How to become an effective Project Manager?
As Project Manager you take the lead in a project. Life Sciences projects are very interesting, but also more thorough and challenging. An editor of the BCF Career Event talked about this topic with Prof. Dr. Ir. Jalal Ashayeri, professor of Supply Chain Management at TIAS Business School and School of Economics and Management at the Tilburg University. He is also Academic Director of the MScBA programs of TIAS, the Utrecht Campus.
Image: © Nationale Beeldbank
Jalal sees Project Management as a collection of ‘tools’ as well as a form of ‘art’. “As Project Manager you need to manage activities, budget, time and resources for which you need to know the tools. But, at the same time you need to be able to manage people, and as such the art of leading, communicating, enabling and motivating people are indispensable.”
Which skills do you need?
The first most important skill you need to have as Project Manager is to be able to manage people because the success of the project hinges on realising the power of various teams consisting of diverse individuals. Secondly, it helps to be a problem solver. As a good problem solver you are able to analyse the dynamics of the problems and find out alternative solutions. According to Jalal: “Only the combination of people management and tool skills will provide the ability to take full management responsibility of a project. When one is missing, the Project Management process is not effective. However, by following the right education everyone is able to become a good Project Manager.”
The tasks of a Project Manager
A Project Manager needs to strike the right balance within the triangle of budget, time and scope. When a manager puts too much emphasis on one corner point or the other, this will bring with it more risks for the accomplishment of project goals. Jalal gives the following example: “Many companies put much pressure on the budget, as a result time goes up and by controlling that time the scope will change”. A second important task is to distribute the control activities. The best way to do this is to delegate responsibility, which means the leading / coaching of various divisional managers rather than controlling everything from one place. A third task is resolving conflicts at any level, sometimes a special project team is even needed to bring parties back together.
Jalal shares his experience with Life Sciences projects: “….most projects in Life Sciences are research based, which take between 3 to 15 years. This brings about a fourth task for the Project Manager called project portfolio management. This type of management means constantly overseeing and monitoring multiple projects which are in the pipeline, i.e. what the status is, which deliverables are present, which part of the scope has been realised, budget vs.actual, time to completion and then continue with the projects that are most likely to succeed. Project portfolio management is the key to effective Project Management.”
We have one major challenge today due to the current economic situation, which is budget pressure. As the Project Manager you need to deal with the uncertainties associated with this pressure and allocate project funds in the most efficient way. Another really serious challenge we are facing today is that life cycles of products are getting shorter due to constant innovation. In fact project managers need to have a clear picture of all possible changes and innovations, not only the financial side, but also the dimensions of products and resources that may change. Jalal also points out that projects are ever increasingly crossing borders between countries and generations.
You need soft skill techniques to challenge these generation-, knowledge- and culture dynamics and cultural variations. “In fact you need to be a little bit of a historian in such a multinational environment,” says Jalal from his own experience. Main reasons for project failures According to Jalal the most common reason for failure is lack of balance within the project triangle corners. In his opinion this is definitely the most important recipe for failure. Other failures are caused by controlling everything centrally. Often Project Managers feel like they have everything under control, but actually centralisation brings lowers the level of attention. Although often coming from good intentions, it is not the correct way. Best is to delegate responsibilities and monitor the divisional managers. The more a project manager keeps in own hands, the lower is the attention span regarding crucial project indicators.
Key advice and tips
On the question how to become an effective Project Manager Jalal answered: “Knowledge!” Knowing the soft part and the hard part, knowing people management and also knowing project management tools. The second thing is that a project manager needs to adapt their own leadership style based on the style of the project you are managing. This will help you to succeed. But, definitely the most important part is the knowledge.
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