Selecting the Project Manager An Executive Decision

Probably the most difficult decision facing upper-level management is the selection of project managers. Some managers work best on long-duration projects where decision making can be slow; others may thrive on short-duration projects that can result in a constant-pressure environment. Upper-level management must know the capabilities and shortcomings of their project managers. A director was asked whom he would choose for a key project manager position—an individual who had been a project manager on previous programs in which there were severe problems and cost overruns, or a new aggressive individual who might have the capability to be a good project manager but had never had the opportunity. The director responded that he would go with the seasoned veteran assuming that the previous mistakes would not be made again. The argument here is that the project manager must learn from his own mistakes so they will not be made again. The new individual is apt to make the same mistakes the veteran made. However, executives cannot always go with the seasoned veterans without creating frustrating career path opportunities for the younger personnel. Stewart has commented on this type of situation:1

Though the project manager's previous experience is apt to have been confined to a single functional area of business, he must be able to function on the project as a kind of general manager in miniature. He must not only keep track of what is happening but also play the crucial role of advocate for the project. Even for a seasoned manager, this task is not likely to be easy. Hence, it is important to assign an individual whose administrative abilities and skills in personal relations have been convincingly demonstrated under fire.

Charles Martin has commented on the fact that project manager selection is a general management responsibility:2

• A project manager is given license to cut across several organizational lines. His activities, therefore, take on a flavor of general management, and must be done well.

Project management will not succeed without good project managers. Thus, if general management sees fit to establish a project, it should certainly see fit to select a good man as its leader.

• A project manager is far more likely to accomplish desired goals if it is obvious that general management has selected and appointed him.

1 John M. Stewart, "Making Project Management Work." Reprinted with permission from Business Horizons, Fall 1965, p. 63. Copyright © by the Board of Trustees at Indiana University.

2 Reprinted with permission of the publisher, from Project Management: How to Make It Work (p. 234) by Charles Martin, © 1976 AMACOM, a division of the American Management Association. All rights reserved.

The selection process for project managers is not an easy one. Five basic questions must be considered:

• What are the internal and external sources?

• How do we provide career development in project management?

• How can we develop project management skills?

• How do we evaluate project management performance?

Project management cannot succeed unless a good project manager is at the controls. The selection process is an upper-level management responsibility because the project manager is delegated the authority of the general manager to cut across organizational lines in order to accomplish the desired objectives successfully. It is far more likely that project managers will succeed if it is obvious to the subordinates that the general manager has appointed them. Usually, a brief memo to the line managers will suffice. The major responsibilities of the project manager include:

• To produce the end-item with the available resources and within the constraints of time, cost, and performance/technology

• To meet contractual profit objectives

• To make all required decisions whether they be for alternatives or termination

• To act as the customer (external) and upper-level and functional management (internal) communications focal point

• To ''negotiate" with all functional disciplines for accomplishment of the necessary work packages within the constraints of time, cost, and performance/technology

• To resolve all conflicts, if possible

If these responsibilities were applied to the total organization, they might reflect the job description of the general manager. This analogy between project and general managers is one of the reasons why future general managers are asked to perform functions that are implied, rather than spelled out, in the job description. As an example, you are the project manager on a high-technology project. As the project winds down, an executive asks you to write a paper so that he can present it at a technical meeting in Tokyo. His name will appear first on the paper. Should this be a part of your job? As this author sees it, you really don't have much of a choice.

In order for project managers to fulfill their responsibilities successfully, they are constantly required to demonstrate their skills in interface, resource, and planning and control management. These implicit responsibilities are shown below:

• Interface Management

• Product interfaces

—Performance of parts or subsections —Physical connection of parts or subsections

• Project interfaces

• Management (functional and upper-level)

• Change of responsibilities

• Information flow

• Material interfaces (inventory control) • Resource Management

• Facilities

• Information/technology

• Planning and Control Management

• Increased equipment utilization

• Increased performance efficiency

• Reduced risks

• Identification of alternatives to problems

• Identification of alternative resolutions to conflicts

Consider the following advertisement for a facilities planning and development project manager (adapted from The New York Times, January 2, 1972):

Personable, well-educated, literate individual with college degree in Engineering to work for a small firm. Long hours, no fringe benefits, no security, little chance for advancement are among the inducements offered. Job requires wide knowledge and experience in manufacturing, materials, construction techniques, economics, management and mathematics. Competence in the use of the spoken and written English is required. Must be willing to suffer personal indignities from clients, professional derision from peers in the more conventional jobs, and slanderous insults from colleagues.

Job involves frequent extended trips to inaccessible locations throughout the world, manual labor and extreme frustration from the lack of data on which to base decisions.

Applicant must be willing to risk personal and professional future on decisions based upon inadequate information and complete lack of control over acceptance of recommendations by clients. Responsibilities for the work are unclear and little or no guidance is offered. Authority commensurate with responsibility is not provided either by the firm or its clients.

Applicant should send resume, list of publications, references and other supporting documentation to . . .

Fortunately, these types of job descriptions are very rare today as maturity in project management continues.

