How to recruit best of breed Project /Programme Managers?

Posted by Kevin Brady on Tue 15th August 2006 at 11:40 PM, Filed in Programme ManagementProject ManagementIndustry News

My IT Management Philosophy has always been based on four key principals


which I have always considered to be independent of the current ‘flavour of the month’ in terms of IT development /project management methods:-

Transparency – Reports /Plans – task & resource and above all Risk & Issue Management. Without transparency, you cannot steer the ship.

Ownership – Delegated responsibility at every level. A name and owner for every project deliverable.

Empowerment – Never Never Never!!! Dictate to IT professionals working on your project how to build or compile a project deliverable. Always get them to plan their own tasks and there associated durations.  Drive out, during product /project-planning meetings with the delivery team, the risks /issues and assumptions, which need to be stated in order to make these estimates valid. “Trust in people’s professionalism until they prove you otherwise.”

Sponsorship – No 1 reason for IT failure in the UK is the lack of business sponsorship and user participation. Often the reason for this is a total misunderstanding among business people of what sponsorship means and how important and critical this is in order to make a project a success. New methods such as AGILE /SCRUM only make this cause of project failure even more prevalent with intense user participation required right through the project life cycle.

I have always likened Project Management to being a bomber pilot flying over enemy territory. To survive a tour (25 missions) you have to learn quickly, be flexible, learn from other people’s failures, and use your common sense to learn what works and what does not. If you get this wrong you end up dead (get the sack – 30% of IT Project Manager loose their jobs each year), or you end up being captured by the enemy (the sponsors and business people heap all the blame onto you). Either way, in order to bring your crew home safe and sound and complete your tour, you and your team need to be special people doing special things.

Concentrating on the bomber pilot (project /programme manager) what are these special qualities needed in order to be a best of breed IT manager and maximise the chances of IT project /programme success:-

Key Behavioural Competencies

• Constant & Consistent drive to keep a Programme grounded in reality – Transparency, Transparency and more Transparency

• Delivery Focus and against Fudge & Spin

• People Person /natural mentor inclusive management style

• Integrity

• Gravitas

• Visionary & strategic thinker – This specifically applies to programme managers.

• Risk Taker

• Commensurate Politician

• Good judge of character

• Attention to detail – Devil in the detail

• Patience & Resilience

• Fast thinker & higher than average intellectual capacity

• Energy /Drive /Passion /Creativity

Key Technical Skills

• Understanding of the relationships /trade-offs between Time /Cost /Scope/Quality

• Sound knowledge of bottom-up planning techniques

• Understands project /programme planning techniques

• Able to set-up resource management /pooling

• A total understanding of the concept of critical path

• Needs to understand the role of Project & Programme level sponsorship and the set-up of a credible and workable programme /project org

• Has experience in the set-up of PMOs and how to utilise them (specific to programme managers).

• Sound knowledge of risk and issue management

• Sound knowledge change management techniques

• Understands how to set-up fit for purpose quality management systems.

• Able to run /set-up fit for purpose accounting /budgeting systems and processes.

• Can produce /review business cases and carry out earned value analysis where necessary.

• Expert in fit-for-purpose project management methods i.e PRINCE 2. 

• Well-read and knowledgeable about all the various IT development methods and their delivery profiles i.e Pros & Cons and be able to discuss
competently the selection of methods with Technical Staff.

• Able to set-up reporting standards and put in place reporting processes (specific to Programme Managers only).

• Needs to be able to understand contract /copy-write laws with an ability to review construct SLAs and Service /support contracts.

• Vendor management experience and expertise. i.e understand and experience of their side of the fence is key

• Good understanding of testing processes and methods /tools.

• Depending on a company’s outsourcing arrangements, able to run virtual development teams in countries like China and India.

• Solid understanding of all technical roles engaged in a project /programme of work and what their document or technical deliverables should be prior to starting the project /programme.

• An ability to mold /shape all of the above to meet the exacting demands of MATRIX management in organisations.
During an interview how do I at interview discover the presence and depth of the behavioural and technical skills I am looking for?

Now you have the profile of the type of person you are looking for, what do you do once the CV’s start rolling in ?

