people in an elevator

Imagine you are a project sponsor. You enter the elevator and bump into your project manager. There are two kinds of conversations you are likely to have:

Conversation 1:

  • You: Hey! I’ve been meaning to catch up with you. How’s my project coming along?

  • Project manager: Well, so so… The thing is that Mike’s leaving the company and has left us somewhat in the lurch…

  • You: Mike? Who’s Mike?

  • Project manager: Our database expert. I thought you knew him. I don’t know what we’ll do without him…

  • You: So, do I need to tell the client there’s going to be a delay?

  • Project manager: That wouldn’t be a bad idea, yes.

  • You: How long? What are we doing about it? Will it affect the project budget? Why wasn’t there a backup?

  • Project manager: Basically, we can’t cope with all the new requests. They keep changing the requirements from one day to the next.
  • You: We can’t have that. We can’t say ‘yes’ to everything. The contract has a fixed price. I’ll go and see them tomorrow. Give me the record of changes, the risk register and the estimate to complete.

  • Project manager: Hmmm, well… this is my floor. I’ll send you an email later…

You already know that this project manager will not send you an email this afternoon, or tomorrow morning. This project manager will come up with the excuse that there were more urgent matters to attend to. What impression does this project manager give you? Do you think he is an effective project manager? What will you say when they ask for your opinion at his annual review? What would the CEO have thought if he had taken the same elevator?

Conversation 2:

Rewind to the beginning. You enter the same elevator but this time bump into an effective project manager. How will this conversation go?

You can know whether a project manager is effective or not just by talking to him.

  • You: Hey! I’ve been meaning to catch up with you. How’s my project coming along?

  • Effective project manager: You have an email from me in your inbox. The risk we identified two weeks ago has materialised. I need your approval to replace the database expert. You’ll remember that we had approved a 2-month subcontracting deal for € 10,000. This cost overrun will reduce the final margin by 0.5%.

  • You: Does it affect the final deadline?

  • Effective project manager: If he’s here next Monday, as they tell me he will be, there’ll be no delay on that count.

  • Sponsor: On that count? Are you worried about something else?

  • Effective project manager: The level of rework we are having to do. They changed the specifications for a third time on Monday. I estimate we have produced 500 function points that we need to just throw away. This means another € 10,000.

  • You: What do you suggest we do?

  • Effective project manager: I’ve prepared three alternatives for reducing the scope. There’s a Powerpoint attached to the email I sent you. Do you have time to go over it now? I think we should go and see the client tomorrow…

Can you see the difference? This second project manager clearly conveys a sense of efficiency. What do you think his or her secret is?

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