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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How to Cost Estimate Without Breaking Into a Cold Sweat



As I alluded to in my post last week, there are many ways to perform a cost estimate – all are right, but the key is for your organization to pick the approved standard, so that confusion can be minimized as much as possible. The standard should include often-overlooking details, such as what unit of measure the cost estimates will be done in (Dollars? Euros? Etc.), what level of precision the estimates should be rounded up or down to (whole dollars? Thousands?), and what the acceptable level of accuracy is (+ 10%? + 20%?) to be used. Cost estimate accuracy almost always improves as more details of the project are known, and this should be understood regardless of the project environment or method being applied.


Cost Estimation Methods


Analogous Estimates – This type of estimate depends on historical estimates of similar projects, using elements of scope, budget, duration, complexity, and others. While this method can be faster than other methods, it is also typically less accurate and, when used, should account for the Net Present Value of the historical costs to be used.


Bottom-Up Estimates – This type of estimate typically estimates each work package (or individual activity within the work package), and generally provides the greatest level of detail and accuracy (+ 5%), which is then rolled up into a summary for each higher level component to achieve an overall project cost. These detailed estimates typically come straight from vendor quotes, unit prices, and fairly complete plans.


3-Point Estimates – Based on the Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT), this 3-point estimate gives the most likely estimate 4 times more weight than the pessimistic and optimistic estimates. This estimate is especially beneficial when estimate unique types of projects that have little to no historically similar project data to use – such as innovative efforts in the research and development arena. To calculate the 3-point estimate, you simply determine the most optimistic (O) estimate, the most pessimistic (P) estimate, and the most likely (M) estimate, and calculate it as follows:


3-Point Estimate = (O + 4M + P) / 6


Order-of-magnitude estimate – This type of estimate may use historical data, but the projects don’t have to be similar (as they do when doing analogous estimates), and are not usually very accurate (+ 35%). These are top-down estimates typically applied to a level 1 of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and excludes detailed data, although parametric estimates (based on statistical data) may be included in some cases.


Learning curve estimate – While this type of estimating stems from the manufacturing industry, it may be applicable to any industry or project that requires repetitive functions where continuous operation (learning) will lead to a reduction in time, personnel, or money it takes to do the repetitive function.


Top-Down estimate – This type of estimate has no detailed data for the basis, but is prorated from previous (similar in scope and capacity) projects.  For example, you may say that this project is 25% more difficult than the referenced (previous) project activity, therefore, requires 25% more time, labor hours, material, dollars, etc.


Contingency and Management Reserves

One of the biggest pet peeves in project estimating is “padding the estimate” – when the actual estimates are on-purpose padded for “just in case”. Why is this a pet-peeve? Because when this is done, the project costs are almost always over-estimated and the actual spending isn’t tracked well (because nobody wants to “admit” to padding their estimated costs, and it enables sloppy monitoring and control, and skews historical use of the data for future projects, as in the analogous method). Instead, it should be understood that all costs estimates are just that – ESTIMATES. They will not be exact, and they aren’t supposed to be – the “actuals” are the exact costs.


Where should this “padding” take place, then? Instead of simply increasing cost estimates within given work packages, the more appropriate approach is to include a contingency estimate that is meant to cover the “known-unknowns”. If you know you are embarking on a high-risk project, you’ll want to include a higher contingency estimate than if you were taking on a project that is similar to something done before, or with low risk. My use of contingency reserves most often were done as a percentage of total project cost (such as 10% for high risk projects), but you can also estimate contingency costs as a fixed number, and you don’t have to base it on the total project – you may choose to estimate contingency only for specific activities. The key is to call out your contingency estimate so it is included in your total project budget instead of “padding” other areas of the project, essentially hiding it, in an attempt to achieve the same thing (or to cover up for bad planning!).


Unlike contingency estimates, estimates can also be produced to cover management reserves, but these estimates are intended for management control in covering the “unknown unknowns”. The management reserve estimate is actually NOT part of cost baseline, but IS part of the project budget. Whenever management reserve funds are used, that amount is then added to the project cost baseline and must be an approved baseline change.


