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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Which Project Manager Would You Hire?

Meade Rubinstein started interesting discussion under my posting about great performances in failed projects. We came to a dilemma. Would you prefer to hire project manager with history of successful projects or rather someone with history of great management?

Meade tends to value more projects track record stressing we always find excuses for failure whenever we need it and comes with success factor as the primary and most important measure for project managers.

I, on the other hand, lean towards treating effort as more important than goal itself. I believe there are situations when even best PM won’t help and the only method to avoid scar on personal track record is to keep away from them. Avoiding risk isn’t an attribute PM should have, is it?

Consider you have two candidates. Jim succeeded in many past projects. He knows all the theory and pretty much practice. He gets thing done his way. Unfortunately you consider him as a kind of asshole and you’re afraid he can harm team chemistry. Jane fails more often. Maybe she’s a bit too mild. However she’s very competent and has a lot of experience from difficult projects. She led teams to achieve as much as possible, even when it still wasn’t enough.

Your choice. Jim or Jane? Why?

in: project management, recruitment, team management

11 comments… add one

  • lech April 22, 2009, 1:09 pm

    I tend to think that a PM’s key characteristic is perseverance. Projects are so much about crossing “the dip” (as in Seth Godin’s book) and becoming stronger on the other side, that my choice would be…

    The number of *completed* projects

    … plus relationships.

    Whether they were always on time or not would be of lesser importance to me.

    Cheers!

    Lech

  • Pawel Brodzinski April 22, 2009, 2:22 pm

    I should have known that given two choices someone will come up with third.

    I must admit criteria is very wisely chosen. This approach promotes experience.

    However considering both Jim and Jane have similar experience, well, I use relationships aspect as a slight indication for Jane.

  • johnfmoore April 22, 2009, 2:23 pm

    Pawel,

    The right answer is that it depends. Results matter and that makes Jim a good choice. However, team chemistry is crucial for long-term viability, so you have to consider:

    – Is this a project that is being delivered on a short, or long, time frame. If it’s a long running project that you need to keep your eyes and ears open. With Jim you have to watch team morale, with Jane you have to watch project health.
    – Is this a team that you plan on keeping together after the project. If it’s a consulting job or some other type of project where people come together for the project and then go their separate ways I would go with Jim.
    – If this is a long running project with a team that you are hoping to keep together for some period of time following this project I would go with Jane and ensure she received enough mentoring and guidance to improve her success rate.

    It’s a great question as there is no clear right or wrong answer.

    John
    http://twitter.com/JohnFMoore

  • Pawel Brodzinski April 22, 2009, 2:29 pm

    John,

    You bring a new perspective considering a consulting project and temporary team when team chemistry isn’t so important. Point taken.

  • Anonymous April 22, 2009, 5:14 pm

    I hate these A vs B things (even though I ask these questions myself) since in reality the subtleties matter. Perhaps in talking to Jim I’m convinced I can create an environment where he is less of an asshole :)

    But assuming all details you did not specify are equal, there’s no no doubt I’d avoid Jim. There is no way to recover from the kind of damage he will cause.

    Jane on the other hand, with the trust of her team, is an easier total package to manage. She will get more out of her team, has higher odds of being a long term member of my org, and might have more to prove to the world (and therefore more passion) than Jim.

    Scott Berkun

  • Cliff Adams April 22, 2009, 5:19 pm

    If Jim has been a part of SEVERAL successful projects, I’d easily take him. Self-confidence is a must. Projects fail more than they succeed and if we’re saying Jim has brought several projects in on time and under budget, and the project in question offers any complexity beyond normal, Jim is the guy.

    If the project isn’t of high complexity, Jane has an opportunity to succeed and build that confidence.

    Jim’s perceived a-holeness is nearly irrelevant. If you can be an a-hole but bring several projects in on time and under budget, you have to be doing something right. This scenario reminds me of the what Branford Marsalis said about his students: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rz2jRHA9fo.

  • Pawel Brodzinski April 22, 2009, 11:12 pm

    Cliff,

    Maybe, just maybe, Jim did one particular thing right – he chose project easy enough to ensure he’ll manage without much sweat.

    Unfortunately after a couple of hours of interview it’s hard to say so we don’t know this one.

  • Meade April 23, 2009, 5:56 am

    I’ll be brutal – if you’re willing to continue to fail because you don’t want to make a hard choice about leadership – than you’re putting the entire company/team at risk. I rely on history for a guide and look at the Abraham Lincoln/US Grant relationship…A/B decisions are not easy, but in real life you tend not to be able to pick qualities but people

  • Pawel Brodzinski April 23, 2009, 6:30 am

    Meade,

    I believe that you can’t simply compare experience of two different people from two different environments.

    Keeping your historical examples: do lost battles of Leipzig and of Waterloo make Napoleon poor (or average) military leader? Or maybe fact that his troops were outnumbered twice in the former or almost twice in the latter does change the judgement.

    Or who is considered as a better general: Napoleon or von Blucher (who won at Waterloo)?

    Success is a relative thing. Winning local competition (a success) can’t be easily compared with barely qualifying to Olympic Games and finishing on the last place (failure).

  • Meade April 23, 2009, 7:17 am

    No person can always win, but they should have a ‘winning’ streak – which would indicate that the majority of what they are doing has to be good. Could it be that they were successful at all the easy projects? or the the definitions of success was changed to their favor? These are things that need to be taken into consideration. I think what I’m trying to say is, given two people, with the same projects, same environments, etc. – I would select the person who successfully completes the project as compared to one that hasn’t but is perhaps a ‘nicer’ person or one that you feel has better management skills. I think in a lot of situations the ‘soft skills’ are viewed with a prejudice – in your original example you place the man as being the winner (more assertive) and the women being a better manager – putting a picture in one’s mind – perhaps a subconscious attempt at leaning people one way or the other (how can you vote against Sue – she’s nice, dresses nice, talks properly, etc. – then there’s Joe who smokes, drinks and curses)….

  • Pawel Brodzinski April 23, 2009, 7:55 am

    Meade,

    The problem is when we’re hiring there’s no such thing as same projects and same environments. Coming further I believe it’s almost impossible to judge which project was extraordinarily difficult and which was pretty easy basing only on interviews with people.

    There’s no easy way to compare people yet somehow we have to make this kind of decisions every day. Then these are characteristics which we favor most which play the main role. And on this one we differ.

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