High Performing Business – Quality – Good vs. Bad Project Managers

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT

Not all project managers are good project managers - learn how to spot the difference earlier rather than later......

Not all project managers are good project managers – learn how to spot the difference earlier rather than later……

Throughout the years I’ve run into some very good project managers and some very bad project managers.  Just recently I finished cleaning up the mess made by this project manager I had to let go a year ago after a huge mishap.  It got me thinking, how could I have saved myself some headache and heartache and better vetted this particular project manager?

I’ll start here by listing the qualities of the good project managers I’ve known  then list the characteristics of all the bad project managers I’ve run into (fortunately all the bad qualities have never existed in one person):

Good Project Managers

  1. Communicate just enough information the right way – not over or under sharing but the right sharing at the right time in the right way.  They pay attention to what type of communications work best for all the people involved.   They genuinely enjoy the interactions, make communicating clearly their priority and make it a point to be as transparent as possible so everyone has all the information they need to make the best decisions possible.
  2. Focus on completion  – they want to finish their project and move onto the next big thing.
  3. Have the requisite credentials to do the project for which they are hired – whether it be leading a construction project or installing a new computer system, or launching a new course, or building a project management support team.
  4. Are consummate professionals – avoid disclosing irrelevant information about their personal lives not pertinent to completing the project.   They keep their challenges not related to the project out of the dialog with others.
  5. Work autonomously without the need for oversight – they can be trusted to complete the project to the specifications, within budget and on time.
  6. Attract,  hire and inspire good people to do the project work – they don’t just bring someone on the project because they happen to be a friend, or owe them a favor, or want to give them a chance.  Likewise they get bad apples off the project team fast.
  7. Pay close attention to the quality of the project work as it is a direct reflection of their capabilities.
  8. Mitigate risks in a timely manner, offer full disclosure when things are not going to work out as planned, and engage qualified people in troubleshooting creative solutions to the challenges that arise.
  9. Offer fair pricing for their services – being clear about the costs, the options for various price points, and only ordering enough materials to do the job at hand.  They are good at reigning in extraneous costs for doing the project.
  10. Provide detailed reports on the project plans, progress, the costs incurred to date, the cash flow needs for various phases – pretty much they avoid having the client be surprised by any element of the project.

Where as bad project managers:

  1. Way over share or way under share – you never really know which end is up with what you are told.
  2. Make excuses – it’s never their fault why the project is not progressing.
  3. Claim they do not need the credentials and have all the experience they need to do the project.  They may be very enthusiastic and charasmatic – yet when pushed get quite defensive about why those credentials are just BS.
  4. Try to engage you in helping them out in some way that makes you uncomfortable with some pressing problem in their personal life – whether it be to move out a home because they are getting divorced, helping bail a family member out of jail, donating money to a church project, etc.
  5. You question every decision they make as it does not seem like they really have the ability to do the work for which they promoted they could do and had done.
  6. Everyone who works for them has their same last name, was in their college fraternity, was some “chum” from their school days,  or has some type of personal relationship with them not related to the task at hand.
  7. Point out all the projects they “worked” on over the years – but is vague on the details of what it was specifically they did for that project.
  8. Design things on the fly and you only find out about problems when the attorneys show up at the door or some government official shuts down your project.
  9. Either charge far too little or far too much for their services.  They tend to order way more supplies than they need,  and many times the project space is in absolute chaos.
  10. Their plans or progress reports are always just about done – but you never actually see them.  When challenged about this they get angry and defensive as they are clearly in over their head.

So just how do you determine if someone is qualified to be a project manager?  Here is my assessment list:

  1. Are they transparent?  Do they let you know their strengths as well as their foibles?
  2. Do they have a history of increasing complexity of their projects – even if they are young – what is their track record of success?
  3. Can you contact people who have used them in the past that they would not even provide in a reference situation (after all – any reference someone provides should say glowing things about them – but what about the ones they don’t provide?).
  4. In interactions, do they keep their personal life personal (this one is HUGE – I can’t tell you how often I hear about someone’s recovering alcholism, former drug addiction, recent divorce, trouble their children get into with the law, how they found Jesus, etc).  This is now a big red flag for me on hiring them to work on any project.
  5. Who has worked with and for them in the past and for how long have these people worked for them?  If they can pull on a wide cross section of skilled people they more than likely have done a fairly good job managing them in the past.
  6. How well do they communicate the actual work of the project, their decision making processes, and where specifically they will need your input?   I can tell this with how they handle themselves in our early exploratory interactions.
  7. How do they react when things do not go their way?  Do they stay calm and work together towards a mutually agreeable solution or do they get angry, and resort to aggressive forms of behavior?   If its the latter, take a pass on this person.
  8. What is their approach in bidding for the project?  Do they have an established process or do they simply give you a quote and avoid too many details?   If you have an established process for accepting bids, how compliant are they with following that process?
  9. Do they have the guts to tell you what you are asking for may be very hard for them to do, but they may know someone who could help you?   Or maybe they suggest they could do the work if you considered a different approach.  Regardless they are honest about their abilities to do the project you are requesting.
  10. What is their ability to complete the work they started?  You can judge this by assessing the completion of things in their own life – if much of what they need to do the project is in a state of near completion, or needs some type of major repair – you can pretty much be guaranteed that your project could go the same route.

I tend to be the consummate optimist and see the innate good in everyone – it’s really how I prefer to live.  But as I’ve said for decades, I can start being smarter whenever I’d like.  This doesn’t mean I now dismiss everyone as unqualified – but it does mean I have become more discerning and take more time evaluating their qualifications for the task at hand.  I have a more defined selection process in the people I choose to have around me helping with the important projects.   My life has gotten so much saner and more productive as a result.




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