Bottom line? Use the management reserve to cover unforeseen problems that occur on the project, as long as they remain within the scope of the project. Don’t use the management reserve to cover up bad planning estimates or budget overruns (nobody does this, right?!).


Which estimating approach does your organization use? Is it something other than those listed in this article? Stay tuned for access to my free cost estimating templates, or sign-up here to be notified when you have access to them (and can download and put to use immediately)!

Why Project Management?

A Look Back: Project Management

The practice of project management (PM) goes all the way back to the Ancient Egyptians, as they coordinated the construction of the great pyramids. Project management practices existed over thousands of years, through a multitude of political systems and cultures, and served a variety of purposes. Across them all, the features and problems encountered are similar, regardless of industry, organizational type, project complexity level, project cost, or even project size.


In 1917, the first major project management tool, the Gantt chart, was creation by Henry Gantt. A Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that aids in project planning and coordination because it visually depicts large amounts of (mostly schedule-related) information.  Below is a small example of a Gantt chart to show just a minimal portion of an overall project Gantt:



In the 1950’s, Project management tools were refined further with the development of the Critical Path Method (CPM) and the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT). I will cover the specific details of the CPM and PERT in future posts, but for now, just wanted to point out that these three amazing project management tools are still around and in use today, with the only difference being that today, we utilize these tools via software programs and applications rather than manually with pencil and paper (thank goodness)!


The largest initial use of project management stemmed from civil engineering and the construction industry, and the same principles have been used during the World War II period and beyond in areas of military weapons systems, oil company projects, chemical company projects, National Air and Space Agency (NASA) projects (such as Apollo), and many, many others. More recent areas that are applying the basic project management principles include the information and technology (IT) systems, industrial products, financial endeavors, real estate development, marketing and research and development (R&D). There are very few areas that could NOT apply the principles of project management, frankly, but the levels of complexity will likely vary a great deal.


The Pitfalls of Project Management

Ever hear the saying “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it”? Well, as much as I hate to say this, the same holds true for project management. Instead of actually learning and applying the concepts and principles, many organizations fake it. Gasp! Yes, I called them out. And to be even more controversial, I’m also going to tell you that there are many “credentialed” project managers out there who don’t actually have a clue how to manage a project. Now, before you curse at me, please hear me out.


I have spent over 25 years in the project management space, and I am also a “credentialed” project manager. I have worked in both the public and private sectors and, in many cases, I was the one responsible for writing the job requirements and qualifications of incoming staff (whether direct employees or work to be outsourced). I used to always require that any candidates to be considered, also must be “credentialed” as a Project Management Professional (PMP) – the credential that comes from the Project Management Institute (PMI).  While I have a great deal of respect for the PMI and their mission, I have learned that even people with the PMP credential often don’t know how to manage true projects (sadly). I then tried to expand my requirements for future job candidates by stating the requirement as “credentialed with PMP or equivalent”, thinking that perhaps other certifications would prove more beneficial. They didn’t. I ended up scrapping the credentialing requirement all together and instead, went with very specific requirements that spoke to the exact skills and experience needed for each job area. For instance, if I needed someone who knew how to handle develop and execute a project charter, then that’s what I put. If I needed a project schedule expert, then I would state that I needed someone familiar with the Critical Path Method of scheduling and the use of xyz software tool (Microsoft Project, Primavera, etc.) to incorporate the task dependencies and capture lag time, lead time and understanding the kind of schedule relationships needed (start-to-start, start-to-finish, etc.). I used specificity as my description to help weed out those who didn’t have the actual experience needed, or who weren’t willing to go learn it and immediately implement.


The reason I shared my story and experience there was to display one pitfall for actually using project management in your organization – it almost always increases complexity and requires up-front knowledge.  This makes it especially challenging if you send a bunch of “workers” off to obtain project management training without holding the same expectations of the leadership team – the very team the newly training workers are to report to. If the leadership team hasn’t also been properly educated, the workers will be coming back and providing reports that will sounds like a foreign language to the leadership team. When you embrace project management, it needs to be embraced as a culture shift – not easy to do, but those organizations that have taken the “all in or nothing” leap have found great success.



