|Back to Basics: The Project Manager|
This monthís column responds to a series of questions about the project manager: skills, training needs, and a manageable workload.
Q. Are there unique skills associated with running a program or is the skill set essentially the same as that used on projects?
First, let's define program. Professor Rodney Turner defines a program as "a group of projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually." Pellegrinelli (International Journal of Project Management, Vol 15, #3) identifies four different kinds of endeavors commonly referred to as programs:
That said, are the skills different? My answer: the basic skills are the same, but the required areas of strength are often different. For example, both positions need good presentation skills. But a program manager is likely to present to higher levels of management. A program managerís presentation skills better be not just good but excellent.
These differences in degree most often come into play in the area of "soft" skills: leadership, negotiation, communications, perspective, etc. Weaknesses in these areas that are survivable as a project manager may be disastrous to a program managerís career.
Q. Should project managers receive technical training?
As with all employees, project managers should have the skills needed to do their job. If they lack these skills, training is one option; mentoring or coaching is another. So, let me rephrase the question: do your project managers need more technical skills than they already possess?
On larger projects (a new aircraft, a major process plant, a systems integration project), there are simply too many complex technologies for the project manager to master all of them. Technical training that provides breadth may be useful, but technical training that provides depth is unlikely to provide much benefit. On smaller projects, the project manager may also be a key technical contributor. In this case, technical training may enhance the project managerís ability to contribute technically, but it is unlikely improve his or her management skills.
Q. How can we provide on-site mentoring without signaling that the project manager or the project team is in trouble?
First, you should provide mentors to teams that arenít in trouble! The literature on mentoring doesnít talk about supporting weak people: it talks about improving the skills of qualified people. Second, if you have a project manager that canít do the job, donít assign a mentor: assign a new project manager.
Q. How many projects can a full-time project manager handle at one time?
There is a simple Zen answer to this question: project managers can handle as many projects as they are capable of managing successfully. Donít even consider increasing their workload unless all of their projects that is all, as in every one are being finished on time, within budget, according to spec, and with the stakeholders satisfied.
I donít believe that there is a single, reliable, numerical answer to the question "how many can one person handle?" that will be correct for all or even most organizations. But you can start to develop an answer for your organization by answering one key question first: what is the project manager supposed to do?
© 1999 Project Management Partners
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