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What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

Posted July 15, 2010 7:39 AM

Back when I was first starting out in the construction industry, my dad insisted I start from the bottom and work my way up. After all, he single handedly built up his commercial construction business from a one-truck operation to a large construction management outfit that boasts revenues in the tens of millions. That said, he's always subscribed to the philosophy of a project manager, knowing precisely what he or she is talking about when it comes to issuing field directives, or carrying out requests from architects and owners. That means knowing everything from ditch digging to accurate layout according to plans and specs.

Things have changed since my early days spent laboring on a job-site. While men and women still rise up from out of the ranks of laborer to job-site foreman to project manager, project management has now become its own recognized career. Nowadays, a student can enter college with relatively little knowledge about construction and its coordination demands, yet still graduate a vested project manager. Thus the need for important learning and re-learning institutions like the Project Management Institute (PMI), which since 1969 has been advancing "the practice, science, and profession of project management throughout the world in a conscientious and proactive manner."

With project managers having to display up-to-date knowledge of every commercial construction delivery system from general construction to Design/Build, while constantly striving to bring a job in under budget and on-time, professional development organizations like PMI become all the more necessary. Add to that today's need for LEED-certified and green-approved construction methods, and you get some idea why project managers are some of the hardest working pros in the business.

How do you see the role of project managers evolving over the next five to ten years?

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#1

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/15/2010 12:19 PM

Like everything, things transition from the field to more office intensity.....i.e....paper work.

Such as Compliance Validations, I see this already a firm foot hold. I do feel that a good PM has to have a firm understanding of the skills-sets that are involved, but this is getting to be way too difficult.

Anyone that goes to college to be a PM, have better get some practical experience first or at least along with it. If anything to recognize and verify the competency of the team. (and team has to mean more than just a word) The bottom line is, the PM can't hire or fire, but the PM is responsible and can make recommendations.

p911

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#2

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/16/2010 6:49 AM

I have (OK, had; I let it lapse) my PMP Certification from PMI. Then:I'd been managing software development projects, the client's in-house "tools" were, er, ah, less than stellar, and we were all experiencing the effects of the Mythical Man Month: adding programmers / engineers / worker bees to a late project makes it later. Now: I'm up to my eyeballs running our startup.

Yes, project management certification is a fine way to acquire a toolset to better manage chaos. Keyword, that: "a." I wouldn't have wanted to have done without it.

No matter where certification is going, it will keep three attributes; it will always be (1) politically acceptable because the client perceives that certification reduces his risk, (2) economically rewarded, and therefore (3) self-sustaining. Not like "CPA," or "MD," but you get the idea.

But up from the trenches also works as a means of getting a handle on things.

Here's why. Some folks think Noam Chomsky is a nut case for his political views, but back when he more or less constrained himself to linguistics he came up with the concept of "deep structure." "The ball did Billy hit," "Hit the ball did Billy," "Hit was the ball by Billy," etc., etc. all have the same "deep structure."

Book learning is a left-brained way to grasp the deep structure, i.e., what's REALLY going on.

OJT is another, hands-on, way.

After "Aha!" everything, and I do mean everything, becomes ever so much easier.

Example: The reason ninety percent of all projects supposedly fail is because, near the end, some stakeholder withheld a key requirement / piece of information / whatever. Yup. I learned the hard way that if I, as a PM, could not coalesce all manner of external clues (insert near-infinite variety of unhelpful behaviors here --->[]) into someone else's internal deep structure (insert personal agendas here--->[]), I figured I had a time bomb on my hands. Machiavelli would have been so proud.

Project management is not about projects. Project management is about communicating with people. Work breakdown structures, milestones, and the all-important project charter are tools to get everyone pointed in the same direction at the same time.

