Hello, my name is Alexander Kryuchkov, I am the Head of Presale at Avenga. In this article, I will share my experience managing other PMs. I have been working in IT for 17 years: for 14 years I have worked in project and program management, and for 4 years in the positions of the Portfolio Manager and Program Manager, which involved managing a team of PMs.
I am sure this article will be useful for everyone, regardless of their role in project management. Even if you don’t manage PMs, you’ll learn what the management expects from you and how to measure your performance.
Why you need to manage PMs
A typical PM is a person who is used to organizing and leading a team. A project manager themselves make decisions, give instructions, facilitate meetings, and in general, take on the leadership role in a team.
If all PMs carry out the management duties themselves, then why does the task of managing PMs arise?
When there are 1-2 PMs in an organization, there will be no additional employees between them and the director, since it is easy for such a number of people to agree and work together.
As the company grows, the number of PMs is growing too: large organizations can have 50 or more managers. Even a perfect PM always may have some problems on the project, so they need help in eliminating and preventing mistakes. Therefore, if there are more than three such specialists in an organization, another level of management should appear between the company’s C-level and PMs.
The leadership of a management team is manifested in two aspects:
- Make sure all projects are going well: PMs control processes in the company and make sure that no one deviates from the plan. When a company has a portfolio of projects that are not interconnected, the Head of PMs should control, consult, solve, and prevent problems.
- Synchronize managers’ work. This aspect of governance occurs when PMs’ activities are only a part of a larger task of creating shared value. Then the manager, in addition to control, also has the task of synchronizing all the teams participating in the program.
These two aspects lead to two leadership roles, depending on whether a portfolio or program of projects should be managed.
Who should manage PMs
Depending on the company, PM managers can be called differently, but according to the PMBOK terminology, there are two main roles:
- A Portfolio Manager is a person who manages a set of independent projects. There may be some common features, for example, everyone creates products for retail, chemical industry, or mobile, but the projects are not connected in any way. A Portfolio Manager focuses more on the first aspect of management – making sure everything is going well – and does little to no team synchronization.
- A Program Manager also performs tasks of monitoring and preventing problems, but there is one difference – a synchronization function is added to their duties. A Program Manager is needed, for example, when three teams work for one client to automate the sales business process:
One team is implementing an ERP system that will include stock balances and sales-purchase operations. The second one is creating an online store to later integrate it with the ERP system. The third team is developing or implementing the Point of Sale system.
In this case, three separate projects create a single value – a fully automated sales process. Therefore, the Program Manager invests a lot of time in synchronizing PMs according to plans, technical solutions, requirements.
We won’t talk here about the program manager work – it is a separate topic that is a part of a whole lecture on the Supreme PM course. Next, I will talk about the role of a Portfolio Manager, and how they organize work with their PMs.
A Portfolio Manager manages a set of projects that are grouped simply because they are easier to manage as a group, such as e-commerce or mobile.
Main tasks for a portfolio manager:
- Stable delivery and tracking on how PM projects deviate or do not deviate from the plan.
- Profitability of the company, both in absolute terms and in terms of marginality.
- Customer satisfaction that is measured using NPS (Net Promoter Score) or by the number of escalations (for example, angry letters from customers).
The Portfolio Manager is responsible for:
- Controlling the work of PMs, giving an assessment and feedback.
- Hiring new PMs and helping them with professional development.
- Solving problems and preventing new ones.
- Implementing general processes and company standards on projects.
- Setting goals and KPIs for managers.
The roles of Program and Portfolio managers are most often taken by Senior PMs, experienced project managers with high qualifications ready to grow further.
Now that we have figured out who manages PMs, we’ll learn how the C-suite evaluates their work.
Manager Evaluation Criteria
A PM’s work is evaluated according to several criteria:
- Progress indicators of the project. The triangle consists of terms, budget, scope – how big the deviation from the plan is.
- Financial indicators. A PM, especially in outsource, is responsible for the profitability of the project, starting from a certain skill level.
- Customer satisfaction with the PM’s work.
- Team satisfaction: whether people feel comfortable working under the guidance of this specialist.
- Compatibility with colleagues, because the PM works not only with their team and clients but also with departments within their organization – recruitment, finance, technical specialists. The better the PM can communicate, the more effective it is.
- Business process compliance. Many companies have their standards for project management, and if the PM does not adhere to the established rules, this becomes a problem.
Meetings, documents, reports, and other management tools can help to solve two types of tasks:
- Control the work by collecting information: is the process going well, are there any problems or not.
