Passionate Project Managers Deliver the Goods

Jan. 23, 2008
If you’re a project manager (PM), chances are you aren’t technically proficient in all of the project’s areas. Really, though, you don’t have to be.
But you’d better be passionate about the project’s outcome and exhibit that passion when dealing with its participants, observes Andy Woyzbun, lead analyst with Info-Tech Research Group (, a London, Ontario, Canada-based information technology (IT) research and consulting firm. Succeeding by delivering on-time completion at client quality and expectations involves some essential factors. First, recognize your organization’s project-management maturity, Woyzbun recommends. To have credibility, operate within whatever culture exists, he advises. Should off-the-cuff describe the company’s project-management style, don’t expect to raise the existing culture to some “dramatically higher level.” Trying unfamiliar or unapproved tools might even cause pushback from higher-ups.  Second, establish authority. “If you don’t have adequate control of project resources, you’re heading for deep waters,” Woyzbun cautions. But know and show your dependence on others, he advises. The successful PM takes the time to say, “I depend on persons A, B and C. I’ve got to find ways to show them the project is important. And I’ve got to find the way to show them that nothing is going to work unless we pull together.” Involvement works Third, get vendors and management appropriately involved. Research by Info-Tech in the spring of 2007 about IT-related projects indicated that of 550 companies surveyed, “about half [said they] had successful projects. About half said projects had underperformed,” Woyzbun reveals.  Two counterintuitive or new insights emerged from the research, he says. One was software-vendor significance. “If the vendor was significantly involved, there was a positive relationship.” Because vendors have a vested interest in success, the bottom line Wozybun advocates? “Trust these guys, because of the expertise they bring.”  The other insight he mentions concerns involvement of functional management, the project’s client. “The general urban myth is that more involvement is better, but too much can be negative,” Woyzbun states. One specific type of involvement that he characterizes as “bad,” and which could lead to under performance, involves senior management pre-selecting technical solutions they found elsewhere.  Fourth, develop an effective plan, which might alleviate the potential predicament just mentioned. Woyzbun thinks three descriptors—realistic, comprehensive and measurable—apply to either simple or intricate plans. Realistic means sensibly assessing players’ availability and capabilities, having adequate contingencies and understanding risks. Comprehensive implies recognizing and involving all key players. Measurable signifies obtaining evidence that particular milestones have been achieved. He adds that PMs must define milestones and how achievement is detected.  “The evidence would say these three things are necessary,” Wozybun concludes, based on case studies of approximately 1,500 clients annually. “If you address these three, you improve the likelihood of success.”  Finally, understand your role. Likely, that won’t mean believing the project revolves around you or that you’re only a recordkeeper. Inevitably, though, a PM’s smarts, leadership, creativity and understanding of role will surface when glitches derail or at least distract the project. If a manager has established authority and is committed to delivery, “you have to apply leadership and creative skills—and sometimes you have to really lean on people,” Wozybun observes. The latter may involve using all available “threat tools,” he adds. Those include escalating concerns to higher levels.  While possessing and implementing the five factors facilitates success, Wozybun emphasizes that passion is the real driver. “If you think the project is important, then you’ll put your energy into it.” Otherwise, “you’ll do a lousy job.” Those predictions accentuate the necessity, he believes, to ask a prospective project manager: “Do you care about this project? Do you care that it’s successful?” Who would choose someone who didn’t enthusiastically answer, “Yes”? C. Kenna Amos, [email protected], is an Automation World Contributing Editor.

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