Project management advice for hiring managers

In last week’s article, I’d written how frequently managed, virtually identical projects can eventually be treated as operational processes.

Let’s consider a different scenario – the process to fill a staffing vacancy appears to be a well understood operational process to most human resources (HR) staff. However, in some companies, they might not have dedicated HR staff or their HR staff might focus on dealing with unique or challenging situations and people managers might have responsibility for the full hiring process.

In such cases, even though there might guidance provided by the HR department, unless the hiring manager is frequently hiring, the act of filling a vacancy resembles a project more than it does a well defined, repeatable and predictable process.

So why might this be important to us?

So that we can benefit by applying appropriate project management tools and techniques to achieving the best possible outcome.

Vision & scope definition

Yes, you probably have a job description.

However, as most job descriptions look like a requirements specification, why not take a step back and think about defining project scope first? Or better yet, envision the desired outcome. What does success look like? Does it look the same to our boss as it does to us? We usually find a lot of inclusions in most job descriptions but how about scope exclusions? Shouldn’t we think about including some deal breakers in there to avoid wasting our time and a candidate’s time if they aren’t the right fit?

Constraint prioritization

What is our most important constraint?

Are we going to spend as much as it takes and take as long as it requires to find the perfect candidate meeting all of our requirements (i.e. scope is #1)? Or, do we have a deadline to fill a role, and hence are we willing to trade off cost or scope to meet that deadline?

Stakeholder management & governance

Are you comfortable that everyone who will directly interact with the new hire is aware of their impending arrival? From an impact/influence perspective, do you need to gain their buy-in before you fill the role?

Are you sure you’ve confirmed who needs to sign off on the decision to make an offer? I’ve witnessed more than one situation where a hiring manager’s decision came back to haunt him or her at a later date because they hadn’t apprised the right people of the hiring decision.

Scope decomposition

Both with the hiring process as well as the onboarding of the new hire, there are going to be many activities involving some dependencies which have to be identified, planned & managed. Without this, you could end up having the person spend their first few days twiddling their thumbs as they wait for access to critical systems or their laptop to show up.

Risk management

Hiring someone is fraught with uncertainty.

Aside from the obvious issue of hiring the wrong candidate, there are a number of other problems which could occur including extensive delays in finding candidates, being priced out of the market based on high demand, or suddenly having your hiring approval pulled because of a change in policy. Spend a bit of time to identify not only the threats but also the opportunities which could be exploited. For example, if one of your competitors announces impending layoffs, do you have a network in place to woo potential candidates?

While it might not make sense to create a project charter, Gantt chart or RAID log, there are some project management practices which will help in the hiring process. To expand on Robert Half’s quote, Time spent on (project managing) hiring is time well spent






Categories: Process Peeves, Project Management | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

At what point do projects become processes?

predictableHow do projects and processes differ? Both have a defined start and end and both consume valuable resources and deliver business benefits.

The key differentiator with projects is that they are unique, temporary endeavors. This uniqueness increases the level of uncertainty which in turn impacts our ability to mitigate most causes of variation.

But what if we complete the same type of project over and over again?

With a persisting team, lessons identified, shared and applied from the past will reduce the volume of special cause variation and such projects will begin to become more and more predictable.

There is still the need for some planning, but the likelihood of there being a scope or approach permutation which has not been considered is low enough that planning artifacts from previous projects are usable with minimal adaptation. Oversight is still required once plans have been finalized, but there is a low probability of experiencing a situation which has not been encountered previously, so project monitoring and control starts to look a lot more like process control.

So what are some indications that we are closer to a process than a project?

  • When there is a consistent track record of progressively reducing variation from project to project, one can start to feel confident that what needed to be learned has been, and that whatever variation remains is a normal part of the process which can be effectively managed through cost reserves and scheduling buffers. Similarly, when actual cost and schedule performance is equivalent or very close to preliminary estimates, it should become possible to predict outcomes with minimal effort spent on upfront planning.
  • There is a minimal volume of issues on each project, and almost no issues emerge which haven’t been experienced before. Firefighting has been replaced with the execution of well designed reaction plans. Risk management is still practiced, but the focus is heaving weighted towards identifying new unknown-unknowns which could destabilize delivery predictability.
  • The team runs like a well-oiled machine – they are performing, self-managing and well equipped to resolve healthy conflict without the need for outside intervention. Escalations in general are few and far between.
  • Multiple metrics are used to monitor and track performance. Instead of focusing solely on effectiveness metrics tied to scope, quality, cost and schedule variation, metrics are introduced to quantify cycle time and cost of quality so that delivery efficiency can increase.

So why should we care if we are meeting one or more of these criteria?

It is important to distinguish between project work and process execution, if nothing more, than to optimize the use of valuable project management skills. But of course, we must never forget – shift happens!

Excellence is a continuous process and not an accident – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam




Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Don’t be a project management lemming!

lemmings-350x220Given the progressive decline in oil prices over the past year, economic slowdowns in Asia impacting other global markets, and poor performance to date across multiple stock exchanges, it is not a surprise that many investors are tempted to sell their investments at a loss and make like Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow, planning to re-enter the market only when the bulls start a sustained run.

This is generally not a good idea as markets will eventually recover and the upside opportunities of buying during a bear run can be a worthwhile prize for those who are able to control the reaction to their fears.

In the project management domain, you might have witnessed project teams panicking in the face of some looming crisis. Decisions made by the teams or their project managers under these sorts of conditions are usually driven more by emotions more than measured analysis. Fear is contagious – all it takes is one influential team member or stakeholder to succumb and it will spread like wildfire.

We know that uncertainty and unrealistic expectations are as much part of the DNA of projects as they are stock markets so how can you help your team avoid a “fight or flight” response?

  1. Inoculate yourself – assuming you haven’t succumbed to the fear contagion, breathe deeply and step away from the problem long enough to create perspective. Mindfulness techniques can provide you with different approaches of preparing to handle the stress of the situation. Recognize that the events which led up to the current crisis cannot be rewritten, and that the future is uncertain so focus on what you can control which is your current behavior. If you still feel yourself panicking, meet with a trusted peer or mentor who isn’t directly involved with the project – sometimes just speaking about your fears can help to defuse them.
  2. Buy yourself some time – delaying critical decisions can have negative outcomes, but rushing to make such decisions under stressful conditions can be worse, especially if there isn’t a pressing reason to do so. If the decision can wait for a little while, focus your efforts on elevating team morale and lowering their stress levels. Meet with them individually or as a team and listen to their concerns. Empathize with them and help them understand that things are not as bleak as they seem. Encourage them to draw upon their past experiences and the strength of the team to overcome the current problem.
  3. Use the tools of your trade – our project management utility belts contain multiple tools for making good decisions during a crisis including assumptions analysis, risk identification, cost/benefit analysis, decisions trees and expected monetary value.
Rudyard Kipling – If you can keep your head when all about you, Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it









Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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