Can a project manager be successful in any field?

There is a never ending debate on this topic. My personal opinion is yes. Of course there are certain conditions. First of all, the project manager needs to be willing to learn the basics of the new industry and the common language. Then the organization and the project need to support that (if your organization requires you to be an expert in that field you will probably fail on short term). Last but not least you need to have the domain experts onboard and you need to be able to trust them. And they need to be aware that you are not a domain expert but a project management expert.


Good Project Manager vs good team

I had a debate with a colleague once on what is more valueble for a project: to have a good and experienced team or to have a good and experienced project manager. It is clear having both is the ideal situation, but this is not always the case.  If you would have to choose between having an experienced team with a not so experienced project manager versus having an outstanding PM with an average team what would you choose? Each alternative would have it’s benfits from organizational groth point of view, bad PM with bad team will be clearly a strugle. But from project point of view what can be best?

In my view, a bad project manager can lead even a good team on the wrong path. This clearly depends on the organisation type, on how much power the project manager has and the level of management control in the organisation. But this is a real posibility.

On the other side, a good project manager will be able to identify the strenghts and weaknesses of his team and make a strategy in such a way that the potential is maximized. The project manager can develop plans to increase the knowledge of the team and  even bring external experts.

So giving the two alternatives, I would choose the first. What would you choose?

Hard or soft skills?

If you decide you need to improve your skills, what is the area where you will focus first? One answer (best answer) would be to analyze your strong and week areas an start from there. But this is not the purpose of my dilemma. What change in your skill set would have the most dramatic impact? What is more important to have as project manager? To have excellent project management technical skills, to know perfectly all processes, tools,methods, framework and to be able to apply them flawlessly or to have outstanding soft skills, to be a leader, motivator, communicator? 
In my view the soft skills are the focus area. They have the biggest impact on the performance of the team and the support you get from upper management layers.

Knowledge Base

Risk Management

Put it to simple words, risk management means preparing for the bad things that can happen. You think about what can go wrong and find ways to minimize the probability or the impact or you make plans for what to do in case that thing will hit the fan, It is one of the area in project management with one of the greatest impacts on project success as it put you one step ahead of the game. So you  need to put the right focus on this activities.
Of course it is difficult to anticipate all the risks and to always find the  measures. But it always pays the price. If you are constantly learning from your projects, you and your experts will get better at this in time.

Plan Risk Management 

Have at least an idea when and how you will do it, who is involved and how will you track it. Decide how you will prioritize the risks, what is your risk tolerance level and what kind of measures will you be able to define

Identify risks 

This should be a continuous activity and should be done by everyone n the team. Best source of risks are the project assumptions and lessons learned from similar projects (your own or others). Allocate sufficient time for this, at the end it will pay its price.

Prioritize risks 

You do not need to have something fancy. Just rate the probability and the impact and make sure you keep the same scale for all risks

Prepare responses 

Should be done for high priority risks. You could try to avoid it, minimize the impact or occurrence probability or you can transfer it. You can also accept the risk, but this should be done consciously (it does not means to ignore risks you do not like)

Monitor risks 

You need to monitor the risks continuously to make sure the probability or the impact is not changing. You need to see if new risks are generated

Key takeaway 

The entire team should keep an eye open on identifying risks. Constantly monitor them and define appropriate actions.This will give you a better chance to achieve project objectives


Manager vs Leader

When I was first thinking to start a blog, one of the initial actions I took was to make a list of potential topics. Leader vs Manager was on top of my list as this is one of the topics I am thinking a lot. Since then I found a ton of articles, blogs and presentations on this subject. Many great ones. So I am not going to define what each of the roles means, what is best and how to be one. Instead I will try to cover a slightly different aspect. As project manager, most people would agree, you should be both a leader and manager. The dilemma is where to find the balance.

The answer depends on your abilities and preferences, the organization you work in, the project and the team. I believe that a good PM is the one that most easily adapt and is able to easily change the balance between the two. Ask yourself:

Am I primary a Leader or a Manager?

What others think I am?

What do  I like mostly to be?

Is this the best approach for myself, my company, my project?

What do I need to adjust? 
Sometimes asking this kind of questions can help you to perform better and increase the chances of success for your projects.