5 Tips for Hiring Your Best Project Manager Yet

Four candidates competing for one position. Having CV in his hand

Organizations (both for profit and not) set out to actually achieve their goals, not just to set goals for the sake of having them, right? Why is it, then, that most of these same businesses overlook one of the most critical aspects of goal achievement? Having solid project managers that can make it actually happen!

If you don’t have skilled project managers, garbage in will still equal garbage out – no matter how amazing your tools and technology are!

Solid project managers (PM) are the very people responsible for making their organizational goal(s) come to life, yet they are often an after-thought. PMs are the very people that take those organizational goals, break them down into manageable (and ACTIONABLE) chunks, and assign them to the various roles needed – people with the right technical skills to handle their part in the project. The PMs actually get the project moving, and continue to monitor to make sure they progress in the right direction. You cannot achieve your goals, your vision, and your strategy, without this. But how do you find the right PM? First, you need to understand how to look!

Here’s what you need to do to hire a great project manager:


  1. Stop Hiring the Plumber to Do the Electrician’s Job

If you need electrical work done, who would you call, a plumber or an electrician? Seems like a silly question, I know, but why is it that we seem to call on non-PM’s to suddenly become PM’s, then? Sure, these people are probably great people, have great people skills, or maybe they are well-liked, and that’s all great! But, it isn’t enough! Solid performing project managers take much more than just a fancy title change. In fact, even a certification hardly means you have a quality project manager on your hands! Understanding this is your first step.


  1. Be More Specific in Your Search

Don’t advertise the project management job using generic criteria like “Communicates well”, or “Works well with others”. Those are great traits to have, but being this vague is a sure way to receive a lot of unqualified applicants! While it may take some time up-front, it will save you time and frustration later if you are more specific in your description of the work you need done. Solid project managers can work on almost any kind of project because their skills are transferable regardless of industry. That said, many have worked multiple project types and have preferences in the area they want to work! Being clear with exactly what you’re looking for will help to attract the PMs that are looking for that kind of PM position.


  1. A Technical Expert is Almost Never the Best Approach

Unless your project is relatively small and not very complex, asking your project manager to also serve as your technical expert is a bad approach. The same goes for using this approach in reverse (asking a technical subject matter expert to also be your PM).

Do you really expect your project manager to be amazing at managing the entire project, as well as someone who can understand the intricate differences and designs behind every network router and switch? Why not hire a network engineer for that, and let your project manager do their actual job – as a project manager? A solid project manager’s knowledge runs a mile wide and an inch deep in the topic area – anything they don’t know in the topic area could be easily learned. Anything detailed and technical they need to know in the topic area, they should be able to reach out to the technical subject matter experts to obtain information on.

Simply put, there are entire Masters and Doctorate degree programs set up around being a PM – this is a technical area of subject matter expertise (SME) in and of itself, and for good reason! You wouldn’t ask an Eye Doctor to work on your heart, would you? Then why would you ask a Systems Engineer to suddenly become your Project Manager, and expect them to know how to effectively do it?


  1. Specify the Framework(s) To Work Within

Do you want a quick deliverables in small pieces? Perhaps you want it Agile. Do you want to know the resources needed before you even begin? Then you’re looking at Waterfall (which even Agile must do, by the way). Are you looking to gain process efficiencies? Then Lean Six Sigma might be what you’re after.

The reality is, there are growing numbers of project management frameworks, and I’ve found that they all have overlap. Very few are actual methodologies, too, which is why I’m calling them “frameworks”. Most are framework within which to work, which is why I believe that, regardless of framework preference, I would require all project managers have keen awareness to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Why? Because it isn’t a framework or a methodology, it’s a comprehensive body of knowledge on all things project management and remains relevant regardless of framework preference.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for an actual methodology, consider Projects In Controlled Environments (PRINCE2), a UK standard. The point here is that thinking one framework or method alone is the “answer to all”, is probably not the case. Having a well-rounded PM should be knowledgeable of the various frameworks available.


  1. Understand the Strategy

Many project managers live deep in their project management bubble, without any realization of how their project actually fits into the overall organizational strategy. When looking for a project manager, consider one that is knowledgeable enough to describe the context within which their projects have performed. They should be able to articulate how their project impacted the business.


