The 9 Essential Qualities Of A Project Manager

“Not on my watch” — that’s what I need to see in a capable project manager. It’s the only attitude to have that when combined with deep knowledge of the solution and extensive people skills breeds the very best project managers.

But where are they?

If I wanted a co-ordinator, I’d ask for a Project Co-ordinator. I want a leader, a driver and a problem solver to bring this project in on-time and in-budget and who takes responsibility.

Yes, the role in a lean and agile world is changing, however the fundamentals remain the same, but everyday it’s a struggle to find good project managers. 2020 will demand the best with the onset of new product innovation platform, CAD, PLM, Digital Manufacturing and MES projects.

Over many years I’ve sat on both sides of the fence. Reporting to the Board as head of a large series of programs and in the main being the customer and then when I’ve had to, jumping into the trenches to be a project manager and there’s nothing more enjoyable, in my humble opinion. To be in those trenches, delivering the design that you’ve been part of creating, it’s the delivering and nurturing of your baby over the months ahead.

The Problems With Project Managers

There’s nothing more frustrating than paying a high rate for a service that you’re told is the very best, but when you walk the project asking questions and no one is on top of the details. The alarm bells begin to ring, but you step back and wait for the next update meeting; it’s the presentation of the ever adjusting schedule!

You arrive for the presentation and yes, it’s a high-level bar chart laid onto a powerpoint. You ask for the detailed project schedule as without this you can’t be reassured of its reliability and thoroughness. Quickly you realize the presentation is being done by a scheduler (it’s been abdicated), not a manager nor an architect, as it’s he or she who is “on-top” of the details. The Project Manager says little, not understanding the project recipe for success, either because he/she is spread too thin across projects or has little understanding of a project of this type.

As you delve deeper, you find few predecessors across the lines of scheduling, confirming your worst fear — no one has really gone deep into the details of the project to see what it will take to deliver it on time.

You know you’re moments away from the “Blame Game”: it’s the customer’s fault, it’s another sub-contractors fault and so it goes on.

Where are the Project Managers who understand your project in detail and have taken the time to agree the detailed recipe for its success?

Of course, in this rapidly changing world of new essential applications for the 4IR, there are few PMs who have been there before.

I recall, only a few years ago, I was confronted with a project I had little or no experience of, but I knew there was only one way to get on top of the details that to be straight with my team and to triple-down, work 18hrs per day and to fail-fast, learn-quick, because I refused to accept this would go-down on my watch.

The Qualities Of A Project Leader

Projects rarely fail but people do!

1. Vision

A good leader is able to help the team see how it’s going to be and that the extra effort required means something to everyone.

2. Communication

Project leadership calls for clear communication about goals, responsibility, performance, expectations and feedback. The PMI (Project Management Institute) suggest a project manager should spend 90 per cent of their time communicating, rather than administering.

3. Honesty

After several years of working in emerging economies, the one thing I learnt fast was there’s no such thing as a secret. Playing games, criticizing others behind their back, not only does not correct the situation, but worsens it due to a breakdown in trust.

If there weren’t problems, we wouldn’t need managers and so transparency, openness and honesty is always the best practice.

4. Passion

Enthusiastic leaders are committed to their goals and express this commitment through optimism. Enthusiasm is contagious and effective leaders know this. A project manager without passion, is one, that is simply put, lacking definition.

5. Compassion

It’s not necessarily what you said, but how you made them feel that they remember. Getting close enough to your team to understand them emotionally, allows you to adjust your approach to bring the best of people. It’s one of the hardest things to do.

6. Competence

Being a great project leader is just a scaled down version of being a great entrepreneur and I for one therefore believe the role to be one handled by the best.

You might have noticed my focus is in Product Optimization in the 4IR and as a result specializes in the implementation of Product Innovation Platforms, Product Lifecycle (PLM) and Manufacturing Application (Digital Manufacturing, MOM, MES) Solutions. I believe in such a rapidly changing world, to be a good project leader you need to understand these areas in great detail — “A Jack of all trades, is a master of none”. I for one don’t want to jump aboard the ship, in treacherous seas unless you’ve sailed the journey before!

7. Problem Solving

An efficient project manager should be capable of solving any or all problems, either with the team or the project itself. The team members should trust the project manager to solve their problems but also involve the team in problem solving also.

And when we say solve, it means getting down in the trenches, seeing and understanding what the team is going through and together fixing the problem.

8. Delegation

People perform best when they’re growing. If you only delegate and expect perfection, you will be surrounded by an unmotivated team. Don’t go looking for 10s to delegate too, instead find the 6 and 7s and if you’re real lucky you may have an 8, but above all else trust them to do their best and be there to help them succeed.

You demonstrate your trust in others through your actions — how much you check and control their work, how much you delegate and how much you allow people to participate. Individuals who are unable to trust other people often fail as leaders.

9. Planning Skills

Project scheduling is a core project management skill, but one that surprisingly, many managers do not pay much attention to!

But really, what is a project manager without a plan? Our ability to organize tasks in the right order, to hit the right outcome at the right time is a major part of our jobs as project manager, isn’t it? It is absolutely critical that as project managers, we give scheduling the serious attention it deserves, and along with it, monitoring progress as the project moves forward and making tweaks to ensure that everything stays on track.

Proper planning means everything from macro to micro

The extent to which you’re able to effectively plan will directly impact the project’s ability to be successful. No matter how good you are at executing, without being able to properly plan a project, the project won’t succeed.

Agile Project Leadership

As the momentum of lean and agile thinking continues to emerge as an enterprise strategy, the PM role will change due to the lack of definition in agile practices. In fact, agile practices do not see a value in the PM role because of the tight connection to the “waterfall” method. However, without the waterfall method, the agile practice would lack a baseline to improve or have a method to compare and contrast.

Through personal experiences with agile transformations, I have witnessed PM struggles with the new role in the lean and agile world. Voices cry out for the good old days, when the PM led initiatives and projects. The new context of the PM role creates a void that will have to be replaced with the acceptance of servant leadership.

The year ahead promises so much for the installation of enterprise applications central to the enablement of 4IR Customer-centric product innovation. Complex product innovation platforms, smart manufacturing and supply chain solutions promise so much, BUT rely heavily on the guidance of experienced Project Managers.

Let’s hope we all find them!

Thanks for making your way to the bottom of this one and please let me know what you think

All the best


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