Wanted: Good project managers

The growing demand for skilled project managers combined with the difficulty of finding--and retaining--qualified individuals could pose a real problem for the telecommunications industry if it is not addressed. Trained project managers have a direct impact on their companies` level of service and their ability to make a profit. As demands for technology and production increase, project managers become more critical to their companies` success.

Dec 1st, 1998

Todd Ostlind, Oscor Corp.

The growing demand for skilled project managers combined with the difficulty of finding--and retaining--qualified individuals could pose a real problem for the telecommunications industry if it is not addressed. Trained project managers have a direct impact on their companies` level of service and their ability to make a profit. As demands for technology and production increase, project managers become more critical to their companies` success.

The current shortage of experienced managers was brought on by the divestiture of the Bell system in the 1980s. In the chaotic environment that followed, companies tended to be reactive and nonsystematic in their approach to business. They focused on pressing daily concerns, and long-term management training took a back seat.

The industry is now in transition, passing from an entrepreneurial to a more mature level. No longer focusing on just the short term, organizations are beginning to plan longer-term strategies, including development of managerial talent. While wrestling with the fundamental issue of building internal organizational processes, they are simultaneously growing and expanding their technology at a record pace. Despite these pressures, companies should ensure that project-manager development is consistent, systematic, and aggressive. It should be inherent to their business plan, not an afterthought.

As the industry continually provides a growing variety of services for a greater number of products, the skill level of technicians, engineers, and technical personnel continues to rise. Such growth has made the role of the project manager pivotal. The manager must be a skilled overseer of staff, materials, and technology, as well as an efficiency expert.

Qualifications for project managers are also rising; what was acceptable five years ago may not be acceptable today. Select your managers based on their business standards and ethics, their personality, and their functional abilities, which include the following:

- Good communication skills--the ability to communicate well with others individually and on a group basis.

- Planning and organizing--the ability to create systematic plans and follow through consistently.

- Business orientation--the ability to understand the "big picture" of both the project and business.

- Technical expertise--the ability to understand the components of a project and properly direct its implementation.

Train your management

An individual is not a project manager until he or she has been trained to be one. Training should include both theory and practice. Develop a management philosophy that drives the organization: "This is what we believe, and we consistently act according to that belief." Expose your trainees to successful models so they can learn from the experience of others.

Develop standards and processes using a proven, workable system. Match the best system with the nature of your business. A radical model is not necessarily the best approach--sometimes the true and tested is best.

Teach your managers to manage by goals and objectives. They should manage according to the resources that are available--but use these to the fullest. Teach them to involve others in decision-making and to delegate.

Finally, train your managers to teach others. Managers are only effective if the people they manage are effective. Good managers need to replicate themselves. By developing others, they fine-tune their own skills.

The responsibility for developing and retaining managers is fundamentally that of senior management. Project managers need to be selected, trained, and placed, requiring ongoing involvement from the company`s senior management. It is effective when an organization identifies one executive-level manager to take responsibility for project-manager development. This high-level attention can create a better sense of accountability throughout the organization. Senior management should provide a path and be involved in the development cycle.

The success of a business greatly hinges on the abilities of its project managers. The demands of today`s market are strong, and project-management excellence should not be compromised in meeting those pressures.

This article is adapted from a paper presented at the June 1998 bicsi Summer Conference in Toronto.

Todd Ostlind, registered communications distribution designer (rcdd), is president of Oscor Corp. (Spokane, WA), a project and business management consulting firm for the telecommunications industry.

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