- Lead with the help of control: give instructions and set goals so the quality of PMs’ work improves.
To control and improve the quality of work, these tools can be used:
- A project report that helps to see what is happening on the project.
- One-on-one meetings: the PM’s meetings with the company management.
- General meetings of the PM team and the leader. For a Portfolio Manager’s work, 1-1 meetings are more important than team meetings because projects are unrelated and PMs don’t need to know what’s going on with their colleagues. In the case of a project program, general meetings become very important.
- Collecting feedback about project managers from different stakeholders: clients, teams, and colleagues.
- Personal Development Plan (PDP).
- Motivation for project managers.
Next, we will look at each tool separately and analyze what they are used for.
Indicators that should be included in the project report: deadline, project completion date, budget, description of the scope or a link to this description.
The rest of the information is the project status on a particular day when the report is being compiled:
- The planned and the actual progress help us understand how badly we have deviated from the plan.
- Scope changes are especially important in software development. Incorrect work with the scope is one of the main problems due to which deadlines are missed and budgets are exceeded. If you do not pay attention to changes, projects fall. Therefore, the report must contain information about the status of changes in the scope. How many were there? Which are approved by the client and which are not? How did all this affect timing?
- Information about quality, such as how many defects are in the release and the difficulty of bugs.
- Risks, problems, and also what the PM is going to do with them.
If you manage project managers, you need to think ahead of time about a report template that lists all of these items. As soon as you create such a template, it immediately turns out that half of the PMs do not pay attention to the project’s progress and do not know what to do with Change Requests. The project report encourages managers to keep track of the current situation.
The leader and the PM themselves should meet or call up. The purpose of such communication is to exchange information on how things are going on the project and to resolve current issues. The main content is a discussion of the current report and the status of the project.
The status of the project gives answers to two questions: is everything going according to the plan and what problems may appear.
If it turns out that the work deviates from the plan, you need to understand:
- How big is the deviation? Perhaps a 5% variance is not a problem with certain clients and can be compensated for in the next sprint. For other projects, even a deviation of 2% can become crucial.
- Is the client aware of the deviation? Here’s a common situation: a PM informs the customer that we will be one month late (which makes up 20% of the total time). Then it turns out that the PM has been aware of the deviation for 2 weeks, and the client has not yet been notified. This is a real issue because the client will ask “Why am I only finding out about this now?”.
When discussing risks and problems, the main task of the meeting participants is to understand which threats are the highest priority. When the risks are identified, the manager decides whether their help is needed or the PM will cope with the task themselves.
Here’s what a 1-1 meeting usually looks like:
- Participants talk about the status of the project: they look through reports or discuss information that they have read in advance.
- Discuss the threats that have arisen or may arise. Most often, during a conversation, the leader sees a problem that a PM may not notice.
Based on the results of the meeting, the PM receives a to-do list of assignments and tasks. The head of the PM also receives their list of tasks – for example, they need to allocate additional resources, write a letter to the client, or somehow help the PM.
1-1 meetings are held at least once every 2 weeks, preferably once a week, and sometimes more often. For example, when there is a crisis on a project, you need to meet with the PM every day.
Now let’s switch to general meetings. Imagine that you are the head of five project managers who lead separate, unrelated projects. The emphasis should be on 1-1 meetings, but general meetings are also needed.
Goals of group meetings:
- Synchronize indicators, goals, and objectives of the team that depend on each PM separately. If we talk about outsourcing, it’s the financial indicators of your portfolio, first and foremost.
- Discuss the implementation of common company processes for all projects.
- Motivational goal – maintaining teamwork.
The agenda for general meetings is quite simple:
- Status of general indicators, for example, portfolio margin for the quarter: where it is low, where it is high, what needs to be done.
- General news about the company that you need to tell PMs.
- General backlog of tasks to be completed as part of the process implementation or to increase the margin.
- Introducing new members if there are any.
Meetings in this format take place if you manage not a program, but a portfolio of projects. It is enough to gather the whole team once a month or once every three weeks.
In addition to checking the status of the project, it is necessary to monitor how effectively PMs interact with stakeholders.
In fact, we are talking about three types of stakeholders: clients, project team, and representatives of other departments with whom a PM communicates.
Feedback collection depends on the case you are working with, but the general idea is the same: how easy and effective it is for people to work with this particular manager.
What info should be gathered from clients:
- General satisfaction with the PM’s work and, as a result, with the quality of the service provided by the company. These are interconnected things: if the PM does not work well, the client is unlikely to be happy with everything else.
