When I was 15 years old, I decided I wanted to learn how to juggle. I didn’t know anyone who could teach me, so I read a book called Juggling for the Complete Klutz, and started practicing. The steps themselves are fairly simple, but putting it together to keep three balls in the air takes a lot of practice. One day, probably hundreds of dropped balls after I first opened the book, something just clicked. I had my eyes on the landscape, on no one ball in particular, and suddenly, instinct took over. I could successfully catch and release three balls (tomatoes, bananas, light bulbs!) over and over.
Great Project Management takes instinct. The best Project Managers’ brains have been wired, through experience, to see both landscape and the balls in the air all at the same time. The difference between a merely good Project Manager and a truly great one with instinct is that the latter has compiled a mental risk and issues list when they’ve been given a description of the project. Before kick-off, they can tell you the roadblocks the team is likely to face throughout the project. And they can tell you with an amazing degree of certainty, how likely a team is to hit its estimates after a Work Breakdown Structure meeting. Project Managers for whom the discipline has become instinctual, increase your likelihood of success because he or she has a unique ability to predict project trouble spots before they occur. As such, he or she has a unique ability to subtlety course correct throughout the project and find the shortest path through to delivery.
How do you find these Project Managers? Assessing instinct is done during the interview process. The following helps determine if your candidate has the instinct that separates them from the pack.
1. Look for candidates who have a successful track record managing projects of varying size in multiple diverse environments. Managing five projects in one department is the equivalent of juggling up against a wall when what you need is someone who can stand on one leg and juggle a fork, scarf, and a football.
2. Provide a high-level description of the project to the candidate, including information about the team, project, and work environment. Ask for the candidate’s assessment of the situation.
The Project Manager who responds with an understanding of risks and issues and where they’d focus their efforts is one who is demonstrating instinct.
3. Ask the candidate to describe a project situation where they could do something over if they could. Understand if this was a situation they anticipated and took action on, if it blindsided them, or if they anticipated it and did not take action on it.
Increasing the likelihood of project success is the difference between a merely good Project Manager and a truly great one. The great Project Manager has developed a unique skill – instinct – that allows them to predict project challenges and manage them accordingly. Before the ball is ever released, they can tell you if it’s going to go under the couch and course correct accordingly.
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