In looking at the operations of an Architecture or Engineering firm, it is evident that the project manager (PM) role is the key to success. In addition to their normal project management responsibilities, most PMs are also involved in many other aspects of firm management – from marketing and sales, to human resources (HR), recruiting and hiring, time management, billing, and collections. They are doing all of this outside of their basic functions of running projects and working with clients.
Why have we overloaded our PMs with so much responsibility, and how can they be successful without specific skills and training in each of these areas? We often describe and even measure a “superstar” project manager, by rating technical skills and their ability to keep clients happy above profitability. I argue that for a PM to be a superstar, they need to deliver profitable projects, and help the firm to grow and prosper financially. Ultimately, if the client is happy but the project loses money, the project manager is not a superstar.
This practice has developed because most architecture and engineering school curricul
ums focus only on technical training, with no exposure to business or project financial skills. The first five to ten years of their work experience is typically spent in project delivery, with little involvement in the business or financial management aspects of the projects they work on. For many PMs, their first introduction to the business side of a project is in billing. They may get told not to write off time, and have a vague idea about what “revenue” really is, but often the reasons for the policies they are told to follow are not taught or understood.
In looking at the job description that you use for your PMs – does it really describe what they do every day? When I do profitability assessments for our clients, I often see that the daily tasks that most PMs are engaged in, rarely correspond to their job description. Another disconnect is between the job description, their actual responsibilities, and how their performance is measured and rewarded. Finding and establishing the connection between these three aspects of their job is the key to developing superstar PMs.
In understanding the responsibilities that a typical PM is assigned, it becomes apparent that PMs are often set up for failure. The list is quite long, and while your PMs may not be involved in all of these roles, it is important to understand what they are really doing.
* Responding to RFPs and creating proposals
* Developing the Scope of Services
* Estimating project fees
* Business development / Networking
* Project budgeting and financial management
* Project quality control
* Management of the project timeline
* Managing subcontractors
* Using resources effectively and managing staff schedules to maintain high utilization
* Reviewing and approving time and expenses
* Solving client problems
* Nurturing client relationships
* Recruiting and interviewing new hires
* Mentoring and training staff
* Managing staff performance, staff evaluations, and dealing with performance and behavior issues
* Managing contractual requirements and deliverables (including legal requirements and compliance)
Ensuring that your PMs are successful in each of these responsibilities is a critical, yet often neglected, part of developing PMs to be successful and profitable. A great way to start is to do an assessment of what they actually do on a daily basis, and compile your own list. That way, you can start to develop a strategy around how to provide the training, and skill sets they need to not only manage profitable projects, but also hire the right people, keep clients happy, and ensure that the firm is bringing in new projects. Most firms only invest in traditional project management training without consideration of the marketing, business financial management, and soft people skills that most PMs need to be successful.
One of the other challenges that most firms face is changing technology, and making sure that your team has the tools they need to get work done as effectively as possible. Technology is a double-edge sword; it can be a huge competitive advantage, and it can also slow your people down if they don’t know how to use it. Every firm should be looking at the systems they use, and how to increase user adoption and proficiency in order to recognize that competitive advantage.
In addition to evaluating their list of responsibilities, it is also valuable to ask them some questions to gauge their level of knowledge, degree of frustration, and areas that bottleneck and impede effective project performance.
Every dollar you pour into training your PMs and facilitating their job duties will come back to you tenfold in improved project performance and profitability. Don’t let the daily hustle of business that plagues all of us hinder your investment in your PMs. And don’t assume that everyone is using the same systems or has the same challenges – it is critical to interview all of your managers at least once a year to get different perspectives, and understand their individual strengths and weaknesses. Start today to understand their challenges, and develop a plan for regular, consistent, and comprehensive training and coaching to turn your managers into your biggest competitive advantage.