Can a good project manager handle any kind of project?

15 pts.
Tags:
Project management
Today's water cooler debate. Can a good project manager successfully manage any type of project?

Answer Wiki

Thanks. We'll let you know when a new response is added.

I believe so.

I was a member of the PMI for a number of years and have studied the Project Management Body of Knowledge. I also managed a number of IT Infrastructure projects over the past 10+ years. I see the key qualities of a good project manager to be the following:

- An effective communicator – up, down and sideways
- Highly organized
- A good motivator
- Good math skills
- Good relationships with the project participants and stakeholders
- Above all, the PM *must* have a firm grasp on project management concepts and best practices

While a good project manager should have a solid knowledge of the subject matter of the project (applications development, IT infrastructure, marketing campaign, building a submarine, etc.), he or she does not have to have an exhaustive or expert knowledge of the subject matter. For example, I have known very effective applications development project managers who were marketing project managers in previous jobs.

Discuss This Question: 19  Replies

 
There was an error processing your information. Please try again later.
Thanks. We'll let you know when a new response is added.
Send me notifications when members answer or reply to this question.

REGISTER or login:

Forgot Password?
By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy
  • SILYRICS
    I would agree with SJKopischke on this, i am from a military back ground and can say over the years I have seen both weak and strong project management. Some thing to consider hear is the team behind the manager and their qualities.
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • VenPhil
    Yes! The key word here is GOOD. Phil
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • Nbuerki
    Hi, I am tented to say NO mainly as SJKopischke said that a Project Manager needs to have ?exhaustive or expert knowledge of the subject matter?. This is crucial to not only just be a Project Manager but also a leader (which is totally different). Being a leader gives you the credibility to manage your team and understand their worries and to anticipate potential pitfalls, which may have not identified by more junior team members. Of course, you can also argue IT projects are related but your team members will immediately discover that you may do not have (or had once in your career) their skills/experience and hence your credibility is on risk, which increases the risk that the project is delayed or even will fail. Cheers, Nico
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • ProjectM
    I am a project Manager for 20 plus years, and although subject knowledge reduces risk, it is not necessary as long as the expert knowledge resides within the project team.
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • Zsr681
    I feel I must chime in on this one. After 25 years in the computer business doing everything from programming to department management to project management I have some insight into this. A 'Good' project manager will be able to keep track on deadlines, assigned personnel, and projected requirements. If that is all he needs to do. An 'Effective' project manager needs to be able to relate to the task(s) being performed. Without understanding of what needs to be done, not just when, and what is required to accomplish a task it is not possible to gain control of a project. And without that control you might as well stick to MSProject and just do your time lines on a whiteboard. I have seen too often where a project manager lets one department or area control a whole project because he does not really know what needs to be done. This sets precedence that causes later problems and resentment from the other groups involved. Bottom line - a 'Good' and 'Effective' PM will get to know all aspects of his assignments. Not just the desired end-results and timetables.
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • Meesha
    All the responses so far were correct in varying degrees. However, zsr681 has the one response that is the most appropriate. As with many of the others posting to this topic, I have been in the working world for more years than I can count with the last 15+ years as a PM along with so many other duties and accountabilities. I have time and time again witnessed projects that have failed not because the PM was "poor" or not "good" but because they either did not have an understanding of the project requirements or access to the necessary subject matter experts (SMEs) or even have the SMEs on their teams. And all this primarily due to continued upper management misunderstanding of the PM processes; their continued misunderstanding of why the Accounting Supervisor does not make a PM for IT related projects, and so on. All this is doubly pronounced in many IT initiatives and specifically in government where it is expected by all concerned that the IT PM is also well versed in the latest technologies, languages, methods, development tools, etc. In government, the PM is often the Development Manager, Architect, DB Administrator, Infrastructure Manager, etc. which tend to handle the IT side okay. But often the necessary subject experts are not available. So, if any of these IT people don't understand the business side as well, the project will falter regardless. PMI's PMBOK is a framework only and a darn good one at that. However, it fails on the practical side in this one particular area. And as some have responded here, the continued fallacy that a PM need not "know all aspects of his assignments . . . . only the desired end-results and timetables" is a direct result of that practical shortcoming. Having functional or serviceable experience in the subject matter is not just practical for properly identifying the risks but also to be able to defend the project as required, to properly assign resources, to provide better cost estimates, understanding how PM methods such as EVA will either help or hinder a project, to actually determine through knowledgeable analysis why the project is good for the org or not, and so forth. PMs are more than just "flight controllers" or assembly line staff -- good PMs should and do bring value added benefits to the job. If this isn't the case, then how would the PM ever evolve into something better? Good PMs can take the methods of the PMBOK, their daily PM practical experience and their practical subject matter experience to provide a very encompassing endeavour to any organization. Now that's value added.
