I am often asked by our clients, typically leaders in the Project Management Office (PMO), “How do I know if I have the right project managers to lead large-scale, organization-wide projects? I tell them it comes down to six main abilities:
- Ability to handle pressure
- Strong communications skills
- Foresight in seeing challenges coming
- Ability to keep information confidential
CAN YOU HANDLE THE PRESSURE?
Organization-wide projects are highly visible with a lot of moving parts. They are going to be seen and reported on across the organization, through multiple departments and divisions. A good project manager has to know how to report project status across multiple entities whether it’s bad news or good news. Whatever it is, they have to have the courage to report on it and they can’t fold under the pressure.
Executives, management, stakeholders, and team members are going to be expecting regular project status. They also want to know why particular decisions were made. A good project manager has to know how to deal with those types of questions and can’t shy away from them if the answer is displeasing. In fact, as we’ll see below, they should have the answers prepared before the questions even arise. Some of the best project managers I’ve worked with had their answers already worked out because they anticipated every question that might be asked. Preparing for all possible questions is an important step in staying cool under pressure.
AM I MAKING MYSELF CLEAR?
Organization-wide projects may touch all the departments and divisions across a company so there needs to be a good communication strategy in place to get the information to the right people on time. Usually with these types of projects, there will be issues and risks that need to be communicated. The project manager has to understand what needs to be communicated to the senior level stakeholders versus what to communicate to the team members.
For example, what to communicate to the technical team requires a different level of detail and positioning than what’s said to executives. The information they want to know may be very specific and tactical. How project managers deliver the information is critical. It’s an important skill to be able to communicate up and down the organization.
ARE YOU DISCIPLINED ENOUGH TO LEAD MY PROJECT?
The project manager needs to have the wherewithal to tie everything together. Quality assurance, risk management, and issue management plans all have to be thought through extensively from an organization-wide perspective. You want to make sure that all of the different departments are okay with a particular deliverable and that the different departments are notified in time of a risk or of an issue if it comes up and touches their department. Then they need to know the process to execute on all of these types of plans. Good project managers need to have the discipline to think through all of that and then actually carry it out.
They even have to have the discipline to be thinking about project close out while they’re in the thick of execution. A lot of people think of project close out only when the project nears completion, but that should not be the case. They should be thinking about what to do when the project closes throughout the project and always be thinking about lessons learned and how to tie up loose ends.
I SEE CHALLENGES COMING
Strong project managers need to be on the lookout for challenges whether they’re coming from people or from departments. They also need to be ready for technical challenges or cost challenges. Whether it’s a risk or issue, it’s not that big of a difference. Whether it’s a small challenge, risk, or issue where it only really touches one small department, they need to address it.
This is where the discipline to handle the big things as well as small comes in. They have to have the discipline to address issues before they blow up and tackle them even though there may be a steering committee or another big meeting on the horizon. They have to bring in all of the groups involved and glean all the information that’s possible. Challenges big and small must be addressed with rigor and poise.
BUT DON’T I NEED EXPERIENCE TO GET EXPERIENCE?
Another thing that a project manager should have to manage organization-wide projects is experience. Is it a Catch-22 that you need experience to get experience? Most organization-wide projects have a lot of projects within a project that all lead up to a bigger end goal. A strong project manager who is leading this organization-wide project must have run many successful small to normal sized projects. This will help them understand how all of the smaller projects roll up to impact the overall success of the large project.
YES, I CAN KEEP A SECRET
In some cases of organization-wide projects, confidentiality might be critical even in this era of transparency. For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, there’s an aspect of confidentiality in product development. Of course, in the government, there could be a big need for confidentiality. Some groups that are part of the project may not be cleared for certain information, but the project manager will be cleared. They need the ability to think about what information should be known versus what information they should not know.
Even if it’s just a conversation that you’re having with the CIO and he’s thinking of making a decision based on your project, knowing when to say, what to say, and what not to at times is an important skill to have. Project managers with organization-wide projects need to have this skill. Frequently with organization wide projects, a lot will change so you need to make sure you don’t say too much too early.
Do you agree with these 6 traits? Send me an email and let’s discuss.