Project management can yield a variety of benefits for the organization, however, when the project is put in the hands of an ineffective project manager there is a strong likelihood that the attitude toward the profession will be negative. This kind of setback can be devastating to other projects and PM within the organization as well. During a customer visit many years ago our sales team got into a discussion with the client executives on whether a PM is even needed to lead a project. Midway through that discussion we realized that this particular executive’s opinions were shaped by so many negative experiences with project managers.
The challenge is that executives and professionals, outside of project management, responsible for hiring the project manager often don’t know what to look for and what to ask to determine if the person is a good fit for the position. Even in situations where there are clear job descriptions with roles and responsibilities, individuals who are unfamiliar with the practice will have a hard time determining how to evaluate candidates.
Similarly, after that project manager is hired these same executives and professionals will have a hard time evaluating the performance of the PM. Again, they are likely not sure what to look for and in extreme situations they don’t even know what a healthy versus an unhealthy project looks like.
These issues can certainly be corrected as time passes and as the organization becomes better acquainted with project management. However, there is a certain period of time in the adoption lifecycle of any organization where the risk of rejection of project management can be extremely high. It is within this time period that the above mentioned issue can cause havoc on the organization and can result in undermining the benefits of project management.
There are a couple of strategies that can be employed to ensure that the hiring and evaluation of project managers are done well. The first is to engage professionals who have experience in project management. This can be a consultant or simply an employee who has interacted with project managers in a previous organization/position. Second, the organization can request some tailored training to help the executives better understand what the appropriate expectations are of the PMs.
I’ve mentioned before that project management’s nature is such that there is a marriage of sorts between the quantitative and the qualitative. The “scientific” part that deals with developing baselines and monitoring progress using mechanisms such as EVM has to be reconciled with the “art” part of leading teams and communicating with people. It is this very nature that makes it difficult to assess competence and performance. The only way to improve it is through practice as part of the iterative process of launching, planning, delivering, and sun-setting projects.