    55 pointsBadges:
    report
  • BlueKnight
    My response to the question is ABSOLUTELY. I've worked on many projects and seen many different PM styles over the past 39+ years. The Project Manager I currently work with is a perfect example of a good, effective PM. He has headed projects for building missile systems for the DOD right on down to software enhancement projects on our criminal justice systems. He does not know everything about the technical details, but what is key, is that he knows exactly what is required to accomplish the project. He gains this by working closely with his team to establish the detailed task/estimate list. This manager knows that he has to have a good project team that is not only technically competent, but also that has good "chemistry" among the team members. They are involved from the very beginning in identifying the individual tasks that make up the project and they assist in the establishment of the project timeline and hours to be budgeted. On every project, we use a spreadsheet to track all of the various tasks, the time put in on each one, percentage of completion and actual start/end dates. Each week this gets updated and the data feeds a chart that tells us at a glance if we're ahead/behind schedule and whether we're on/over/under budget. Using this method, we can very quickly make adjustments to keep on track should the need arise. MS Project can't do this, so we never use it. I've seen a lot of Project Managers, but this guy is the best.
    10 pointsBadges:
    report
  • ProjMan
    My response is 'yes'. Project management training is designed to teach a project manager how to manage a project, period. If the project manager has to get down in the trenches and use their subject matter expertise to resolve issues, someone on the team is not doing their job and needs to be fired. If the subject matter experts for each identified role are not available, the project has not been staffed appropriately and should not be executed until the right staffing complement is brought to the table.
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • Dfng2002
    IMHO, They very things that are being said about a PM not being able to handle the job, when a PM has the skill set or the ability to pick the SME's are the things a "good" PM knows how to do. All the weaknesses that are being stated are not about a "good" PM. We are debating apples and oranges.
    15 pointsBadges:
    report
  • Jessica
    I have as a senior manger with a key project fast approaching, just experienced how a poor project manager can easily de-rail a project. Does not matter what theory they work to, or school of etc etc, if they have not got the interpersonal skills e.g listening, understanding each divisions issues, installing passion to deliver on time, have used the tools to map out and understand each sections deliverables/resourcing and more importantly how interdependencies work. In my experieince a PM does not need to know what the actually screws and nuts do, only at high level, but they do need to understand that if somebody states one nut is the wrong one, what can they do to help and support that section escalate their issues, not take over, and what is the effect on the delivery date. A PM is not the top of the hierarchy or need to be, they are the team glue that holds the project together. They need to build trust within a team then the team will regularly wish to update and provide alternative options if they are aware how that particular issue could effect the overall delivery date. A difficult and demanding role but absolutely essential for all concenerned and good ones are hard to find. I had just had to personally invoke a contignecy because my PM concentrated so much on managing the spreadsheet, with % complete, making it all very preety, showing the Exec how well it was mapped etc he totally missed how 2 key actions had effected the launch date due entirely down to not talking or listen to the people who were doing the doing, one small division held the 2 key stones in the foundation and he was not listening or supporting them.
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • JohnDavid
    Hi, What more can I say. I have found in the past that some projects are very rigid such as a building project while IT projects sometimes tend to be iterative - the more the user see the more the user wants. The project leader should be able to adapt to the various kinds of projects he manages but I would rather employ a project leader with a good IT background to manage IT projects, the main criteria being experience. This way I would feel safe that he knows the pitfalls of IT projects. All the other attributes of a good project manager still applies of course and you only have to read the other replies for an exhaustive list of these. Best regards
    5 pointsBadges:
    report
  • HappyGene
    I observe that a "good" PM is an eclectic that has adopted most of the tenets already mentioned. I think that PM's are, essentially, officers of the corporation and must have the same desires and capabilities as their superiors. I would add that the good communication skill set may include putting a trenchcoat over their jammies and rubbing elbows with the night crews and 24/7 subcontractors. Also, in most larger staffs there will be a hot dog SME who will be glad to be point man. Out of rigor, the PM will weigh both sides of that SME's feedback to find a clear picture. I must confess, though, that on smaller staffed projects, the efficacy of even a very good PM will be severely taxed if the germaine background experience is not there. Smaller companies usually have very interesting projects, but also smaller budgets which burden the PM with dual- and triple-roles. I payed out of pocket once for a temp SME to bust through on something the client mis-judged in their presentation. It ended well, but I now weave interviewing dialogue into most every conversation and find that surprises are few. :) Gene
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • Paul144hart
    I would chime in that a 'good' PM is also knowledgeable about the critical issues. The buck for having all the pieces fit should stop on his desk. Where else would it go? I once managed a R&D task with PhDs. I would not say I was smarter, but I knew how the pieces had to fit. You need the critical knowledge to avoid missing out on functionality, and avoid the "don't worry, this is okay - trust me" song and dance.
