But it was another project manager and colleague – we’ll call him “H” – who was really the catalyst that would shape my view of the role. So what was it about H that made him so superhuman when managing projects?
Before any requirements were gathered, spreadsheets populated, or boundaries pushed, H always had a feel for where things needed to go. And it wasn’t necessarily a worst-case, best-case analysis. It was more of a gut feeling where he could quickly size things up based on personnel, resources, budgets and tools. Some of that expertise could be attributed to the sheer volume of projects he’d completed. But it was that intangible ability to see the big picture that made him invaluable.
It was an early lesson to not let good project managers get bogged down in the trenches. Their vantage point is critical, and it has to be through the lens of every stakeholder.
One of the more frustrating, yet tremendously effective things H would do was defeat GMOOT. If you’re unaware, that’s an acronym for “Get Me One Of Those,” also referred to as the “Shiny New Object” syndrome. And it’s often blamed on the c-suite’s propensity to be a little overzealous about new tools or technologies.
A good project manager can quickly shoot down GMOOT when it makes its entrance inside the firewall, often by masterfully extolling the benefits of the incumbent platform or widget. In fact, H and his peers had often already piloted something that took care of the problem before any real considerations had surfaced. The realist sees the benefits through the project lens and is never sidetracked by sizzle.
Business First, Technology Second
As technically savvy as H was, the business always superseded any technology discussions. He could code, configure, and build wireframes with the best of them, but most of all, he listened to the business owners.
Talented project managers know how to ask the right questions. To be able to do that, H would immerse himself into the client’s business. In a very short time, he would become a subject matter expert (SME) that was well-versed in the processes used to create the product. In turn, anything that wasn’t process-driven, usually a technology or toolset, seemed foreign.
With the consumerization of everything, most of us are tinkerers by default. A tinkering project manager though, especially around technology, is a different animal. For one, they’re tinkering on the client’s dime, and often without reins. Balance and timing are the keys to taming the project manager tinkerer. Since things move iteratively these days, a good project manager usually accounts for a bit of experimentation and piloting before deployment.
The H’s of the world know which stages of the project are best for tinkering. Not only that, they excel at managing who’s the best candidate and what sort of latitude they should be given. It’s not realistic to think good technologists, developers, or strategists won’t tinker. It’s the good project managers that reel them back in, always with diplomacy and tact.
Any project has its peaks and valleys. Lengthy development cycles, budget shortfalls, and changes in the business can create turmoil and confusion. H was the type that didn’t seem to get ruffled when things went south. The best project managers know how to rally the team in any situation. Their secret is understanding what drives each team member.
Finding and retaining the best employees is a company’s real advantage. Often, project managers have a unique perspective on the organization’s strategy and market. That makes them a great recruiter and an even better talent agent. H could quickly spot a skillset or intangible that would immediately impact the organization or the project. It took a keen sense of intuition and the ability to quickly identify someone’s abilities.