by Meridith Levinson

The 10 Key Capabilities of Next-Generation Project Managers

Oct 21, 2009
CareersIT LeadershipIT Skills

To s쳮d today, project managers need more skills and capabilities than ever before. It's no longer enough to be fluent in project management best practices, tools and methodologies.

Project managers might just have the toughest job in IT, responsible as they are for ensuring that high-stakes IT projects are completed on time and on budget. According to a new report from Forrester Research, the project manager’s role is getting even more demanding and difficult to fill.

It’s no longer enough for project managers to possess good people skills and to be fluent in project management best practices, tools and methodologies. To succeed—and get hired—today, project managers need enhanced leadership skills; they need to be flexible and focused on business value; and they increasingly need to be familiar with Agile software development methodologies, writes Forrester Analyst Mary Gerush in Define, Hire and Develop Your Next Generation Project Managers. A former IT project manager herself, Gerush and colleagues interviewed IT professionals and project management experts from a variety of organizations, including Chevron, Microsoft and LiquidPlanner, for the report.

[ See also The Six Attributes of Successful Project Managers ]

Gerush notes that shifting business conditions are changing the role of the project manager and the skills associated with it. “Organizations are striving to achieve faster [software] delivery without diminishing quality or increasing cost,” she writes. As a result, she observes, they’re moving from traditional software development methodologies to more Agile ones.

The move to Agile software development “shifts the role of the project manager from a director to a facilitator,” writes Gerush, because Agile development methodologies rely on self-managed, cross-functional teams. In an Agile software delivery environment, the traditional command-and-control approach of project managers is counter-productive, Gerush notes. Instead of defining roles and making sure team members are following project management processes and procedures to a T, next generation project managers need to focus on improving collaboration and removing obstacles and distractions so that project team members can get their work done on time and on budget.

[ For more on Agile, see Agile: Friend or Foe to Project Management and Agile Rising. ]

Another trend changing the role of the project manager is the need for companies to make business and IT processes leaner. “As organizations realize that traditional software delivery methods are bloated with processes and artifacts that add little or no value, they are trending toward Lean Software—and this transition will significantly change how they deliver projects,” writes Gerush. “Project management offices (PMOs) are looking for ways to streamline their processes to focus on value and eliminate unnecessary effort and documentation; project managers must adapt to communicating more while documenting less.” That means project managers need to be flexible enough to adapt their approaches to the needs of the business. It also means they need even stronger communication skills than in the past.

As companies distribute their software development around the world, the project manager’s ability to communicate with and relate to people from different cultures becomes even more important.

Project managers also need to be more focused on business value. In this economic environment where every dollar of spending is scrutinized and resources are scarce, organizations are paying more attention to the business value that projects deliver. Next generation project managers see their primary role as delivering value to the company—not just completing projects on time and on budget.

“Through their understanding of project management practices and their expert capabilities, strong project managers do more than just keep projects on track,” writes Gerush. “They drive project teams to produce excellent results by analyzing and understanding customer needs and helping the team work together effectively. This improves customer satisfaction and business value, which in turn drives improved IT-business relationships.”

10 Core Capabilities of a Next Generation Project Manager

Given the way the project manager’s role is evolving and the critical nature of the role, Forrester Research developed a list of 10 core capabilities that IT leaders should seek in their project managers. They are:

1. Emotional Intelligence: The ability to pick up on events and interactions (both verbal and non-verbal) and to process those inputs in the context of the project plan.

2. Adaptive Communication: The ability to articulate one’s ideas—whether orally or in writing—to a range of individuals, groups and cultures using the most effective communication techniques for each group.

3. People Skills: The ability to quickly build and maintain positive relationships with team-members and stakeholders.

4. Management Skills: The ability to serve, motivate and focus a team and to foster collaboration among team members.

5. Flexibility: The willingness and ability to change one’s approach to project management and/or course of action in response to business needs.

6. Business Savvy: Knowledge of the organization’s business, strategy and industry. Ability to understand a strategy and align tactical work around that strategy.

7. Analytical Skills: The ability to think through problems and decisions.

8. Customer Focus: The ability to understand the end-user or end customer’s needs and the drive to ensure that projects meet those needs.

9. Results-Orientation: The ability to get things done efficiently and effectively.

10. Character: The project manager should have an appealing personality and a strong moral and ethical character.

Notably, technical- and traditional project management skills are absent from Forrester’s list of core capabilities for next generation project managers, but not because those skills are no longer necessary. While those skills remain important, Forrester maintains that because the softer skills are more difficult to learn than hard project management skills, organizations may be better off hiring individuals who are strong in those key capabilities “even if they lack experience in accepted project management practices.”

It’s an opinion that’s likely to spark controversy in project management circles, but it underscores the changing nature of the role.

“This role is essential to your success today and will be even more critical over the next decade as software delivery and business context evolve,” writes Gerush. “Traditional soft skills and core capabilities still dominate as companies look to hire project managers, but new skills are quickly coming to the forefront.”