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The 5 Neurotic Things All Great Project Managers Do

In creating this pool of talented individuals we had to outline what the difference is between a good PM and a great PM, and this is where we started to realise that the great PMs are full of contradictions.

Experts continue to disagree on which personality types make the best project manager, but, as one of them, I can affirm that Project Managers are a strange and neurotic bunch.

Forget Myers Briggs, or the Whole Brain model, or reds, and greens or all this other classification – we are just plain crazy, gluttons for punishment, purveyors of the thankless task, list makers, bean counters, masters of hot air production… right?

As we launch our PMaaS (Project Management as a Service) offering at Gibbs we have recently created a preferred associate network. These are PMs who we know and trust and who stand out from the crowd as a decent PM. Now before I go any further let me assure you that this article isn’t a sales pitch, well not entirely, but in creating this pool of talented individuals we had to outline what the difference is between a good PM and a great PM, and this is where we started to realise that the great PMs are full of contradictions – and if you don’t believe me here are just some of the reasons why:

1. We love to make lists, and then love to ignore them. We will spend part of each day writing a to do list, and then happily accept that things change, abandon the list and start again the next day. We will be reactive to the change and must constantly re-prioritise and communicate the changes and impacts so that we keep things on the front foot. Change is now the accepted norm and great PMs can roll with the punches and keep smiling.

2. We hate meetings but love to organise them. We have all seen the memes about meetings and everyone you speak to will hate having them. Projects – irrespective of type, have a secret infatuation with meetings that nobody speaks about openly. We literally have 100’s of different types of meetings; the daily stand-up, the project board, the steering committee, the weekly status update, the monthly status update, the design review board…. Often with no real data flow or purpose, and often with duplication of information.

Great project managers will ensure that the governance is appropriate and right for the project and will have the right people involved, with the right content that adds value, not waste time.

3. We create plans and then avoid using them. The beauty of not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise and isn’t precluded by months of worry. In other words, fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Or planning and preparation prevents poor performance (there is another P, but we can’t print that)…

Plans are nothing. Planning is Everything: Dwight Eisenhower.

There are so many different sayings about planning, but the general idea is that, while you should have a plan, the art of a great project manager is understanding the detail that is most appropriate to drive the mission forward. We have all seen the project manager who spends their life in a scheduling tool but forgets that we are agents of change, plans are needed but so is the ability to adapt.

Great project managers set objectives, roadmaps and set an appropriate level of detail to help gauge progress and anticipate delays without creating a cottage industry of planning and reporting that grinds projects to a halt.

4. We depend on Management Information but avoid it like the plague. In this golden age of information, we have somehow lost our way. Data is now legion, there is data for just about everything you can think of doing now on a project.

We have burn rates, Earned Value, resource utilisation, batting averages, velocity charts…. But we also have “number of milestones” on a plan, “number of open risks”, “number of actions on a plan” and other meaningless information that can be dangerous if used incorrect. Judging how well a project is being run based on a high milestone count (and I have seen this in action) just means “savvy” project managers will flood the project with meaningless data. As with all things people will focus on what you measure.

Great project managers will utilise the right data, they will avoid institutionalising data that requires unnecessary overhead and therefore cost. They will seek golden sources of information, drive automation of reporting and help to ensure that their teams are focused on what matters – delivery, without compromising on stakeholder communication and confidence. They recognise that stakeholders do appreciate that less is sometimes more and prefer quality over quantity (and the reduction in project costs won’t go unnoticed).

5. We manage risk, but we don’t create excuses. Ok so this is the last one and my pet hate. RAIDS logs. I’m still not sure I have ever seen these used properly (except on my projects of course). But the dreaded Risk, Issues, Assumptions and Dependencies log is so misused its almost laughable. Bad project managers, and, to be honest, most project managers to accept the following as the norm.

The approach is something like this. PM will hold a planning meeting, or a risk meeting, or a project status review and we will identify a risk and put the hot ones are added to the status report…. And then radio silence. Nothing, nada, Zip, scratch… Then a month later (or most likely 2 months because the risk review meeting gets pushed back because everyone’s busy) the risk log gets reviewed. Sometimes there is a lucky break, and everything is ok, or things are closed, or we commit to sorting it soon *rinse and repeat*.

When the risk materialises its ok because the PM, or SME, or risk raiser can point to the fact that it was on the log. In other words, at the beginning of the project a future proof excuse log is created so the team can say “I told you so”.

Great PMs will refuse to accept this, they will actively manage risks, will treat assumptions and dependencies as risks and they will go out of their way to ensure that there is someone accountable for providing timely updates for determining solutions and corrective actions to avoid the risks. They will be evaluating the project constantly to determine and avoid future risks. They won’t accept excuses.  At Gibbs Hybrid we have a network of PMs, and, while many of them share these neuroses, they’re also the finest cohort of professionals available.  We’d love to put them to work for you.


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