Josh’s Interview About Being a Project Manager

24 Nov 2009 - 05:10 AM under Career, Interviews | Posted by PMStudent

A student of Help University College in Malaysia contacted me with an interview for an assignment she was doing.

interview - by paloma.cl via Flickr

interview - by paloma.cl via Flickr

I asked her if I could share it here on the blog.? Other experienced project managers out there: feel free to add your own insights in the comments!

1. What is the greatest challenge for you as a Project Manager?

The specifics depend on individual projects and their environment. In general, the greatest challenge is ensuring clarity of “what, when, who, why, and how” for everyone, including the customer, project sponsor, team members, and all external and internal stakeholders. Most project failures in my experience stem from a failure to do this. For instance, most customers don’t really know what they want….”they’ll know when they see it.” Uncovering unstated requirements is key, and so is keeping everyone very involved so that you can get constant feedback and ensure any confusion gets cleared up sooner rather than later.

2. What is the most important stage of the project, which can determine the success or failure of the project?

The most important stage is initiation. If the right project manager is not assigned, or the goals are not feasible any project can be doomed from the start. It’s the job of a good project manager during the planning phase to point out any inconsistencies and defend what her team can actually get done with the constraints involved. Again, if a competent project manager wasn’t assigned early on, the project may be doomed to failure. The same goes for senior engineers or anyone else that should be involved very early in a project.

3. How much of the work breakdown structure (WBS) and Project Network Plan are actually used in the project?

The WBS is the heart of the project. When done correctly, it is used for initial planning and then updated regularly throughout the life cycle of a project to reflect any scope changes. These changes, once approved in a decent change management process, then ripple out to all other scope-sensitive project artifacts like the basis of estimates, schedule, RAM, etc.

By Project Network Plan, I assume you mean schedule? Schedule is also used extensively throughout the entire project.

4. Please share about leadership issues in working through a project.

There is controversy over the differences between leadership and management. My outlook is that leaders have followers, while managers have subordinates. Project management consists of both. It’s a false dichotomy to say someone is a leader OR a manager. You can be both, you can be one and not the other, and you can be neither.

Leadership on a project can come from anywhere; there need be no formal organizational hierarchy involved. So one engineer could be a leader for a specific topic area or technology; people follow them because they are convincing and recognized as experts.

When people are led, they are doing so because they want to. The leader has some quality that makes people want to follow them, regardless of any title or formal authority. In general, I never use my formal title and authority over someone unless I absolutely have to. People on my team should feel as if I am a member of the team too, not just the manager of it. A lot of this has to do with leading by example, empowering people to make their own decisions, and backing them up whenever they need it.

Some people have this crazy idea that the PM should make all the big decisions, and the team is there to carry them out. That’s wrong on so many levels. I see my role as the project manager to find the right people and put them on the project in a function where they can shine. I empower people as much as I can to make decisions…I want the people who really are the smartest about a specific topic to be making the decisions for that area. I’m there to support them and help make compromises if necessary when project constraints and trade-offs come into play. To me, servant leadership is the most powerful form of leadership.

Management is necessary too. This is what you are doing when managing tasks, working through your management and project management processes, etc. When I sit down with my direct reports and do one-on-ones that is a management function. Scope/schedule/budget – these are management functions.

5. How does a Project Manager maneuver between his/her stakeholders, and the project objective?

Very carefully. 🙂

I wrote a post a long time ago on Negotiation in Project Management.

As a PM, you need to be able to play the politics of the situation you are in. Part of that means being able to understand and communicate with everyone, from the senior-level business executive who is sponsoring the project, to the non-technical customer who will be using your product, and the technical genius who dreams in code and can speak Klingon fluently. You need to be able to understand what drives all these people, get your points across to them, and translate between them.

The project objective gets set in the beginning (sometimes) but WILL change in some way during the life of the project. The “zeitgeist” of your project is the combination of everyone on it, and their collective vision of the goal will evolve, even if it’s just in minor ways. When there are real conflicts, you need to bring these up. Everyone needs to understand what the impacts to scope/schedule/budget/quality will be for any given change. This is why a good change management system is so critical. It’s also the reason why the WBS is so important; it’s the foundational link in the chain you can always refer back to and show why a change DOES impact your project, and you can’t just “fit it in” with no impact.

6. How do you use Group Development to work for you in your project?

I think you’re referring to the stages of a team (forming, storming, norming, performing). It’s more a matter of being aware of the team dynamics at play…your SPECIFIC team at the time. Generalizations like the group development model can be helpful to structure your thinking, but don’t get too dogmatic about them. I think that specific model has some validity, but there are many projects where it doesn’t. On Agile projects for example, in my experience it’s more about an initial “getting to know each other” phase followed by increased performance as they work together more. Conflicts happen anytime and are usually good if they are navigated correctly; they can be the source of creativity and innovation on your projects.

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