Picture this. You work for a division of a Fortune 500 company, and you’ve contracted with a firm to manage an important change management project. The firm’s team consists of writers, programmers, graphic artists, and, of course, a project manager. You’re halfway through the project when your internal team tells you they want to overhaul one of the key metaphors used throughout the project’s messaging. In making their case, they raise some valid points, and you need answers about how this change would impact the project.
So you call the project manager.
Naturally, you hope he can give the kind of expert advice you need to properly guide the project. Project managers should be able to provide guidance in terms of timeline or scope of work. However these critical junctures, like the scenario above, can also help you assess whether you’re working with an administrative project manager—one whose only concern is timeline and scope—or a consultative project manager who brings insight, guidance and value to your team. Look for these five behaviors to determine whether your project manager is worth his or her consultative salt.
- She tells you when an idea is bad.
You’ve hired this team to help you manage a project because you needed the expertise of other vendors to accomplish specialized work. It’s easy to conceive of what it means to be an expert artist or programmer, but what makes an expert project manager? You might think it’s someone who executes any and everything you ask. But you don’t need a yes man.
The project manager knows she’s working for you and wants to accomplish your goals. She wants to do great work that will make you happy, but sometimes that means saying no. In addition to keeping the project on schedule and within budget, an expert project manager will tell you when a recommendation from your team won’t work. You’re paying for their expertise, so they don’t let you waste time or money pounding a round peg into a square hole.
- When it can’t (or shouldn’t) be done, he provides an explanation.
You understand the project manager’s team has been hired to design, develop and deliver a finished product. But after the design phase is over, your team has serious concerns. In the example introduced at the beginning of this post, a simple “We would miss your target date” from the project manager shouldn’t cut it.
A consultative PM will give you the reasoning behind concerns. If you don’t hear that from your project manager, challenge him. A good response is “Tell me more,” or perhaps “Walk through the timeline so I can explain to my team why it can’t be done.”
- She thinks strategically to make your idea work.
Explaining why an idea won’t work is one thing, but more often than not, your ideas are valuable and could be incorporated. Whether or not your idea ultimately makes it into the project may depend less on timeline or scope, and more on your project manager’s ability to think strategically.
The project manager lives and dies by the timeline, but that doesn’t mean she can’t explore options to change course. If “We would miss your target date.” is an example of average thinking, an example of strategic thinking sounds more like “I’d love to try. Let’s see if moving around individual tasks gives us some flexibility.”
- He understands your brand identity, messaging, and look and feel.
You want your project manager to know where you are at any given moment. Any project manager can tell you which phase the project is in, but you want your project manager to be able to tell you, “We’re three-quarters into scripting, and just finished the conversion from first-person to third-person. Our artist is working on the next round of mockups, and your team will have three options to review.”
A project manager who knows not just the project, but also your brand, will make the process smoother. They’ll anticipate how the project should reflect your company, making it easier for you and reducing major changes or issues. This kind of PM will give you the kind of status reports that show your team that you’re on top of everything.
- She adds valuable insight.
Many project managers love the details, and pride themselves on providing you with detail-oriented reports. But some still fall short of delivering you the value they could, because they aren’t fully using their understanding of your company, project, and messaging to provide you with new insights.
You’ll know you’ve got a consultative project manager on your hands if she calls you out of the blue and says, “I’ve been looking at the online assets we’re creating, and I wanted to run something by you.” She proposes new activities or features to make your project more engaging. She pulls ideas from her firm’s most successful projects and looks for ways to adapt them for you. She puts pressure on her team members to think outside the box.
Having a project manager who adds to your team is invaluable. Learn how to identify a consultative project manager and you’ll set your project up for greater success.