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Portfolio Management to Achieve Strategy – Does it Really Work? Here’s How to Get Started…

How Do You Ensure Strategic Achievement- (2)


Your leadership team has spent numerous hours talking, brainstorming and developing your latest organizational strategy, and it’s a good one! It’s one that you believe will transform the very way your organization does business – maybe even impact the entire industry’s way of doing business! But, how do you take that amazing strategy, and turn it into an actual, no-kidding reality?

That’s where most organizations seem to get stuck. They spend so much time on developing their strategy, they forget to include the people that actually know how to implement it – how to truly make it become reality. Without that, it doesn’t matter how amazing your strategy is – it’s just paper (or a computer screen, perhaps). Turning the strategy into actions that, one-by-one, get your closer to true achievement is the obvious goal, so why does it seem to be so hard?

Let’s take a look at 3 ways to ensure your strategy becomes reality:

1.  Find your “action-oriented” employees who are skilled at effectively making things happen. This can be tricky – a lot of employees are striving for the limelight, so it’s important to know which ones can actually handle the task, and which ones just want the appearance of handling the task.

  • You need project managers who are going to be able to take the strategy and, literally break it up into manageable chunks. This is someone who not only held a “title” of project or program manager – but someone who knows how to actually do the work.
  • You need someone who can build team members up, not cut them down. Someone who knows how to perform true resource allocation, and can mentor others because they realize how important it is for your organization’s future. They don’t need to be “told” to mentor others – they just do it.
  • You need someone who isn’t afraid of being honest – to share the good, the bad and the ugly. If they don’t think the strategy is technically feasible within the timeframe given by leadership, they will tell you why, and what measures can be taken to fix it, or modify it to obtain as close to the expected outcome as possible.
  • You need someone who isn’t afraid to learn, and won’t have 100% of the answers (nobody has ALL the answers, and if you have someone who thinks they do – you haven’t found the right person just yet!).
  • You need someone who is going to take charge with knowledge and relationships. They have experience and knowledge in the project and program management arena, but they are smart enough to know that it takes a great team to make great things happen – they know they can’t do it alone.
  • You need someone who is allowed to (without repercussion) and willing to speak up to the leadership team to ask questions. If the strategy isn’t specific enough on the desired results, they need to push the senior leadership to obtain the clarity needed to help make them – and their organization – successful. You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, would you? Same principles apply to your strategy – you need a plan with detailed expected outcomes (yes, even in an “Agile” environment!


2. You have 5-9 objectives (some call these ‘goals’, but objectives are measurable, where goals are not, so I’ll call them objectives). Why 5-9? There if you have too few objectives, you aren’t pushing hard enough, and too many implies you aren’t focused enough. You want your strategy to be achievable, but not ‘lazy’, otherwise, what’s the point? If you have sub-objectives within each objective, less than 5 may appropriate. The more complex, the less you may want, but never than 3.


3. You have clearly prioritized each of your strategic objectives. By clearly, I mean using a method, and making that method transparent so that members of your organization, as well as your key stakeholders truly understand your priorities. More importantly – they support them, because they understand the method to the madness. Anyone can point fingers and delegate a “most important”, “next most important” and so on. That’s very 20th century-thinking and there are plenty of advanced decision-making methods out there that can be put to good use. Show your organizational learning culture by taking an advanced decision making method (my personal favorite is the Analytical Hierarchy Process – Google will tell you all about it, if you ask), and applying it.


Having your objectives prioritized is understated almost always, but this is critical to ensuring all resources (money, people, equipment, time itself, and training to make it happen) are put against the most important areas first (as well as optimizing!). You will go far and have the support of your employees if they understand the logic behind what they are supposed to be doing! Skip this part, and you’ll have lost at least half of your employees (maybe not physical loss – yet, but mental loss is certain) before you even start!


Of course, there is a lot that goes into achieving a strategy, but these are the up-front and immediate steps you can take to get your implementation off to the best start possible. If you’ve already started implementing and wondering why you’re not getting the answers you seek, or why you’re not as far along as you believe you should be – take a step back, regroup, and apply these three steps.