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • DDekreon
    I really have to say no - if the pm does not have some germane knowledge the situation can devolve into repeatedly counting deck chairs on the Titanic, with graphs.
    15 pointsBadges:
    report
  • GeekSheek
    I would say that it depends upon the way that the project manager's role is defined. Essentially, the skills of a project manager are to monitor progress, adjust pace so that the project stays on schedule, identify bottlenecks and impediments and synthesize solutions. Sometimes, the solutions require a working knowledge of the actual task such that the project manager turns into an additional team member and goes "hands on" and sometimes the solutions require simply redefining the problem. Personally, my proclivities and skills tend towards analysis, problem definition, functional specification and project management without hands on. Frankly, my programming skills aren't good enough for hands on...however, I'm very good at solving problems and asking the right questions, so I've managed a variety of projects in different industries. Most of the skills transfer, except in situations where there is a hands on component and the "hands on" requires specialized knowledge. In those cases, no, not just any project manager will do. So, my answer is a qualified on and largely contingent upon the actual job description of the project manager and the type of project being managed.
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • Keithf548
    I believe the answer is yes. One needs to be a person who doesn't mind asking a lot of questions and can quickly grasp the answers. If you fear that asking questions will make you seem stupid, then you have lost the battle. No project manager ever knows everything that is needed for success in the project, so just take each need for information separately and don't worry that you had to ask double the questions someone else might need to ask.
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • Keithf548
    I believe the answer is yes. One needs to be a person who doesn't mind asking a lot of questions and can quickly grasp the answers. If you fear that asking questions will make you seem stupid, then you have lost the battle. No project manager ever knows everything that is needed for success in the project, so just take each need for information separately and don't worry that you had to ask double the questions someone else might need to ask.
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • Visualcom
    Boy... interesting topic... Let me share my two cents... First of all, I have been looking for my next opportunity for over two years now. I have seen, and applied for quite a few, including project manager openings. It is extremely interesting what companies believe a project manager is/does. I have seen postings for managers for extremely complex integration projects where the pay range was $25-$30 an hour, and I have seen postings where they expect the PM to have extensive technical details on a certain aspect of software development. My own beliefs: First of all, the project is only as useful as the definition of the problem to be solved. Typically, by the time it is handed over to the PM, it is some sort of vague technical implementation of something... usually what some business leader belives is the solution to whatever business issue they are dealing with. This is where the failures start, unless the 'good' PM can do the following: 1.) Get the Project Sponsor to state what the business issues are 2.) Get the Steering Committee or Sponsor to state how they believe what they have proposed will solve that business issue, and what specific measures would they use to determine that they have 'solved the problem'. 3.) Using that information, get the Sponsor and Steering Committee to agree to ONE measure of success for the project. With that information, the PM can then break that down into what Achievements are required to support the Measure of Success. At this point, it may still be business focused (e.g. > 90% of Customer Requests resolved in 5 minutes), and would probably require the expertise of Business Analysts, or equivalent. Each Achievement is then broken down into a solution design, where the Technical expertise comes in. I must admit that it would be beneficial if the PM understood how various pieces of technology could support the achievements, but more importantly, at this point, a more compelling skill is useful. One word: Leadership. A 'good' PM must be able to take the stated business problem and Achievements, and explain that through a project vision statement, and use that to recruit an effective team. With effective leadership, the PM should be able to paint a picture of how each team lead will contribute to solving the problem, and empower them to solve thier piece... The beauty is, if this level of trust and authority is used, those with the passion (and lower probablity of teams that will bluff those that don't have the technical details) will take owership of thier piece, and want to contribute to solving the problem. That takes the responsibility of the PM having to know technical details, and really requires more business management, and personal leadership. Yes, I know, I must be looking through rose-colored glasses. But, I have lead teams with exactly the defined approach, and the results were phenomenal, and the team spirit was incredible... I was able to 'sit back' and let the team tackle the technical details. Bill
    0 pointsBadges:
    report
  • Paul144hart
    RE: "If you fear that asking questions will make you seem stupid, then you have lost the battle." A good way to get over this is on a project where you do have excellenet knowledge is to ask questions in a simple form designed to check if the other members are on target. Then when you don't have all the answers, its expected behavior, and if you've corrected them in the past they will also be focusing more on the project's bigger picture. -Paul
    0 pointsBadges:
    report

Forgot Password

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an e-mail containing your password.

Your password has been sent to:

To follow this tag...

There was an error processing your information. Please try again later.

REGISTER or login:

Forgot Password?
By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Thanks! We'll email you when relevant content is added and updated.

Following