Making a Project Manager’s Work-Life Miserable

You might have noticed in previous posts that I occasionally mention the entertaining and wise writings of Scott Berkun. His book, Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management (Theory in Practice) is an experience-based trip through managing a project. His other writings and presentations offer wisdom couched inside a great sense of humor and wrapped with a touch of cynicism. When he recently posted on the topic titled, How to torture your project manager. I could not resist.

I won’t spoil the entire post here, but I selected a couple good whammies and then let my mind wander over tactics and strategies that can give a project manager ulcers or at least ruin his or her day. So, here are a couple of Scott’s key observations:

  • Never give specific odds or probabilities. Always make ambiguous commitments like “Probably,” “we may be able to do that” or “it’s possible.”
  • Do not disagree directly when your manager makes a proposal or suggests an action. Wait until you are both in the presence of their boss, or bosses boss, and intensely disagree then.

Here are additional tricks of the torturer’s trade based on my observations and experience:

  • Never answer a project manager’s question directly. Always add caveats, conditions, or a list of concerns.
  • Alternatively, agree to do anything the project manager asks, without telling them how long it will take or how much effort is in involved. (They should know enough to ask- right?)
  • When working on problem solving during a staff meeting, continue to suggest that more study is needed before the question can be answered. Suggesting a gold-star committee to work on the problem and report back can add weeks of delay to the project schedule.
  • Wait until the last minute (or after) to tell your PM you are running late on finishing a task.
  • Do not ask for help with a problem until you are at least a week behind schedule.
  • Save up some really good or bad news for staff meeting with your PM’s boss.  Your PM will be glad you shared.
  • During staff meeting repeatedly change the subject to something of personal interest to the project manager. This is the same strategy you used in school to get a professor talking about politics in order to steer him away from a hard differential equations assignment.
  • Ask your previous project manager what they would do in a certain situation. Then use that as a defense when talking with your current project manager.

Goodies in the same vein from Rafael Mumme’s article, 20 Things That Drive Web Developers Crazy

  • Fill out your time sheets at the end of the week, so the PM won’t know until Monday that the project is over budget.
  • Play “catch me if you can” to get your timesheet filled out. Mention that while you’re filling out your time sheet you’re not working. “For bonus points ask how long you should add into your timesheets for the task of filling out your timesheets.”
  • Don’t tell us when you have completed a task, wait until we ask.
  • Mention at least once a week that no one uses Windows or Internet Explorer anymore — despite the analytics

Share your favorite stories of how to torment a project manager.

Staffing for Success – How to Interview

I am really getting lots of questions about staffing and it is seems to be really hot topic on the web these days.  I wrote a white paper on the subject a few years ago (you are welcome to download a copy of Cognitive Technologies’ whitepaper, “Staffing for Success – Back to Basics” by registering in the library).  I also gave some simple tips on interviewing back in May 2009 (Interviewing tips for PMs) but I am not really an expert on that subject, so I’ve asked a well know practitioner, Dr. Karen McGraw, to give us all tips on how to interview candidates in order to make sure we hire the right people.

Using the Interview to Find and Select the Right Candidate

Guest Post by Dr. Karen L. McGraw, CEO, Silver Bear Group

The “how to get a job” industry is booming! Go into your neighborhood bookstore and count the number of books that tell people how to interview to get the job. For people who find the job interview a very nerve-wracking experience, these advice books certainly have a place. Of course you want to make the best impression you possibly can as you vie for your dream job and hope to stand out from the crowd of other applicants.

But what does this mean for the project or program manager who is hiring to staff an upcoming project, or for the operational manager who needs staff with special skills in order to successfully implement a new process? I think it means that it can become even more difficult to select the best candidates, because they are likely to be well-prepared for the interview.  Similarly, we need better preparation to ensure that the time we spend with an interviewee produces the data we need to make the right decision.

Much has been written about the use of behavioral interview questions to help discern the interviewee’s role in a particular achievement.  The typical behavioral interview consists of using the following kinds of questions, followed by secondary questions that enable you to drill down and reveal what the interviewee really did and what their role really was:

  • Tell me about a time when you …
  • Give me an example of how you …
  • How did that turn out?
  • What did you do next?
  • What would you have done differently?

The answers summarize how the individual approached the situation, what they did to address and resolve it, and the outcomes or results produced. These types of questions give you more insight into the candidate’s capabilities. In addition, the interviewer gets a better feel for how the candidate communicates and presents ideas, confronts problems, makes decisions, and learns from events. But the data you gather is only as good as the questions you ask and how you respond to the answers. But the real secret to effective behavioral interviews is preparation before the interview, followed by appropriate use of the response data and revelations after the interview is over.

Before the Interview

Behavioral interview questions are all about what the person did—the actions they took, the decisions they made—and the results produced.  But if you are asking about minimally important tasks and ignoring others, you won’t have good data to help you determine if this candidate is a good fit. To improve the questions you ask, conduct a planning meeting with a small team of key performers either in the job role for which you are hiring, or who interact with that job role in a team setting.  Discuss topics such as, “What are the most important outcomes this role must produce?” “What facilitates success in this job role?”  “What competencies or capabilities are essential to avoid failure?”

Use the information discussed to produce a prioritized list of the key position requirements and the special qualifications, traits, and experience the ideal candidate would have. Work from the list of key position requirements to construct 5-7 critical behavioral interview questions. Then review the special qualifications (e.g., certifications, training, etc.) and traits (e.g., results-oriented, collaborative decision maker, etc.) to develop other questions that will help you judge the candidate’s appropriateness for the job. Finally, use the information discussed and the list of behavioral questions to construct a Job Evaluation Form for the position. Provide interviewers with a form like this and ask them to rate each candidate against the factors and provide comments to capture examples or other information that should be considered.

After the Interview

How many times have you called an interviewer to get their feedback after they interviewed a candidate only to hear “I really liked him (or her).” For many jobs it is important that an individual is likeable. But now is not the time to be swayed by “likeability.” It should be but one factor in the equation you use to determine the best candidate for the job.

To improve your odds of success, gather the Job Evaluation Forms completed by your interviewers. Compile the ratings and comments for each candidate and compare the findings across candidates to help you make your final decision. Combine the rating information and comments with other data you have, such as personality test results, to help you make the optimal decision.

In the end, there is no perfect technique—we’re all human and are affected by a candidate’s likability and preparedness. But careful planning can help you ask the questions that matter most and will enable you to use the data from each interview to choose the candidate most capable of producing the results required by the job.

Do you have special tips to help you successfully fill job roles? Please share them!

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