Volume 40,   Issue 7                                  July 2005


Be the Best in the Class

Setting and Achieving Project Management Goals
by Michael K. McArdle

The definition of the word “professional,” is varied and easily misinterpreted. A professional may require advanced educational degrees or special certifications (CPAs, teachers); years of service or experience in a given field (foremen, medical specialists); or specific skill sets (professional athletes). Perhaps a professional is even a mix of all of these. While definitions may vary, I propose that all professionals conform to a set of standards that sets them apart from others. As professional project managers, we should not settle for mediocrity, but rather, strive to become the best in class.

Reaching Your Goals
Best in class project managers assess their professional strengths and weaknesses in order to improve professional performance. They also accept and reflect on constructive criticism of performance. This is not easy. Some areas to be considered include, but are not limited to:

• Meeting project goals/objectives;
• Achieving profitability;
• Promoting safety; 
• Managing costs;
• Maintaining high standards of quality; 
• Effectively communicating with the client and the project team; 
• Managing customer expectations; 
• Team building; 
• Listening;
• Instilling a sense of urgency;
• Training;
• Contract management; and
• Risk mitigation. 

Being best in class means taking the time to analyze and understand a project’s scope, estimate, timeline, assumptions and constraints thoroughly. It involves planning the work and then working the plan through a series of strategies to manage the triple constraint of time, money and resources. 

Communication is Essential
Arguably, the most important aspect of project management is communication. To some, this means having excellent verbal and written communication skills, but the best in class project manager also understands the following:

• The importance of non-verbal communication, such as posture, dress, gestures and eye contact;
• The complexity of the communications web—not just the network of people, but also the most effective method of communicating with each audience;
• The need to communicate with the client and the project team daily; and
• The need for effective and focused meetings for brainstorming, planning and sharing of information (i.e., turnover meeting, plan the work meeting, kickoff meeting, status meeting, close-out meeting, etc.).

The best-in-class project manager uses documentation to track performance, avoid problems and record history (lessons learned). It is this history that can be used to improve performance on future projects and serve as an educational tool for the project team. 

Cost Matters
Budget and cost management are crucial to the success of any project. The best-in-class project manager:

• Understands how estimates were calculated;
• Always checks the math;
• Analyzes budget versus actual reports at least once a week to avoid any surprises;
• Ensures that all invoices match purchase orders and that sales taxes are calculated correctly;
• Takes advantage of payment discounts; and
• Submits applications for payment in advance of the due date to ensure that any problems are resolved without affecting the payment.

Quality service and products are important to the success of the project, and the best-in-class project manager knows that such quality greatly enhances the building of a long-term relationship with the client. The project manager focuses on doing it right the first time by demonstrating a sense of pride in workmanship. This entails a concerted effort to focus on customer satisfaction, especially on budget overruns, avoiding re-do work and an excessive number of punch-list items. This can be accomplished by inspecting work on a continuous basis and addressing issues immediately with the client.

Every professional project manager should strive to become best in class. While this is a lofty goal, setting high performance standards will ensure customer satisfaction, improve the chances for repeat business and increase the profitability of the project. 

Michael K. McArdle, PMP, is a senior project manager with TEPCO Contract Glazing Inc. in Dallas and a certified project management professional. 

© Copyright 2005 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.