- Quality of communication: how quickly the PM responds, how easy it is for the client to work with this specialist.
- The level of punctuality and responsibility. For example, if the PM promised to send a report before 6:00 P.M, that should happen. When a person systematically breaks small point promises, it starts to annoy everyone, trust decreases, and with it, work efficiency.
It is better to collect feedback from clients at least once every 2 months, on your own, or together with an account manager if such a role exists in the company.
An important condition for getting feedback is that the PM’s clients must know about your existence and be familiar with your work, so there are no surprises when a stranger asks how their project manager works.
What to ask from a team:
- Is it comfortable for people to work with the PM?
- Are the processes structured well, do all the participants understand what they should be doing?
- Does the PM motivate the team, do people want to work with this person?
For collecting feedback from the teams, I use these 2 tools:
- Survey. The easiest way is to add specific questions to the ready-made templates of the HR department. Next, let HR specialists send out the questionnaire, so people understand that the feedback is anonymous, because it is given not to the manager but to HR.
- Skip-Level meetings. The head of the PM meets the team members or an individual specialist without the manager. This gives people the opportunity to give feedback about the person in their absence. There are different reasons for that: maybe people are afraid of the PM, or they are constantly in conflict. Meetings without the manager help to relieve the stress factor and discuss problems in a comfortable environment.
What to ask internal stakeholders:
- PM’s willingness to cooperate and assist.
- Communication quality.
- Responsibility and punctuality.
The HR department can collect feedback from stakeholders, but I prefer to do it myself. For example, during a coffee break, you can call and ask how things are going. I advise you to monitor the PM interaction with internal stakeholders at least once every 6 months.
The collection of feedback and the general assessment of the PM as a specialist leads us to a tool called the Professional Development Plan.
Professional Development Plan (PDP)
The purpose of the Personal Development Plan is to ensure the growth of the PM as a specialist: to choose the direction of development, to improve the skills for successful management, to outline a plan, and to achieve goals.
The plan can look like an excel sheet with tabs that are filled out every quarter or consist of separate documents.
Whatever the PDP looks like, most often it has 4 blocks:
- Goals within the framework of the current work. For example, a manager believes that for a quarter it is necessary to increase marginality by a few percent. Or there are complaints from the team and the PM must eliminate the cause of the complaints or implement the specified processes. This is not yet professional development, but simply long-term goals within the framework of current activities.
- Skills to be developed. This list is filled together by the PM and manager, including the skills that the management thinks need to be developed and the skills that the PM wants to develop on their own.
- Criteria for achieving goals. It is useful to have measurable criteria for achieving goals. For example, if a person is learning something new, it is desirable that they not just read the material or undergo training, but also test the new knowledge. This can be an external exam or an internal assessment. If a tool can be directly applied in practice, and it is possible to organize a situation in which, say, the PM can make a project on a new process and not fail, this is the best measurable criterion.
- Activities to achieve goals. It’s not bad when the PM themselves make the plan to achieve the goals and the leader only helps, advises training or literature, and acts as a mentor.
A professional development plan is developed at 1-1 meetings once every six months. Between meetings, it’s a good idea to track the progress of the plan once a quarter or more often.
Motivation can be material or non-material. Financial incentives include salary growth, which can be tied to the implementation of the Professional Development Plan. Another type of monetary motivation is bonuses, a variable part of the salary that is paid when certain KPIs are achieved.
Non-material types of motivation include:
- Professional growth, when a person begins to learn new things and grow as a specialist. For motivation, managers can entrust the mentoring of colleagues or more complex projects, involving company-level processes.
- Career growth – increasing the grade and expanding career opportunities. From the position of a project manager, a specialist can grow to a Portfolio or Program Manager.
- Recognition. Examples of this type of motivation are: to compliment someone in front of a wide audience or in the presence of c-suites, to ask the opinion of the PM on some issue that is normally within the competence of the leader.
A perfect PM in a leader’s eyes
Here you won’t find a list of hard skills, but rather more general information that is also very important. Every manager, including PMs, should have these four characteristics:
- Understanding the limits of one’s own responsibility and competence.
- Not being afraid to talk about problems. Moreover, when a problem occurs, the PM should come to the leader with possible solutions.
- Interacting with the leader as if they are one of the project stakeholders. This means that the PM has a set of techniques for communicating with the management, they prepare reports for meetings, proactively appoint these meetings, and understand what information and in what forms should be provided.