Questions From a Young Project Manager

I conducted an email Q and A recently with an up and coming project manager named Cybelle. I worked my answers – which got a little rambly at times – into the interview you see here.

Many thanks to Cybelle for contacting me – I appreciate her curiosity and drive to become a better project manager and I hope my answers help her – and you – secure the right project management job and build a successful career.

Cybelle: What sort of overall experience do you look for in a project manager?

Ray: When I look for a good project manager, I want to see two things: I want to see that they have worked in the trenches for a while doing the actual work, and that they have worked with upper management on customer problems. Because the project manager is the glue between those two groups of people, he is the one that makes everything happen for the customer.

Cybelle: What specific skill sets should a project manager have?

Ray: He should have time tracking and project scheduling skills. He should have used a time tracking product like Standard Time®, and a scheduling product like Microsoft Project®. If he hasn’t collected actual time in an employee timesheet against a project schedule, then he may not be good at time management. He also needs strong communications skills. After all, he will be motivating the troops.

Cybelle: Do successful project managers exert a certain attitude/attributes?

Ray: I’d say they do! They have a passion for details, and an unhealthy obsession with time management. They’ll wear a calculator watch, and look at it far too often. Maybe they don’t wear white tape on their glasses, but they’re definitely the geeks of projects, tasks, and managing time. They love it too much to be “normal” human beings! That’s the kind of guy I want on my team.

Cybelle: How can project managers prove they can deliver a positive ROI?

Ray: By knowing human nature, and by being able to see the critical path to a primary goal. Let me explain… Most people who work under a project manager do not have a strong sense of urgency of time when performing tasks. They do not fight with cost overruns and late projects like the project manager. The project manager is the one who should understand this and be able to motivate people to perform. Plus, he must be able to differentiate the primary goals from the secondary. Let him analyze a thorny problem and point out the two, and he will instantly prove he can deliver the ROI.

Cybelle: Do you look for business degrees?

Ray: Yes. That does matter to some extent. But a PMP certificate from pmi.org really lights me up. That says something. That means he has a track record. A degree does not.

Cybelle: What kind of questions do you think a prospective project manager should ask about the project?

Ray: Three things: Cost, quality, time. In other words, what is the budget? What level of quality is necessary? And, what is the timeframe for implementation? I wrote a whitepaper on this subject a while back, and I can say that most project management goals are held in tension by these three forces. Granted, these are high-level things, but almost everything project-related boils down to them.

Cybelle: Do you have any tips for creating a better project management resume?

Ray: Getting a PMP certificate from pmi.org is tops. That’s the best thing you can do. Push it for all its worth! That shows everyone you are very serious about project management. I’d also list the tools you’re proficient with. That helps because it sets the framework for the employer who is reading it. They know you’ve used industry standard tools.

Cybelle: What sort of managerial style do you look for?

Ray: No white shirts, no suit coats. (I only own one of each). No locking yourself in your office and “managing” from an ivory tower. Get your hands dirty. Do a little of the work yourself if necessary. Get involved! Be the go to guy for upper management.

Cybelle: What metrics do you expect project managers to use?

Ray: First, a good list of tasks with good sub-project breakdowns is necessary. Next, an actual employee time from a timesheet or timer against those tasks. And after that, I suppose an analysis of forecasts verses actuals. Until you know where your actuals are, you’re just guessing, not managing. A good project manager loves spreadsheets, time tracking, and project schedules. He should be able to show Earned Value on each project he is managing.

Cybelle: How proficient do you expect project managers to be in project management software?

Ray: Very proficient. This is the instrument he uses to “see” the project. Without it, it would be like a scientist without a microscope. I’ve seen companies guess at tasks and actuals, and it’s always a disaster.

About the Author:
Ray White is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Scoutwest, Inc., the developers of Standard Time® Project Management Software. Ray's involvement in software development and project management began over 26 years at Eastman Kodak company and since then he has worked with approximately 30 executives, 90 project managers, 300 engineers, and 10,000 customers. By project managers, for project managers - his project management products help thousands of international customers plan and track time for their mission critical projects.

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