Consider this before recruiting a project manager

Amongst other things, Project Management is about managing complexity. In this article, we use an analogy to explain why it’s important to consider this when recruiting a project manager. We explain what steps you can take to ensure that you focus on the right things.

Managing complexity

If you suffer from a complex medical condition, you may wish you could just hand over the management of your health to a wise and trustworthy specialist. Unfortunately, with some complex illnesses, you’ll have to learn a fair amount about your condition yourself before you find someone who knows enough to help you, and whose services you can afford. We’ll explain this below, and show how it applies to Project Management.

For our analogy, we’ll use a condition which a patient has named “the Chronic Constellation“. The Chronic Constellation doesn’t have an official medical name, but there’s a medical hypothesis about the cause. The Chronic Constellation is a cluster of co-occurring disorders, including mast cell disorders, joint hypermobility disorders, and psychiatric disorders. People with the Chronic Constellation are often very nerdy or creative (most likely an outcome of the genetic basis of the phenomenon).

Experts and expertise

Specialists don’t know everything. Sometimes, they won’t even know that they don’t know, and they’ll lead you down a path of useless or even harmful treatments. So, even if you find a specialist, it’s still your body, and you’ll have to live with the outcome of your choices, including the actions taken by your appointed specialist.

Living with a complex condition for many years doesn’t make you an expert at dealing with it. You may get a sense of some of the foods which make you feel worse, or the activities that help you feel better. However, the body is a complex system consisting of many subsystems. The body also interacts with many external systems in the environment: food, accommodation, social systems and so on. You’d have to understand something of that complexity to be able to make decisions that have a greater potential for improvement.

How does this apply to recruiting a project manager?

Project Management also deals with complexity and with intersecting systems. There are many factors to be considered before appointing someone (such as a consultant or a new project manager) to help you manage that complexity.

Working in and on projects and managing them for many years doesn’t make someone an expert at Project Management. They may get a sense of some of the circumstances that precede failure, and of the activities that can help to prevent it.

However, longer and more expensive projects tend to be complex systems consisting of and intesecting with many other systems. One has to understand something of that complexity to be able to make decisions with a greater potential for improvement. “15 years of experience in managing projects” and “a certificate in Project Management” on a CV are not necessarily indicators that the person you have in mind can deal with complexity optimally. On its own, “15 years of experience” may just mean that this person knew something and did that same something for fifteen years! (And in Project Management, a certificate usually just indicates that someone has memorised information and passed an exam.)

Working in and on projects and managing them for many years doesn’t make someone an expert at Project Management.

How do we know we’re bringing in a suitable person? In fact, how does one (warning: fancy words) implement more optimal Project Management processes without getting knotted in a Big Messy Scary Thing?

The quick start versus the quick fix

Is there a quick fix? No. There’s good news, though. There are some basic principles that can help you get a quick start towards better Project Management in your organisation.

Some people who suffer from the Chronic Constellation have studied to be able to manage it. They know that they have to reduce their intake of histaminergic foods; they understand that word, histaminergic, and they know what it implies. They know they have to strengthen their muscles to prevent frequent subluxations and dislocations (more big words!), and they know what is involved in mitochondrial regeneration (even more big words!). It was a patient who wrote that Chronic Constellation article—a patient who studies her condition by asking many questions, reading medical journals and talking to other people in a similar situation. Together, these patients try to make sense of what is happening to them and what principles are at play.  Based on their learning, they implement specific individualised changes to their lifestyle.

Like this patient, we all need to learn something about Project Management ourselves so that we can engage the services of others with discernment.

Bear in mind these following concepts (embodied in the patient example) as you consider learning about Project Management:

  • personal study
  • research and discovery
  • problem-centred
  • question-based
  • team learning
  • lifelong learning
  • implementation

Remember, running a business that does projects doesn’t necessarily make someone an expert at the formal discipline of Project Management. So, if this is your company, or your division, what can you (as the responsible “owner of the body”) look into as you engage the services of others? Could a university short course or a fat book on Project Management help?

Not necessarily, and here’s why. This chart may be relevant to people with the Chronic Constellation, but it doesn’t help them to start their process of improvement. Similarly, you could get bogged down by chapters on Earned Value and That Lofty Thing They Call Leadership if you resort to a book or an in-depth course. Even a “foundation course” typically focuses on tools and techniques. Foundation courses usually assume that the systems and organisational design (OD) are firmly in place, enabling the learners to slot their work into existing processes.

Most organisations are not there yet. So where should one start, to make the best decision about who to appoint?

The quick start

For a quick start, we recommend three steps:

STEP 1
Familiarise yourself with the idea of Project Management as an organisational discipline. As the leader, you are the key to making it work.
Read more about this here.

STEP 2
Learn about of the nature of the complexity involved in Project Management.
For a quick start, we recommend that you participate in our Intensive Workshop in Project Management. 

STEP 3
Take the first steps towards an enabled Project Management environment. Your own best first step will differ depending on who you are and what your situation demands.
Talk to us if you need guidance.

Taking these steps creates a wider perspective of the considerations for appointing people to key roles in Project Management. The person who fits the role best may already be right there in the business, ready to learn.

At ProjectManagement.co.za, we’re also often engaged by organisations as “Project Management experts”. Our 10 Principles help you manage your risk of getting knotted in a Big Messy Scary Thing.

Tania Melnyczuk

Director of Programme Design at ProjectManagement.co.za and the Collaboration Director of the Autistic Strategies Network.

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