Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that I know of two fictional

IT project managers. Both have many years of experience. The first is a certified

Project Manager (PM) who is absolutely dynamite when it comes to PMBOK

knowledge. He knows project management processes and procedures up, down, left,

right, and backwards.

On top of that, he is brilliant with Microsoft Project. He

keeps up with the trade, stays on top of his game and on paper looks to be the

ultimate PM. You know what’s coming next right? I wouldn’t choose him to manage

his way out of a paper bag.

How can someone so knowledgeable–and certified to boot–be

so bad at actually taking a project to completion? The answer is: attitude and

people skills. This person unfortunately does not exude confidence to anyone he

comes into contact with. His personality is as dry as the Sahara and his ability

to get people to follow him is virtually non-existent.

Worse, he believes that he doesn’t need to understand the

client’s business nor the particular subject matter of the project other than

at a cursory level. To him, project management is the act of strictly following

a defined methodology and making sure that all Ts are crossed and i’s are

dotted. If that is done, then the project should succeed.

If the project doesn’t

succeed, he believes that he has been successful for not allowing the client to

waste any more resources on an effort that never had a chance in the first

place. Needless to say, he doesn’t have a long list of projects completed on

time, within budget, and with a happy customer.

Conversely, I know of an individual PM that is not

certified, uses PMBOK and other methodologies loosely, is logical, quick on the

uptake, and has a laser-like ability to get to the root cause of an issue and

then determine how to fix it.

More importantly, she is an active listener, a participatory

manager, and always takes the time to understand the client’s business – even

if this means adding time up front on a project in order to do so. Ultimately

because of her style, the client comes to know and trust this PM. This trust

allows the client and the PM to travel the project road together and encounter

whatever slips and slides await them. But if they do encounter the inevitable

problem, there is no finger pointing or wringing of hands, just a quick

reaction on how the “team” (client and PM) can deal with the issue.

This trust also allows the PM greater flexibility in her

project management because the client trusts that the PM is working in their

best interest. This PM truly becomes a leader in the project, rather than a

dictator of processes and procedures.

Needless to say, this PM has a very good record of

delivering projects and satisfying the customer.

Now some will say that both PMs are very good and that the

first PM just happened to end up in the wrong environment. The environment he

is best suited for is one where clients are exceptionally skilled at what they

do; they just need some organization wrapped around their work.

Conversely, one could argue that the second PM just happened

to end up in environments where the clients know they want something done, may

even know what the solution to their ailments are, but they just don’t know how

to get there. In this environment, the second PM really shines.

I happen to think there is something to be said for both the

above arguments, and there really is a best match of client to PM. However,

when hiring a PM based on a resume and an interview and a few references, it is

still hard to determine which one you are going to get, PM #1 or PM #2 or maybe

a mix of both.

Personally, I always hope for #2. I think their style

is more adaptable to either environment and they can adjust to whatever

methodologies are required and the degree of rigorousness that must be

followed. What do you think?