The tech business is an awesome place to be these days. You can build incredible apps that are fun and easy to use, or complex software systems that fill gaps and solve big problems. Being a technologist gives me and my team the opportunity to educate those that aren't as comfortable in tech. The majority of our product buyers are in the accreditation industry and when making major software purchases, most of the individuals we meet are methodical in their questioning because this is the nature of those working in that field. As a software company, we know that when initial discussions begin with a prospect, the typical questions arise.
"What does your product offer?"
"Can we setup a demo?"
"How much does it cost?"
"How long will it take to implement?"
"What kind of training and support do you provide after launch?"
Granted, these are standard inquiries which apply to all industries, not just the accreditation software world. What I find most interesting is that no one has ever asked "What type of project manager should we put in charge to handle the work?"
Most organizations assume that because it's a software project, an IT person is the natural solution. This is not always the case. Truthfully, our most successful projects are the ones where IT was not leading the project because often, they get stuck in the minutia. That's not to say that an IT person shouldn't be involved, they should, but we find that the best project managers are the ones that possess several soft skills. If you have a software project currently in the works and are looking to assign the right team lead here are seven qualities that a successful project manager will possess:
The Leadership Aura
Great leaders attract great followers. Project managers know that the success of a project is only as good as the team behind it. It's not about technical ability but their management style with people and within the project life cycle that makes them so successful. When you are trying to assess leadership qualities in selecting a project manager be sure that the person is respected by their fellow team members, that they can make decisions independently, and can navigate through complex or difficult situations for a quick resolution. Leading a project is an art form. It takes patience and a great deal of people skills. You can't put someone in place just to "facilitate" tasks in a utilitarian role. You need someone that has an independent thought process that can put a like-minded team in place.
A project manager looks at the entire project development as a whole. They are BIG PICTURE thinkers. From a high level view they determine what needs to be accomplished. From a granular level view they decide which team members to assign based on subject matter expertise. A big picture person always has quality as the forefront and keeps their eye on the end goal, they do not get overburdened with tasks. They know how to keep all aspects of a project going, despite a few speed bumps that come along the way.
Project managers have strong organizational skills. They stay focused and are good at prioritizing. They come to meetings prepared and trust those that attend be prepared as well. They expect meetings to end with solutions and action items. There is a clear outline of what is to be accomplished as the next milestone. They keep the project and deliverables on schedule. They have an arsenal of documentation that is well detailed for future use. If there is ever any doubt or question on a particular topic, they'll be the first one to whip out an email or past documentation that others have forgotten, usually before the meeting has ended.
Project managers that have skillful written and verbal communication skills always excel in delivering a project to successful completion. A good project manager always knows exactly what they need to cover in every meeting with their team and their vendor. They are great listeners and give everyone on their team an opportunity to share ideas or concerns. They are also great in digesting the details. They take time to understand the project needs and are able to articulate them to others.
Project managers are creative and efficient when solving challenges. Many project managers are under tight scrutiny to stay within budget, this adds to the pressures of working with different teams and personalities. With so many different variables and moving parts it's important that the project manager can stay calm and relaxed to assess situations fully in order to provide conflict resolutions quickly. And, they always ask the question "Why?" in an effort to really understand what drives the team behind the project, and/or underlying issues that are present. If a solution doesn't seem to be the right fit, a good project manager will keep asking the question "why" until they get to the core of the problem.
Project managers know that the success of the project is dependent on team effort. Look for a good project manager who will always support their team, have their back and guide them when they need help. Project managers know when to praise others for a job well done, but they also know when to say "it's okay" when a team member makes a mistake.
Ever work with a project manager that was so ingrained in their own thought process that nothing could ever get done? It is probably the most frustrating encounter from a vendor's point of view. The best project managers are the ones that are flexible when things change during the course of the project. They can adapt with those that have difficult personalities and navigate around them. They know how to "bend" to achieve the desired end goal, even if it wasn't part of the initial and intended path.
Respect for All
A great project manager is one that will respect all roles within the organization, e.g., team members, administrative support, vendors, suppliers. They are humble, thoughtful and truly understand human nature. They don’t yell at others or lose composure when things go wrong. I always share this quote with my 7 year old daughter because I feel that respect seems to be a dying concept these days,
“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” ~Albert Einstein
If you're in charge of a major software project or purchase for your company and need to assign the right project manager, the person that you put in place really needs to understand the people side of the business. The people you assign to your teams can make or break the success of your project. If you want to read more about the skills needed of successful project managers, check out "The 5 Essential Skills of a Successful Project Manager” by Jane Callahan. She offers great insight and experience from other project managers.
Feel free to share some of your success stories or challenges as a project manager.