here for a pdf version!
part of an occasional series, we publish here 'Searching
Matters'. In this edition we discuss the 'Universal Project
Manager' - the idea that the most able project professionals
can manage any project, in any sector.
Universal Project Manager
the people we need is like pulling hen's teeth!" How
many times has this plaintive cry been heard from a business
manager trying to recruit able project professionals? In seeking
to manage customer delivery, streamline business processes
or to transform a business organisation, senior managers are
now likely to choose project management to drive the work.
However, when they set out to find people capable of managing
the project, they often find recruitment to be difficult.
This can lead them to suspect that the people they need are
in very short supply or even that they are not available.
The most able people will always be perceived to be in short
supply; however experience indicates that many of the concerns
expressed about the shortage of able project management professionals
are over-stated. Approached in the right way, the problem
is not as great as it at first appears.
Project management is very young in comparison with other
professions, with roles requiring an extensive range of skills.
The field is complex and continues to evolve. We offer here
a fresh approach, known as 'Twenty
Keys', providing a more useful way to understand a project
management role and the abilities needed of people who can
be expected to succeed. Twenty
Keys has been developed to improve the success and reliability
of project management recruitment and a framework to use when
setting the career direction of project management professionals.
context and skills of the job
Frustration can result from an assumption that experience
of a particular technology, industry or business sector is
a pre-requisite for a project manager and that an appropriate
specialist has to be found. While this can be true, success
in project management is more usually dependent on abilities
recognised to be universal among all able project management
professionals, working in all sectors. A balance has to be
struck here based on a practical understanding of the key
attributes of the project manager to be appointed. In setting
that balance, it needs to be appreciated that while sector
and technology knowledge and experience is a part of the context
of a project, it is not the essential substance of project
are plenty of examples of very successful appointments where
this has been realised to advantage. A project manager who
had spent 20 years managing projects to build ships and is
now managing contracts to install advanced printing systems.
Another was leading projects to develop G3 telecommunication
systems and is now managing the development and manufacture
of pharmaceutical research equipment. Two others I can recall
are now successful project management consultants, working
within large financial service businesses to help them to
transform their organisation and working practices. One of
these was an academic, the other an IT Manager.
management professionals are there to be found. Recruiters
must know how to interpret the context of any project management
role and be able to assess the management skills of candidates,
before they can compile a useful short-list.
Universal Project Manager
The IPMA (International Project Management Association) chose
the theme of 'Universality' at their last annual Congress.
This idea, expressed at its simplest, claims that an accomplished
project manager can perform any project management role successfully,
regardless of the sector, technologies used, or any other
technical aspect of the work. A project manager, in other
words, is a project manager who can manage projects - any
community has little difficulty in accepting that people qualified
in accounting, mechanical engineering, retail, industrial
engineering or IT competence have a universal competence.
These people can be confidently deployed into different sectors
and types of enterprise. We clearly have some way to go before
project management is recognised in the same way. This perception,
while understandable in an emerging discipline, limits the
development of project management and the prospects for those
seeking to pursue a career in the discipline.
the history of project management lies in civil engineering,
building and defence, where extensive resources need to be
controlled or there are high levels of complexity. From the
late 60s, the discipline began to migrate into all most other
sectors, both public and private. By the mid-80s, business
process improvement projects, in becoming more ambitious,
found that they needed formal project management methods.
More recently, in response to the unprecedented demand for
change and business transformation, projects are being deployed
to re-create and 're-invent' businesses. These developments
are extending the scope of the project manager, emphasising
different skills and personal qualities. New insights into
the essential attributes of the universal project manager
are emerging as the profession grows.
Professional bodies are serving to advance their cause but
in the meantime businesses are being limited through an apparent
shortage of able professionals. We can reduce the perceived
shortage by reminding ourselves how the most able project
managers actually distinguish themselves.