Project management is one of the most important components of a successful digital transformation. But what exactly makes a good project manager? For me, it comes down to three types of skill sets: technical, business, and organizational, and leadership and communication. In this blog post, I’m going to walk you through what I think makes a good project manager, what to look for when hiring, and what skills are worth developing if you’re ready to dive deeper into the role.
Let’s talk about some of the key competencies that you should be thinking about as you develop into a project management role, or if you're looking for a project manager these are the types of skills that I’d recommend you look for.
The most obvious competency for effective project managers is technical knowledge. Here, it’s important to differentiate between a candidate that understands a certain technology and one who understands technology as an ecosystem. Say you're implementing an ERP system. A person who has hands-on experience with that particular solution is helpful, but it’s more valuable to have a Project Manager who understands how different pieces of technology fit and function together as a system.
Looking at things this way, in what’s commonly referred to as a solution architecture perspective, is critical because it’s extremely rare for a company to implement just one technology— typically, they're implementing multiple technologies that interact with one another. So, having that vision of solution architecture and how different technologies tie together showcases the depth of technical knowledge that all organizations should be looking for.
The second skill set to look for in a Project Manager is an understanding of business processes and operations. Many would say that this kind of knowledge is even more important than technical understanding. There’s much more value in finding someone who can dive into a project and understand how different functions work within a business than with someone who only understands how the software can be configured.
Having that big-picture understanding of how a business function allows a candidate to step right into the role and hit the ground running. This strategic and operational understanding oftentimes goes overlooked when designating a project manager.
In addition to understanding how business processes work and how technology can align with those business processes, it's also really important to recognize the analytical side of business ops. A Project Manager needs to understand how processes can be improved and how to identify weak spots within the system. What’s more, they need to consider how processes can improve by implementing new technology.
Without this eye towards the future, a Project Manager won’t be able to make the right calls to push your business and your digital transformation forward.
Set aside technical and business understanding for a moment and let’s talk about what I consider the most make or break skill set for any Project Manager: communication and leadership skills. I would gladly take someone with strong leadership and communication skills over someone with more technical or operational skills any day. That’s because these skills are harder to learn.
What do I mean by strong communication and leadership skills? I look for someone who is willing to get their hands dirty. They should be able to identify the needs of various stakeholders, discern what their pain points are, and make a plan of action to see those initiatives through. It’s important to find someone who’s capable of working with both the internal project team and the transformation project team to ensure that all the pieces of a project tie together.
A Project Manager needs to be able to take ownership of responsibilities without deferring to a boilerplate project plan. This leadership skill set allows your team to think strategically about digital transformation in a way that's truly going to enable business process improvements.
Leadership and communication skills are key building blocks for effective project management. The problem is, many technology-focused people haven’t developed the right communication skills or simply aren’t comfortable taking on a leadership role. In my experience, it is better to look for someone who has these qualities or is willing to learn rather than shoehorning someone in the role and hope they rise to the challenge.
Another important characteristic under the same umbrella is a person’s experience with broad change transformations. This means they understand what it takes to implement large, organizational change. If a candidate has dealt with change management in the past and been involved with training or communications or organizational design, that depth and understanding of some of the more strategic aspects of the organization is going to serve you very well as a project manager.
When looking to fill a Project Management position, it’s tempting to place trust in third-party certifications. However, in my experience, certifications aren’t a surefire way to get competent candidates. I don't want to be completely dismissive of the whole certification process, as some certifications, such as the PMP, may prove helpful.
What I will say is that, while a certification certainly doesn’t hurt, all of the other skill sets I mentioned above are much more important. All things equal, if you have two candidates that are neck and neck, certification can certainly be something that tips the scale in one direction or the other.
Being an effective project manager in a digital transformation requires a very broad skill set and that's what makes the job so hard. Very few project managers have the breadth of capabilities that are required. When making your decision, it’s important to look at the technical skills but not to forget about the organizational knowledge and leadership capabilities that candidates can also bring to your project. After all, they could make the difference between a failed digital transformation project and a successful one.
I hope this perspective will help you in your digital transformation and your career development journeys. If you have questions about direction or additional project management considerations, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I'd be happy to be a sounding board for you as you continue your journey.