As an account manager for various clients, I have had to hire project managers to fill open slots. The hard part is separating the bad from the good. One agency I worked with promised me a solid project manager as a replacement for one that left. When he arrived I sat him down and started laying out my expectations for scheduling, status reporting and other normal activities. It was met with a blank stare. From there the conversation went something like:
Me: "So, have you managed a project before?"
Newbie: "No, but I have been the lead on several initiatives."
Me: "Have you had any project management training?"
Newbie: "No, but I’ve worked on a similar system before."
Me: "Did you know you were supposed to be the project manager for this project?"
Newbie: "They mentioned I might be doing something like that."
Me: "Why is it you are here?"
Newbie: Blank stare.
When I called the agency I was assured they had a lot of confidence in him because he was, and I quote, a "high performing technical lead." With service like that it comes as no surprise to me when clients complain about receiving the bait and switch – promised a solid Project Manager and getting a rookie. How can you prevent it? Ask the right questions up front.
Here are three basic questions to ask before accepting a PM for your project:
1. What and when was your last project management assignment?
Your first clue of a potential rookie would be if they talk about their great technical lead rolls. See if they can articulate the business purpose for the project and why it was a challenge for them. Get a flavor for the overall size, duration, number of resources they managed.
2. How did you manage the cost, schedule and scope of that effort?
This questions will test their ability to speak in project management terms. The phrases you are looking for are:
- Established the budget (cost)
- Used the Work Breakdown Structure to develop the deliverables and lay out the schedule (schedule)
- Created a baseline and established milestones (cost / schedule)
- Tracked actual work and estimates to complete by resource at the task level (schedule)
- Compared the progress and costs back to the baseline (cost) with bonus points if they mention critical path or earned value
- Defined the scope in the Charter, Statement of Work or other defining document
- Used Change Requests to identify and approve deviations from the scope
3. When did you schedule status meetings and who attended them?
Status meetings fall into two categories. The first is with the team to gather the status. The second is with the sponsor and other management to convey that status. From my experience at the end of the week you have the team status meeting, collect timesheets and status reports. On Monday the project schedule is updated and the weekly status report is create and sent out. Tuesday is then the day for the sponsor status meeting. The information is fresh and you have a current view of the forecasted project.
Solid answers to these 3 questions will give you a good comfort level of your candidate’s ability. Keep them honest by asking for some of the struggles they dealt with in implementing their tactics.
If you have additional questions that would help weed out rookies before they are hired, share it in a comment.