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#4
In reply to #2

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/16/2010 7:54 AM

After cutting through all that, you touch on a very important point clues, and follow up on them. As far as communication, yes that is a key element

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#7
In reply to #2

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/16/2010 9:50 AM

I agree with the last paragraph every word, thing is, how do you get everyone pointing in the same direction at the same time. This takes a special type of person who is a good man manager like a field marshall who recieves the respect of his troops, this is on top of experience and knowledge and a membership of the PMI/degree in PM which may possibly not go amiss. In my opinion, as a minimum good man managment is the key

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#9
In reply to #2

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/16/2010 1:39 PM

I thought this was quite brilliant and would like to hear more.

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#3

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/16/2010 7:15 AM

In general I agree with your fathers philosophy. I have worked in the Oil & Gas industry for 35 years as an instrument engineer/E+I project engineer never a PM but I also have a pretty good grasp of electrical, mechanical, piping etc the point being, I have indepth knowledge of my industry from the bottom up but I just happen to specialise on instrumentation just as you have of the construction industry by this I mean the raw basics of your industry (forget about computers and sofware for the moment)

I work with some clever project engineers/managers who do not specialise in any particular field or discipline. They hold a masters degree in Project Management which supposedly qualifies them to work as project managers in any industry eg transport for a couple of years then manufacturing for maybe 5 years, construction for say 4 years etc. do me a favour please, these type of persons will never be top project managers unless they stay the course and specialise in a specific field or industry.

My next point is, to be a proffessional project manager one does not nesessarily have to be an expert in IT systems or every commercial construction delivery system etc. the operative word which you rightly mentioned is "knowledge". For example, I have worked with 2 excellent PM's in my time, both specialised and had very many years of experience in Oil & Gas and both had the same basic philosophy which was "I have the knowledge and experience, I surround myself with competent and trust worthy staff, I supervise them giving clear and unambiguous instructions, I also issue the latest planning should there be revisions so each key member of the team is fully aware and finally I am always aproachable and I need to be informed of anything which could impact the project" This is the philosophy of the 2 PM's I respected. This is not utopea, these 2 guys whilst being human, had the knowledge, experience and would not hesitate to dismiss a person who did not perform, this is after that particular person had been given a number of chances to make good.

The point I have been attempting to make is...........project management is not nesessarilly all about PM university degrees which is desirable but there is no substitute for knowledge and experience, the ideal blend in my opinion would be knowledge, experience, relevant universtity qualifications and a bit of the old human touch.

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#5

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/16/2010 8:11 AM

While project management is essential it is no less essential to test your system. I use Visio to track what actually happens and compare that to the MS Project file for the project. I have found that all of this tracking and projecting adds about 7% to the cost of a job in time. What it saves is enormous. While the tracking is painful I have found it to be useful as well when there are many change orders or as designed misfits to deal with. For each job I have a directory of scanned documents the project file and visio files tracking subcontractors and permitting/inspections. In the few cases whwere it was needed I was able to recover refused funds because of documentation that demonstrated my cost of return and replace including time lost.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/16/2010 8:17 AM

would that depend on the size of the project, and when you compare the two, have you used it in wip and made made adjustments?

Or do you use it when you closing off?

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#11
In reply to #5

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/16/2010 1:42 PM

I agree that tracking is a good control idea. I'm not sure how you are using visio. (I'm a visio user) can you please explain in greater detail about that? thanks. chris

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#8

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/16/2010 11:20 AM

A project manager who can get a project done on time and within budget, is one who has "options" under his belt, and will not take "no" for an answer. Whe one component of the operational team says he (they) will be late "because", the project manager may have to resort to (or at least threaten) to use another option to get the job done on time (e.g. use an outside source to lay out a board).

This makes for a successful project, but can really alienate the Project Manager. He will need super political skills to avoid getting caught in the next layoff!

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#10

Re: What Makes a Successful Project Manager?

07/16/2010 1:41 PM

A simple answer: What makes a Successful Project Manager, ia a good planner / scheduler, that keeps the information up to date for the Project Manager. The Project Manger can look at the information and determine if additional help is needed, what part of the Projects are ahead and what part of the Projects are behind. A good understanding of programs such as Primavera, and a understanding of all apects of the projects. Just ask the ones you know, that are succesful who there right hand person is, only the Engineers run a close second.

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