critical in your self-evaluation. You may want to write your answers down to score them below.
You don’t plan well because you consider yourself a doer rather than a planner
Many people consider themselves action-oriented. When they’re given an assignment, their first tendency is to jump in and solve the problem. Even though “planning” can be a form of “doing,” let’s make a distinction between the two for the purposes of this example.
You manage with minimal collaboration and interaction with customers and team members
This is the classic case of the individual who feels more comfortable working alone. Many people are more productive this way. This person works by him or herself on the project plan, hands out work assignments, and validates that the work is done. However, he or she tends to be uncomfortable with a lot of human interaction.
You tend to make excuses for problems rather than take responsibility
Some project managers understand that they’re responsible for most of what goes on within a project. Others prefer not to work at that level. To them, there’s always a logical reason why things don’t get done. What’s your habit? Do you try to explain problems away, or do you take responsibility for the good and the bad and strive to eliminate the causes of problems and failures?
You’re an order-taker for your business client, and you don’t use scope change management
Do you think that client-focused behavior means that you take on whatever the client wants? Or do you invoke scope change processes to manage changes?
You let problems sit until they become disasters
Let’s face it. There are many procrastinators among us. Do you consider project problems to be nuisances that you hope will go away? Do you focus on problems only after they start to affect the project?
You don’t create a work plan, or you don’t keep it up to date
This is common on many projects. Many project managers go through the exercise of creating a project work plan, but then they never update it, or they abandon it somewhere in the project life cycle. If they’re asked how much work remains, they have a vague idea but they can’t quantify the remaining effort.
You would rather deliver poor quality than admit you need more time
Many projects finish on time and within budget but only at the expense of quality. The managers of these projects believe they’ll deliver on time and then fix the problems in production. Are you one of them?
You spring surprises at the last minute rather than manage expectations
This trait shows either a tendency to be overly optimistic about what can be done in a short time frame or a conscious act to hide information and hope things work out. The first situation can be caused by inexperience, but in the second instance, the project manager is withholding information as part of a deliberate strategy, perhaps related to the next category below.
You communicate the minimum information required
It’s surprising how many project managers think that communication is one of the drudgeries of the job. Their project team might be making heroic efforts, but when it comes to communicating status, they want to write the bare minimum. They also don’t have regular status meetings. If your project requires extensive communication, would you relish the challenge or be frustrated by all the people who want to know what’s going on?
You ignore risks
Some risks are obvious from the start of a project. Other risks show up later while the project is executing. Many project managers don’t even consider risk management a part of their project responsibilities. Other managers can identify risk, but they do nothing about it until it’s too late.
Now let’s add up the statements you said were true of you. I would grade the numbers as follows:
0—If you did not answer “true” to any category, you likely have a good chance of success as a project manager.
1—You’re not perfect, but you're not hopeless. Work on the category so that you can answer “false” in the future.
2—I’m being really charitable here. This is a borderline score. Depending on what the two categories are, you may be able to overcome the weaknesses through additional focus. Work on the two categories in question to turn them around.
More than 2—If you answered “true” to three or more categories, I think you have work to do on your project management mind-set. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. But, given your answers to the questions posed in the categories, you need to develop your knowledge of good project management practices or to examine your overall motivation for taking on project management work. Perhaps you can focus on those areas for improvement and take the test again at a later date.
A perfect score doesn’t guarantee perfection
Of course, I worded these questions to show weak project management practices. Answering “false” to all 10 items doesn’t guarantee your success. However, answering “true” to any of them shows an area that could place a project at risk—especially larger and more complex projects.
Would anyone argue that any of the categories represent good traits that should not be considered weaknesses of a project manager? If so, post a note below.
Tom Mochal is president of TenStep, Inc., a project management consulting and training firm. Recently, he was Director of Internal Development at Geac, Inc., a major ERP software company. He’s worked for Coca-Cola, Eastman Kodak, and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. Tom has developed a project management methodology called TenStep and an application support methodology called SupportStep.