Hiring or Assigning a Project Manager (Part 1)
By Mike Tressler, MBA, PMP
via ProjectManagement.com 01/31/2013
Company executives are often faced with hiring or assigning project managers without having a strong background in projects themselves. In writing this article, I hope to provide a little insight and offer guidance for hiring managers and human resource professionals. In Part 1, I'll address the following three key areas to consider when seeking a PM:
- Your company's organizational structure
- The nature of the projects to be assigned
- The qualities of the project manager under consideration
In light of those considerations, in Part 2 we will look at the three most common approaches to selecting PMs that I have seen in the business world:
- Assigning the in-house subject matter expert
- Hiring a project management specialist
- Hiring a project management generalist
Now let's take a look at this installment's three main areas of consideration…
1. Your company's organizational structure
There is a wide variety of organizational structures, cultures and styles, each with its own nuances. But they generally fall into three categories: 1. functional area-based structure, 2. matrix organizations and 3. project-based structures.
A purely functional area-based organization is aligned along departments such as accounting, marketing and sales with no formal Project Management Office or dedicated project managers. A project-based company is primarily dedicated to projects with some supporting departments. A construction company is a good example of such an organization. The project managers have authority over direct reports and the company's work is centered on projects. The majority of companies fall somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum and be categorized as matrix organizations. The organizational structure of such companies is designed to support its day-to-day operations with a secondary focus on projects. Some have a strong PM culture with a dedicated PMO, while others are less formal when it comes to the project management discipline. In a matrix organization, the PM does not have direct reports but instead borrows team members from functional areas throughout the company such as IT, accounting, marketing and sales.
2. The nature of the projects to be assigned
To define the nature of the project assignments, one must (at a minimum) consider these comparative factors: single project vs. a series; repetitious vs. varying projects; depth of knowledge vs. breadth of knowledge required. While I always say a good PM generalist can manage any sort of project, if you are looking for the best fit in a specific niche, considering these three factors will help shape your search for the right PM. The best way to illustrate this is to give examples of each…
Single Project vs. Series: Look into your crystal ball and ask if this hire is for a single project or is it for a series of them. For example, a company has outgrown its current headquarters and is looking for a PM to organize the design and build of a new HQ along with the relocation of its operations. If that is the full extent, it may be a single, onetime project. This means a contract arrangement can be considered rather than a permanent hire. In this situation, specific experience can be sought as well.
If, however, the next strategic phase includes acquiring a competitor, expanding their operations into the old office space, integrating them into the current business culture and then setting sights on the next acquisition target, this hire is for a series of projects. In that case, you may want to hire a permanent PM generalist to set up a PMO if you don't have one already.
Repetitive Projects vs. Varied: If you foresee a series of projects, are they repetitive or varied? Imagine a company that specializes in developing smartphone apps for financial institutions. Every project is the same, but the customers vary. This is an example of a repetitive series of projects.
Now imagine that one of those financial institutions has an in-house PM to oversee their end of the smartphone app development but that same PM has also installed a new online banking system, developed loan products and is managing the construction of a new branch location. That PM's role is clearly varied. To distinguish repetitive from varied, ask yourself if each new assignment is “the same project, different customer” or “the same customer, different project”?
This factor impacts whether you are looking for a very experienced, broad-based project management generalist or perhaps a less experienced PM who is happy to work within a very narrow range of projects while developing a depth of knowledge in that area.
Depth of Knowledge vs. Breadth of Knowledge: This factor addresses the knowledge requirement aside from project management knowledge. It relates closely to the PM candidate's past experience as well as technical knowledge. This next example is somewhat extreme, but it makes the point. Suppose a biochemical company is commissioned by a university to take their latest genetically engineered compound to market. A project manager with 20 years experience, PMP certification and a master's degree applies, but all his experience is in commercial construction. Regardless of the complexity of the projects he has managed, he may not be the best fit for this role.
3. Qualities of the project manager under consideration
According to the PMBOK Guide, Fourth Edition, understanding and applying the tools and techniques of project management is not enough for success. The effective PM must also possess strong characteristics in these areas:
- Knowledge: This refers to what the project manager knows about project management.
- Performance: This refers to what the project manager is able to do or accomplish while applying their project management knowledge.
- Personal: This refers to how the project manager behaves when performing the project or related activity. Personal effectiveness encompasses attitudes, core personality characteristics and leadership--the ability to guide the project team while achieving project objectives and balancing the project constraints.
So what does this mean when attempting to hire or assign the right PM for your situation? Let's look at each quality individually.
- 1. Project management knowledge can be tricky to assess unless you have a wealth of PM experience yourself. So the best advice I can give here is to hire only certified PMs. PMP is the global standard in my opinion, but other certifications such as PRINCE2® and Agile can be considered as well.
- 2. Performance is best reflected in verifiable experience. Ask about the PM's accomplishments and project experience. If you are satisfied based on your conversations, then verify the results when checking references.
- 3. Finally, we come to the candidate's personal traits. This is harder to measure and falls into what might be called the art of project management. You will get a good feel for personality during your interview process; attitudes can be assessed then as well. But leadership, which I consider the most important quality, is going to rely on a combination of references and just plain gut instinct.
That covers the three key considerations when hiring a PM. In Part 2 of this article, we will look at the three most common approaches to selecting PMs that I have seen in the business world.
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