Finding the person with the right qualifications is not an easy task because the selection of project managers is based more on personal characteristics than on the job description. In Section 4.1 a brief outline of desired characteristics was presented. Russell Archibald defines a broader range of desired personal characteristics:3

• Flexibility and adaptability

• Preference for significant initiative and leadership

• Aggressiveness, confidence, persuasiveness, verbal fluency

• Ambition, activity, forcefulness

• Effectiveness as a communicator and integrator

• Broad scope of personal interests

• Poise, enthusiasm, imagination, spontaneity

• Able to balance technical solutions with time, cost, and human factors

• Well organized and disciplined

• A generalist rather than a specialist

• Able and willing to devote most of his time to planning and controlling

• Able to identify problems

• Willing to make decisions

• Able to maintain proper balance in the use of time

Figure 4-2 is a humorous summation of these elements.

This ideal project manager would probably have doctorates in engineering, business, and psychology, and experience with ten different companies in a variety of project office positions, and would be about twenty-five years old. Good

Figure 4-2. Keep your nose to the grindstone.

3 Russell D. Archibald, Managing High-Technology Programs and Projects (New York: Wiley, 1976), p. 55. Copyright © 1976 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

project managers in industry today would probably be lucky to have 70 to 80 percent of these characteristics. The best project managers are willing and able to identify their own shortcomings and know when to ask for help. Project managers who believe that they can do it all themselves may end up as shown in Figure 4-3.

Figures 4-4 and 4-5 show the basic knowledge and responsibilities that construction project managers should possess. It is understandable that the apprenticeship program for training construction project managers could easily be ten years.

The difficulty in staffing, especially for project managers or assistant project managers, is in determining what questions to ask during an interview to see if an individual has the necessary or desired characteristics. There are numerous situations in which individuals are qualified to be promoted vertically but not horizontally. An individual with poor communication skills and interpersonal skills can be promoted to a line management slot because of his technical expertise, but this same individual is not qualified for project management promotion.

Most executives have found that the best way to interview is by reading each element of the job description to the potential candidate. Many individuals want a career path in project management but are totally unaware of what the project manager's duties are.

So far we have discussed the personal characteristics of the project manager. There are also job-related questions to consider, such as:

Figure 4-3. Let the experts do it.

Figure 4-4. McKee project services. Source: V. E. Cole, W. B. Ball, and D. S. Barrie, "Managing the Project," Proceedings of the Ninth International Seminar/Symposium on Project Management, The Project Management Institute, 1977, p. 57.

Figure 4-5. Project management responsibilities. Source: L. J. Weber, W. Riethmeier, A. F. Westergard, andK. O. Hartley, "The Project Sponser's View," Proceedings of the Ninth International Seminar/ Symposium on Project Management, The Project Management Institute, 1977, p. 76.

• Are feasibility and economic analyses necessary?

• Is complex technical expertise required? If so, is it within the individual's capabilities?

• If the individual is lacking expertise, will there be sufficient backup strength in the line organizations?

• Is this the company's or the individual's first exposure to this type of project and/or client? If so, what are the risks to be considered?

• What is the priority for this project, and what are the risks?

• With whom must the project manager interface, both inside and outside the organization?

Most good project managers generally know how to perform feasibility studies and cost-benefit analyses. Sometimes this capability can create organizational conflict. A major utility company begins each computer project with a feasibility study in which a cost-benefit analysis is performed. The project managers, all of whom report to a project management division, perform the study themselves without any direct functional support. The functional managers argue that the results are grossly inaccurate because the functional experts are not involved. The project manager, on the other hand, argues that they never have sufficient time or money to perform a complete analysis. This type of conflict requires executive attention. Some companies resolve this by having a special group simply to perform these types of analyses.

Most companies would prefer to find project managers from within. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. The following remarks by Robert Fluor illustrate this point:4

On-the-job training is probably the most important aspect in the development of a project manager. This includes assignments to progressively more responsible positions in engineering and construction management and project management. It also includes rotational assignments in several engineering department disciplines, in construction, procurement, cost and scheduling, contract administration, and others. . . . We find there are great advantages to developing our project managers from within the company. There are good reasons for this:

• They know the corporate organization, policies, procedures, and the key people. This allows them to give us quality performance quicker.

• They have an established performance record which allows us to place them at the maximum level of responsibility and authority.

• Clients prefer a proven track record within the project manager's present organization.

4 J. Robert Fluor, "Development of Project Managers—Twenty Years' Study at Fluor," Keynote address to Project Management Institute Ninth International Seminar/Symposium, Chicago, Illinois, October 24, 1977.

There are also good reasons for recruiting from outside the company. A new project manager hired from the outside would be less likely to have strong informal ties to any one line organization and thus could show impartiality on the project. Some companies further require that the individual spend an apprenticeship period of twelve to eighteen months in a line organization to find out how the company functions, to become acquainted with some of the people, and to understand the company's policies and procedures.

One of the most important but often least understood characteristics of good project managers is their ability to understand and know both themselves and their employees in terms of strengths and weaknesses. They must understand human behavior. Each manager must understand that in order for employees to perform efficiently:

• They must know what they are supposed to do, preferably in terms of an end product.

• They must have a clear understanding of authority and its limits.

• They must know what their relationship with other people is.

• They should know what constitutes a job well done in terms of specific results.

• They should know where and when they are falling short.

• They must be made aware of what can and should be done to correct unsatisfactory results.

• They must feel that their superior has an interest in them as individuals.

• They must feel that their superior believes in them and is anxious for their success and progress. 4.3—

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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