How to Hire the Right Project Manager (the first time)

finding a project manager can be like finding a needle in a haystack

Understanding Where You Stand Today  (I bet you don’t actually know … yet)

This article is designed specifically to help you identify the right PM—as opposed to the left one—starting with bridging the gap between your perceived needs and your actual needs.


Congratulations! You just won a new client, It’s a multimillion-dollar deal, and you’ve decided to hire or resource a Project Manager (PM). You’re smart enough to know you can’t juggle all the moving parts of this hefty goal without one.

Whether you’re instigating a search through a recruiter, or requesting a PM through your existing Project (or Program) Management Office, there’s still some upfront work you need to do before picking your metaphorical PM rabbit out of a hat. And that starts with being realistic.

I often meet executives who have crafted a deck and pitched a presentation. The presentation has gone well, and they believe their presentation deck is comprehensive enough to ensure a seamless transition to a project manager who will then be expected to deliver on the goal.

Guess what? It’s not. A successful presentation may be a green light to move forward on a project. It may generate excitement and infuse passion, but without a thoughtful and practical execution plan, which includes requirements, schedules, budgets, and often more, all you have is an unqualified idea that is attached to a strategy that has not been validated against any inkling of reality.  Ouch.

I know it hurts to hear, but let me say it one more time because it’s important:  a sales deck is not a vision, a strategy, or a plan. It can have elements of these things, but the goal of such a deck is to win business, not to deliver final results. The real “what” and “how,” therefore, is missing.

OKay. You get it. I hear you.

From a resourcing perspective, this means you need to hire a project mind-reader and certified therapist, not only to transcribe your pitch into a decipherable language but to dream up the “what” and then translate and deconstruct that dream it into tangible buckets that you can work on.

Functionally, the role of project managers teeters between transcriptionist and wild and visionary producer/therapist. That’s a big spectrum. If you need a lot more of the latter and you get “transcriptionist” you will be left with one big ugly mess. If you hire for “visionary” when what you need is “secretary,” chances are, he or she will realize they are out of your league, and move on.

So let’s take a step back. Do you want to know where you stand today? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is your vision a host/combination of products and services)? Or is it a program or portfolio?
  2. Where are you in the development of your product(s) and service(s)? Are you concepting? Do you have a prototype? Have you gathered requirements? Have you vetted them with credible people?)
  3. Is your vision flexible? What about your strategy? What about your promised product(s) and service(s); how flexible are they?
  4. Do your tactical plans and high-level plans map back to one another? Are you aware that both of these plans are of equal importance? Are there significant gaps between these two plans? How well do they align with one another?
  5. Is this the first time you’re working on a project of this nature? Did you consult with qualified people? Did you evaluate similar types of projects? Did you build in contingencies? Did you build in dependencies?

Now, even after you identify your actual needs, there is another challenge recruiters know but rarely tell you: you could be stuck with whoever shows up. Gasp!

So why not skip this step altogether and spare yourself a headache?

Well, anyone who has ever handed off a boatload of work to the wrong person can tell you just how painful this can be. It not only sullies your reputation when the hire screws up but spending twice as much money and effort to clean up after someone else’s mistakes is irritating.

Sure, you may never find the perfect project manager, and that can be sad, but by going through this process, you:

(1) get to make informed decisions about how to resource against missing skills and abilities

(2) prevent issues from arising that you could have foreseen

(3) mitigate against an outright “bad” hire, which means less exhaustion, less frustration, less depression, less turnover, and more happiness, along with a higher probability of success.

So, let’s get started you, you open-minded-intelligent-business-guru. Where is your project in its evolution, really?

Did you find this useful? Have suggestions? Have questions? Contact me on LinkedIn.

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