Having been in the trenches executing complex automated material handling systems for the last 23 years certain “lessons learned” become etched into my mind. The difference between a great project manager and a mediocre project manager directly impacts: the ability to complete the project on time, overall profitability, and most important customer goodwill... which translates to the future revenue stream with that customer. I would offer the following 10 characteristics of a perfect project manager for your consideration:
1) Ability to Develop a Great Relationship with the Customer.
Inevitably there will be give and take between the project manager and the customer throughout the project. A relationship based on trust, open communications, and shared goals will be critical to the overall success of the project.
2) Energy, Work Ethic, and a “Can do” Attitude.
Project Management for integrated material handling systems is a tough job. With mechanical, electrical, controls, software, and operational processes coming together, Murphy can visit from multiple directions. To endure the problem solving and testing takes resilience and energy. This “Can do” attitude becomes clearly evident in a project manager when under the stress of a multiple shift start-up with a complex system.
There is no doubt that if you have done similar processes several times before you are going to be much more efficient in the required activity steps and the ability to anticipate what could go wrong. With experience you are also much better able to judge the severity of an error and the potential consequences.
4) Rugged Determination and Problem Solving.
Because companies in different vertical markets have different business drivers (operational processes) and typically each automated material handling system is different, each project will have a unique set of problem solving challenges. A great project manager realizes that there will be many levels of problem solving, similar to peeling an onion. The great project manager expedites the testing whether at the unit level or the system level. In general the more volume testing performed, the quicker you can peel the onion to debug the system. Those project managers that take a “happy path” approach to testing and hope that everything will work out alright are usually disappointed when order volumes ramp up.
5) Ability to Organize and Sequence Activities.
Managing all of the subcontractors, internal resources, and the customer can be like herding cats. A great project manager is able to break down the complex tasks and give each resource a specific sequenced list of their individual activities. Typically there is a weekly meeting that later on goes to daily meetings as the project prepares for going live. A daily huddle is critical to make sure all of the resources are aligned. Along with these activities comes well written weekly logs and project documentation.
6) Motivation and a Sense of Humor.
Typically you will have a disparate cast of characters working together, eating together, and going to and from the hotel together. You are under pressure to perform and almost always are struggling to not fall behind on the schedule. A project manager that can inject a little humor and find out the individual motivational drivers for each person on the team will work wonders. A good laugh from time to time is a beautiful elixir to help everyone relax so they can focus on the task at hand.
7) Demand for Excellence (Accountability).
Inevitably the project manger will be tested by the team on what they can get away with. A great project manager sets their standards very high and demands excellence from all those they work with. You can certainly be nice and professional, but being a great project manager means getting the job done, which often requires pushing your team hard to meet the customer’s expectations.
8 ) Sticking with the Project through Full Throughput Volume Levels.
Project management can be exhausting, particularly with all of the testing prior to going “live” with the system. The inexperienced project manager will assume that after the testing is complete all that needs to be done is just to sit back and watch the system while it runs. Unfortunately unit testing and integrated testing are just the first few layers of the onion. The seasoned project manager knows that “Murphy” will continue to arrive as the system ramps up in volume. This is why for most complex integrated material handling systems you will need resources on site for several months after the start-up.
9) Celebration of Success.
Often times it can take 6 to 12 months to implement a large integrated system. That is a long time to keep all of the resources motivated and engaged in the project. A great project manager is well versed in providing encouragement and celebrating small successes along the way. The closer the celebration is to the actual activity or good deed the better.
10) Fiscal Responsibility (Attention to Detail).
A great project manager is comfortable putting the original financial budget together for the project and then tracking the detailed financials through the execution of the project. Typically there will be administrative assistance, but the project manager is still responsible for the project financials. Well written purchase orders and contracts help eliminate misunderstandings. Maintaining neutral to positive cash flow on the project demands excellent project execution and financial discipline.
Hopefully these 10 characteristics of a perfect project manager will serve you well as you execute your future projects. Remember it all begins with the hiring process and getting the right person on the bus to begin with.
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