I’m frequently asked how to uncover whether a candidate for a project lead position is capable of his „craftwork“, or not. Well, you only really know after having worked with him/her. But in the course of the many years in project management I think I have recognized a few “patterns” that at least can give a hint to his/her quality.
Self-organization and structuredness
You can probably lead a project well-structured and target-oriented only if you have a good self-organization and working structure yourself. An adequate stacker system to retrieve information in general and in addition specifically a reasonable project repository with a good overview for me are basic prerequisites to be and stay “on top” of a project, even if it’s getting a little bumpy sometimes.
Often a quick view on the candidate’s desktop is sufficient. Is it overcrowded with lots of unsorted icons/links, or organized, well-arranged following the most important work topics? Same applies to the Outlook Inbox. Is it tidy, processed and/or arranged in structured folders, or chaotic with many unread messages? At a glance you can see quite easy how someone is used to work…
Methodology and practice
Many application letters already contain some hints to the applicant’s level. To be clear right upfront: I know a lot of skilled project managers without any certificate, and also quite a bunch of certified “colleagues” without any clue of project management. At least certificates earned show a more or less profound education. Best Practices learned this way also offer the opportunity to apply some self-reflection to own (project) practice. Autodidacts on the other hand only had a chance of proper learning if they had good patterns…
During the interview an interviewer knowledgeable in project management also learns whether the candidate has understood his method(s), and whether he applies them situatively, i.e. with a certain selection and without dogmatism. Evangelists only substitute the weaknesses of one approach with those of another.
And of course the candidate’s CV should show a track record of successful delivery in past projects, i.e. in time, in budget, and in expected quality. Otherwise you need to challenge that specifically.
The so-called „weak“ factors are often underestimated concerning their criticality for success, especially if technical specialists are „promoted“ project leads. Actually it is one of project managements primary tasks to motivate the team members and facilitate collaboration. As team members usually like to execute their tasks as undisturbed as possible part of the leadership is to take care for few but well-structured (effective) meetings. If the candidate shows a tendency to micro-management (as often happens with project leads from the technical staff) he will probably soon let his job as a project manager slide. In distress he will probably bow out in favor of his technical expertise. Project Management then will tip over the egde. Good team players instead rely on self-responsibility, roles and delegation, and they consequently track results in a structured way.
Not every candidate is equipped neither with a second, very important „weak ingredient“ which is leadership quality. A good project manager needs to have this towards team members as well as towards his deciders/superiors. The focus should be on good decisions that drive the project forward. Generally good project managers show a distinct Stakeholder and Change Management, and they have a straight talk !
At the interview I also watch out for eye contact, commitment and consequence, which are indicators for good leadership. To build a good team from average employees it also takes you to be very authentic showing and practicing yourself what you pray and request…
At the interview
Unfortunately I very often meet candidates at interviews who may have prepared themselves a bit about the company by the web site but are briefed only rarely or quite generally for the open position. In many cases that might relate to the screening process upfront and weak job profiles, e.g. via recruiters or procurement. This rather leads to the cheapest but not the best…
A candidate for a project manager position does not necessarily need to be a distinct subject matter expert (see above), but important is a certain affinity and interest to the project’s subject.
Opportunistic applicants or those who would like to prove themselves „with something new” I turn down on principle. Instead I honor the well-known virtues for potentials: motivation, curiosity, perspicacity, engagement and resoluteness.
A candidate with interest will strive to deepen his understanding of the project and the client’s expectations. I would always ask for details of project scope, and e.g. whether it is a Green Field or Brown Field project, an initial installation or a migration from legacy etc.
The project‘s setting, like company, industry, project status, suppliers, stakeholders, team size and structure, whether we have dedicated team members in the project, and whether they work co-located or virtually etc., is essential to get an impression and judgment of the challenge to overtake.
More candidate’s questions should clarify the report and escalation lines and his own competencies in the project. For example is it planned to have a double-head with a technical lead or a supplier’s project manager? And last but not least he should care for the modalities of his own ramp-up until he takes over the project responsibility.
Self-evidently the interviewers or dialogue partners should be sufficiently prepared themselves for these questions. And perhaps after this accurate job clarification you also should be open talk about the price once again. I find it unserious to give a binding pitch without a sufficient clarification upfront as often requested by recruiting agencies…
Profiling for preparation
To find the right project manager for a project obviously is no coincidence but needs to be well prepared. At project recoveries which I perform I use to overtake the search for a matching internal successor and apply the criteria mentioned above. But also for projects that are going to be set up new the checklist is helpful. In addition you can ask for professional support at project management staffing. How? Just have a look at https://pm-professionals.eu/?page_id=109 .