What are other ways you could help ensure strategic achievement? Comment  below, share your thoughts and keep the conversation going!


Are You a Symptom-Chaser, or Problem-Solver?

How Healthy is Your Organization- (2)

You know when you aren’t feeling all that great, but you have a lot going on, so you sort of brush it off and hope it just goes away? But it never does? In fact, in almost all cases, brushing it off actually makes you feel worse in the long-run. Have you had that happen?

It was 2000, and I had been working on a client site all day and scheduled to do a huge recruiting event at my employer’s headquarters afterwards. I wasn’t feeling well, but decided I’d stick it out – this was an important event and there were several highly skilled (difficult to fill) positions we needed to hire against. “I’ll be fine, I’ll just drink some more water”, I kept telling myself. I stayed the course, finished the entire evening, but by the time I returned home I had a fever of 104. I ended up being bedridden for 3 weeks! Three long, long weeks – if only I had paid attention to the symptoms earlier, I could have taken some preventative actions, right? But I didn’t, and as a result, I suffered the consequences.

Organizations are very similar. They can keep pushing forward, although there are some very obvious signs of “something wrong”. Sometimes organizations stop and try to address the symptoms themselves, instead of digging into the actual cause of those symptoms. In doing so, they also suffer negative consequences. The only real way to solve organizational symptoms are to first dig deeper to discover the root cause of the problem. Once you know what the actual problem is, you can focus your organizational assets (people, money, knowledge, equipment, etc.) in fixing it. Once fixed, the symptoms will also vanish (poof!).

How do you know if you are addressing the symptom, or the actual problem, though?

Much like the example above, you can keep asking “why” to get to the root cause. See the below example to see exactly how this might work:


You have an amazingly powerful organizational strategy, but for some reason, your organization just isn’t making any real traction in achieving it. Or maybe there really is progress, yet, you can’t actually quantify it in a manner that lets you knowprecisely how far along you’ve come, and how much further you have to go. Not making progress, or not being able to precisely measure your progress, are both symptoms. We know this because we could ask ourselves the “5-Why’s”, as follows:

– WHY are we not making progress? Because our personnel keep experiencing setbacks in efforts they expect to have already completed, but still haven’t (or the leadership-driven deadlines aren’t being met).

WHY are they experiencing continuous setbacks? Because every time they approach their work effort a particular way, another element in the organization approaches that same work, but a different way, and they have to work out who is really doing the work, and how it is going to be done. Obviously, both elements can’t do the same thing – only one needs to do the work.

– WHY don’t these organizational elements approach things the same way and understand who is supposed to be doing what? These are two different elements within the same organization, but they both have their own leadership within the larger organization, who are providing different direction to each. Unintentional internal conflict is created without the leadership team even realizing it.

– WHY is the leadership providing different direction to each organizational element? There really isn’t a big plan laid out that specifically states who is responsible for what, and how those different pieces precisely fit together.

– WHY isn’t there a plan laid out that has specificity in roles, responsibilities, and expected outcomes that feed into achieving the bigger organizational strategy?  ** Good point. I guess our REAL problem is that we don’t really know how to develop a strategic plan in a way that we can truly implement it without running into so many obstacles and challenges that slow us down.

The premise behind “The 5 Why’s” is that, typically by the 5th “why” you get to the actual reason behind the problem. As the example above shows, not achieving the strategy in a timely manner is a symptom (likely not the only symptom!), but we learned that the real problem is the lack of skilled and experienced leadership to ask the right questions, and lack of skilled and experienced project managers who truly know how to…

  • Decompose the strategy into more tactical work packages
  • Estimate the activities needed to accomplish successful delivery of those work packages
  • Estimate human resource needs (by quantity, skill set and skill level), as well as equipment needs
  • Estimate time (schedule) needs
  • Sequence the order of activities (what needs to happen first, second, third, etc.), resulting in an understanding of dependencies among the various activities

Bottom line? Always remember that, whenever there is smoke (symptom), there is surely fire (problem). Don’t waste time and energy in putting out the smoke when you should be doing whatever you can to find and put out that fire!