by Jim Vaughan

How to Hire the Right Project Managers.

Aug 13, 20094 mins
IT Leadership

Many Organizations See Project Management Fail As a Result of Hiring the Wrong People.

I saw another blog on the CIO sight talking about the sorry state of project management. As a project manager and the President of the PMI Chicagoland Chapter I initially found the article quite upsetting. After reading the article about three times I came to realize that there was some real merit in that blog. Here I would like to address the sources of that sorry state.

A couple of years ago I learned that the CEO of the Project Management Institute, Greg Balestrero, was not a certified Project Management Professional (PMP). At first I thought, “How could the leader of such an institute not be certified in that profession?” Then I listened to my own words. He is the leader of the organization, not the project manager for the organization. His skill set is about leading an organization, not a project. Hiring a project manager to fulfill that position would likely be a big mistake. I see three very common mistakes that organizations make when placing project managers.

The most common mistake I see is that organizations promote or recruit technical experts to be project managers. Here is a common scenario: There is a highly successful technical expert in the organization. This person is phenomenal at what they do. They consistently deliver high quality results and have bailed the organization out of many problems. Everyone knows that they can rely on this person. At some point the organization decides to implement project management. They decide to use this technical expert to lead a major project. After all, this person always delivers and therefore must be the best candidate. Unfortunately this person quickly falls on their face and the organization believes that project management doesn’t work. At the core of the problem is the person chosen to be the project manager. This person is not interested in organizing and coordinating a project. They would prefer to get their hands dirty and fix the problems themselves. They often work better in a chaotic situation and therefore see no value in running a project in an organized fashion. They didn’t want, don’t want and will never want to be a project manager. Without their heart in the position they fail.

A second issue that I have seen is with the governance organizations that are established to support project management in an organization. Often these organizations are stuffed with theoretical process people that have never successfully run a project themselves. They develop processes and policies for the rest of the organization. What they develop looks good on paper but does not work within the culture of the real-world of the greater organization. At this point one of two scenarios occurs. The first scenario is that senior management sponsors insist that the PMs running the projects use these processes and policies. At that point the projects all bog down and start to fail. The second scenario is that the experienced PMs ignore the processes and policies and run the projects in a way that actually works. In either scenario the organization sees project management as a failure.

The third issue I have seen consistently is that most organization think that they can do project management cheaply with junior level people. They hire people to be PMs that have five years experience or less.  They tell these people to take control and drive the projects. Without the experience to deal with senior level functional managers these people quickly become subordinates to the functional managers. The functional managers end up running the projects and the project managers become note-takers, expeditors and coordinators. Again the organization sees project management as the failure.

To have a successful project management environment you need to hire the right people. Just as PMI did not hire a project manager to lead the organization nor should you hire a technical expert to lead your project management effort. PMI found a seasoned business management professional with the right experience to lead the organization. Therefore, if you want to succeed, with the development of project management within your organization you must hire a seasoned project manager with the skills and experience to perform their duties.