Brett Knowles, pm2 Consulting
Brett is a long-time thought leader in the Strategy Execution space for high-tech organizations, beginning in the late 80’s while teaching at Harvard and being involved in the initial Balanced Scorecard research and books. His client work has been published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fortune and countless other business publications.
Pub: September 23 2021
Upd: November 14 2022
Let's face it, project management is all about execution. Period. From what we've seen, the most successful project managers are the ones that have the tools and techniques to perfect execution.
The most important tool, it might surprise you, is not a project management tool but rather a goal-setting tool. With the right tool, the project manager can utilize his or her traits in order to predictably and reliably achieve success.
So let's talk about this tool before we talk about the traits.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy” - Moltke the Elder (who actually said something more like “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main strength.”)
No project actually unfolds the way that we first anticipate, and that we build into our Gantt and Pert Charts. We have seen many projects fail because their project managers thought achieving the Gantt chart created success, whereas it's achieving the project goals that create success!
So step one and the touchstone that you will be continuously looping back to validate, is a clear statement of the outcome goal of your project and a limited number of S.M.A.R.T. measures just become the project’s North Star; all activities are an aide of cheating that outcome and those metrics. As the twists and turns of the project unfold, you'll find Project Milestones, dates, interim deliverables all shift... but the North Star does not!
So, let's assume that you have this objective and key results well-defined, and we can now begin talking about how these enable a project manager and their traits.
These traits are listed in no particular order:
The nature of projects is that they are bundles of problem solving tasks of various sizes, ergo, problem solving skills are required. The project manager trait of Problem Solver requires them to deal with those unforeseen circumstances, all the while ensuring the solutions continuously point towards the North Star.
The business you are supporting is seeking that outcome objective, not the tasks and activities of your team. A project manager must have the trait of being a great business partner with the ability to continuously link back the activities to their business tool and the benefits to that partner.
As project team members help make progress towards that objective, they should be recognized both automatically by your goalkeeping system but also by the project manager who needs the trait of graciousness.
“The devil is in the detail” - every project is made up of a million small tasks. Each of which nudges the project towards the North Star. It is important that the project manager is both detail oriented to ensure each of those tasks have maximum input but also is aligned to that Northstar objective.
Every project manager needs the ability to motivate the team towards their shared vision; that Northstar goal that is the driving force behind the project.
The project brings together a diverse mix of capabilities, experiences, and personalities. The project manager must be able to read people and help them find purpose in the work they're doing towards that Northstar goal. The project manager must be able to leverage each person's capabilities and personality for maximum effect, this can only be done with the ability to read people and being empathetic.
Cool Under Pressure
The project manager has the difficult task of helping all stakeholders understand their contribution, what's in it for them, and manage expectations about timing, durables, etc. in real-time. By being mindful of the ultimate goal and key results, great project managers can diffuse most issues by helping people gain alignment to the ultimate outcome.
Know When to Stop
Receive any projects that shift into the “land of the living dead”, in which they've achieved their core goals, but are not shut down for a number of reasons. The most common reason is that they're still tasks and milestones to be achieved in the project plan. By being goal-oriented, the project manager can determine when those key results and ultimately the objective has been achieved, even if maybe the project steps are still outstanding. In this way they can safely close the project, declare victory if allowed or resource to be deployed for the greater value. The ability to ensure that your team is producing top-notch work that contributes to the success of your project comes last on our list of crucial project management abilities, but it is certainly not the least. Any QMS software can be used to accomplish it, if necessary.
The key project manager traits is laser focus on the project outcome and key results. Everything else is a means to those ends. With great goal management, the above traits enable more effective execution, but these traits without a great goal and key results will result in failure.