The Interview—

STAGE 1 Quick CV check

I do not concentrate too much on the past - I spend little time on the CV, other than extracting the reason for leaving the current job and describing with reference to their CV why they would be a good project /programme management candidate for the vacancy.
STAGE 2 Project Managment Artifacts review

I always ask candidates to bring examples of their work to the interview - This part of the interview represents 25% of the allocated interview time and entails the candidate bringing to the interview, examples of Project Management artefacts, which they feel proud of. These can tell you lots:

One look at a project plan, status report, PID or a Risk /Issue log and you have plumbed the depths of what this person can do for you in terms of matching many of these special Technical and Behavioural requirements. I have to say 70% of the people I have interviewed in the past few years fail at this first check and the interview often finishes early without wasting too much time for either party.

STAGE 3 Work through Project /Programme Scenario

Once the artefacts check has been completed I give the remaining candidates a project scenario to work through on a white board. This is usually a document detailing a real project /programme, which is in difficulty, combined with a number of questions, which explore what they would do to make this programme /project work and the approaches to sponsors, and staff they might take. This scenario interviewing technique normally sorts out the remaining wheat from the chaff.

Sometimes these scenario-based interviews can be very entertaining and remind me of the auditions for the X factor. However, the key thing is the fact that they work, and have helped me pick out the genuine heavy-weight professionals from the project support people who decide whilst in the shower one morning to cook up thier CV and advetise themselves as a Project Manager!

On a sad note, these scenario-based interviews have always confirmed my opinion concerning the sorry state of professionalism among IT management, and I can totally understand the common disrespect technical staff have of their managers.
No, wonder AGILE is taking off!


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Great summary and very insightful. Curious that your description fits agile thinking and management to a T. Makes me wonder just what you’ve been seeing at your clients that you’ve been describing as agile development.

Posted by Dave Nicolette  on Thu 17th August 2006 at 07:04 PM | #

Thanks for the comment.

Don’t see anything which is AGILE other than my last comment and my empathy towards project staff and the commonly experienced pain and suffering they have to go through at the hands of CRAP project /programme managers.

Its enough in my opinion to make some IT professionals leave the industry and take up basket weaving for a living.

If anything in this article appears to sing out AGILE it is because as I have said in many of my posts, much of AGILE is something old, something new and something borrowed. My issue with AGILE is that these tit bits are essembled into something which in my humble opinion is not enterprise ready. 

I ask IT professionals not to focus these desperate feelings on AGILE as a conclusive way out of this misery (what for my next post). We need to concentrate on developing better quality project management with strict codes of practice /professional qualification etc etc and respect for professional IT staff . i.e the qualities listed in the above post.

Please see my artcles

Can Government policy reduce IT
project failure rates Parts 1 & 2

Can Government Policy Reduce IT Project Failure Rates Part 2

Can Government Policy Reduce IT Project Failure Rates Part 1

Posted by Kevin Brady  on Thu 17th August 2006 at 11:21 PM | #

>Don’t see anything which is AGILE other than my last comment and…

Yes, I know you don’t see it, and that makes me smile. It’s good that you’re trying to keep things in perspective, to stay focused on genuine value, and to try and see through the marketing hype. In any case, don’t stop questioning things. Retrospection and continuous improvement are key agile principles.

>Its enough in my opinion to make some IT professionals leave the industry and take up basket weaving for a living.

I felt the same way four years ago. Then I found out about agile development. I didn’t make up the word “agile” and I don’ care what people want to name it. But it’s a workable answer to many of the problems you and I both see with traditional IT. Not a magic bullet and by no means easy, but workable. I think those problems will be alleviated bit by bit, and as that happens the need for a word like “agile” will fade away. It will simply become the norm to focus on value, to emphasize people over process, to operate transparently, and to practice continuous improvement.

There are a lot of professionals in the industry who want to improve the state of things and who are focused on practical matters. You might be surprised at how little distance there really is between yourself and the “agile” community.

Posted by Dave Nicolette  on Fri 18th August 2006 at 11:58 AM | #


My client is looking for a Strong Java J2ee developer who has done extensive work on the AGILE/SCRUM methodology.

Any help?

Posted by John  on Fri 28th December 2007 at 12:18 PM | #


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