Today I present my project manager interview with Ron Holohan, MBA, PMP.? Ron is the creator and host of the pm411.org Project Management Podcast.? I am a long time fan of the podcast and if you haven’t listened to it, you should.? Ron has been involved in project management for over 15 years and is a Director of Program Management for a major company in the Chicago, Illinois area.
Josh:? Thank you so much for sharing your background and experience with the pmStudent community Dennis! How did you get your start in project management?
Ron:? I started off as an Electrical Engineer in the early 1990?s for a company that designed electronic safety controls for residential furnaces. Within a year I became a Project Engineer where I was responsible for coordinating the product development on projects between various functional areas such as Engineering, Purchasing, Marketing, Manufacturing, and Quality. This was really my start in tracking project schedules, costs, documentation, and deliverables.
Josh:? Who do you look up to and have learned a lot from in relation to project management?
Ron:? I spent years on my own trying to figure out ways of better estimating schedules and delivering projects on time. I took many classes on Microsoft Project, Project Risk Management, and Indirect Management, and many other areas. None of these classes made a big impact on improving schedule performance. But a couple years ago I started reading a novel by Eliyahu Goldratt called Critical Chain. This book really opened my eyes. I learned from Goldratt that instead of just focusing on the completion of tasks on the project?s critical path, project managers also need to focus on the constrained resources on the critical path and allow those resources to work solely on the task at hand. Another Project Management author, Lawrence Leach, took this concept a step further in his book Critical Chain Project Management and effectively showed how the Theory of Constraints could be applied to project schedules through the use of Feeding and Project Buffers. I have since taken classes on ?Critical Chain Project Management? and have successful used some of its techniques on my own projects.
Cornelius Fichtner, of the Project Management Podcast and Project Management PrepCast, has also had a great influence on me. I received my PMP accreditation after learning more about it from his PM PrepCast and Cornelius was really the one who influenced me to try my hand at podcasting since I had a small music recording studio already in my home and a love of project management. His podcasts cover a lot of great PM topics and that is why I refer to him as ?The Podfather of Project Management?. He definitely was one of the first, if not the very first person out there to have a podcast on Project Management.
Josh:? What are the top personal attributes that lend themselves to project management?
Ron:? I truly believe that having solid written and oral communication skills (both as an information transmitter and receiver) is the most important personal attribute that project managers must have in project management. I am not saying you necessarily need to be a flashy speaker during presentations, but you have to be able to keep your stakeholders and team members informed throughout the project. This requires Project Managers to know exactly how their stakeholders want information to be presented and then being able to successfully and consistently meet their needs. This means more than just listening to them ? but also really ?hearing? what your stakeholders need.
Successful project managers that I have worked with were not always the ones that came in under schedule, budget, and cost. The successful project managers I know provide information, whether positive or negative, in a timely manner so that team members and stakeholders can make informed project decisions as early as possible. Communication is 90% of a project manager?s job and if a project manager cannot successfully communicate the project plan and health throughout its lifecycle, then that project manager probably will not be a project manager for long.
Josh:? What are the top skills a new project manager needs?
Ron:? As mentioned above, new project managers need the ability to successfully and consistently communicate with stakeholders. Also, new project managers need the drive to ?stay one step ahead? of their project. Anticipating opportunities and threats in advance throughout a project will help a project manager steer their project through obstacles. Also, new project managers should try to remain professional at all times ? they need to be assertive without being overly harsh or playing ?victim? to things they consider outside of their control. They are the ?cheerleader? for the team and they have the responsibility to help the team stay positive and working toward a common goal. And finally, new project managers should being looking for ways to continually improve their own skills. Successful project managers never stop learning. They never stop looking at how others manage their projects and what they can learn from the experiences of others.
Josh:? What are the biggest challenges a new project manager faces?
Ron:? Many project managers work in a cross-functional, or matrix, organization where their team members only indirectly report to the project manager. In these cases, since there is no direct reporting authority between the project manager and their team members, team members may be less loyal to them than to their own direct functional manager. As a result, project managers must frequently rely on referent power, or power based on respect and charisma, to lead the team. Frequently new project managers fear making a wrong decision and that their decisions may be overturned by someone with direct authority. As a result, they may wait indefinitely on making a time critical decision instead of collecting the needed information to weigh the costs and benefits of each side of the decision. As a result the project team loses trust and respect for the project manager and time and money is wasted as the project stalls.
Another challenge that I have found new project managers often face is to be able to adequately maintain the scope and value of a project. Too frequently team members end up ?gold plating? the project by adding additional features or performance to the project scope without first getting agreement from stakeholders that in doing so the benefits truly outweigh the costs. The opposite is true as well. Project Managers can be myopic and become only concerned with completing a project on time and within budget, even if the project deliverables no longer meets the stakeholder needs.
New project managers also need to gain experience through their work to become better project managers. Throwing a new project manager on the ?tough project? is not going to help the organization, its stakeholders, or the project manager successfully meet their goals. Progressively giving project managers tougher assignments as they gain project experience will allow them to grow into their role and provide more value to their organization and team.