The Benefits of Project Management

While there are some up-front knowledge requirements, those organizations that have implemented the use of project management typically have better customer relations, shorter overall delivery times, higher employee morale (I want to elaborate more on this, later), lower costs and higher profit margins, and higher quality and reliability. BAM! Which of these would you NOT want your organization to have? So, yes, the up-front knowledge leap can feel a bit scary and intimidating at first, but with so many benefits, isn’t it obvious why the majority of successful organizations utilize some form of project management to improve their bottom line?


Let’s talk about employee morale, specifically. It’s no secret that happy employees are more productive employees. So, why would proper use of project management result in morale improvement? This one is easy for me, because I’ve been in environments that “claimed” to be project management heavy (in other words, they ‘faked it’ and failed, badly), and others that truly did utilize project management practices. Those that truly used PM practices were happier because the project information was much more transparent, obvious, and there was no question as to who was responsible for what, when they were responsible and accountable for it. There was no question as to who would be working on which elements, or how those elements all fit into the bigger picture – these were all broken out in the planning stage of project management. There was no question as to “why” any of the projects were undertaken, because the objectives were clearly stated in the project charter – before the project even officially began! Who made decisions, when decisions would be made, how decisions would be implemented – these were all thought through before-hand and were part of the project management office’s governance, or the greater organization’s governance processes. Again, clear and concisely defined so that this information was transparent for all to see and understand. Team charters were used to clearly depict who was doing what, how communication would take place (frequency, location, platforms to use, etc.), how to handle conflicts, and much, much, more. Having obstacles addressed up-front


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Project Management: What is a “Project”? 1

Project Management

What is a Project?

While this may seem fundamental, it really is core to what many organizations must understand before they put their strategy into full-blown implementation mode. Why? Well, if you intend to implement your strategy through the use of project management (regardless of the project management method used), you first need to truly understand what a project is – and what it isn’t.


Simply put, a project is a distinct and temporary effort to be accomplished within a specific start and stop date.


That means that “projects” that haven’t determined specific answers to who, what, when, where, and how much…. Well, they are actually NOT projects. This may be hard to take, but it’s true. Quasi-projects may have some level of implied performance, cost and time constraints, but until there is specificity, these efforts are masquerading as “real” projects. The result of such masquerading? Serious delivery delays, cost overruns and dissatisfied customers. Ouch.


Project Management versus Operations Management

Have you seen personnel titled “project manager” walking around your organization? Sadly, there are many walking around with such a title that have no actual project training of any kind. I’m not saying you can’t pick up some books and learn project management – I believe you can learn anything you put your mind to, but most don’t because they don’t even realize that they aren’t truly managing “projects” – even if their title says they are.


Most often, I find this to be true in personnel that work operations, which is why I will start with explaining why anyone working operational objectives couldn’t possibly be a “project manager” – at least, not until the definition of project management is modified.  Operational management is essentially management that results in achieving the same objectives over and over, which is in direct conflict with project management because a project is a temporary endeavor that is unique – not something you achieve over and over. The only time I’ve truly seen “projects” within operational environments are when there are operational derivatives – projects that are intended to result in minor product or process changes.


Why Use Project Management for Strategic Implementation?

While there are many alternatives to implementation, few can be as effective as project management – yes, I may be biased. That being said, it isn’t any secret that the traditional hierarchical management methods are declining, while consensual management is increasing, along with an increasing reliance on systems engineering (enabling the use of successful systems). Rather than develop an organizational strategy and place it on a file server to just sit, project management is a way to take that strategy and strategically align all the work required (otherwise known as “scope”) to make the strategy a reality. The larger the strategy, the more complex the management of actually making it happen.


Implementing project management is the starting point in most successful organizations – I will not (yet) go into how to effectively manage multiple projects (programs) or entire project portfolios at this time. Without solid project management knowledge and skills in place, effective program and portfolio management are just meaningless words with nothing to back them up.


Like this post? This is the first of many project, program and portfolio management related posts that will be posted with resources, references, examples and case studies that will be blogged each week!