An Interview With A PMO Director - How Do You Build A High Performing Project Management Staff?

The project management arena has never been so rich in terms of frameworks, methodologies, and tools to deliver high-quality projects but the reality is that projects are delivered by people. Progile Tech interviewed Fabio Almeida, one of our partners about his views on how to build and nurture a high performing project management team.

Progile Tech: Fabio, I will start with the main topic of today’s conversation: How to Build a High Performing Project Management Staff?

F. Almeida: The most important things are: hiring the right people for the right jobs and creating an environment for your people to perform at their best. Hiring talented people for the wrong job or wrong environment won't really lead to a win-win situation. 

Progile Tech: Interesting… let me break your answer into two parts and ask: How do you hire the right person for the right job?

F. Almeida: I always say that hiring is 40% science and 60% art. When hiring a project manager, I generally focus on 3 aspects of this order of priority:

  • Soft skills and personality: Good project managers need some natural talents that can be nurtured but can rarely be thought, such as strong communication influencing skills, accountability and self-motivation, and the ability to learn quickly. You also want your new team members to fit well in the organizational culture so people’s skills should be compatible with the environment they will work on.
  • Experience: Projects are unique and the more creative and experienced the project manager is, the higher are the chances of applying previous experiences to deliver successful projects. For example, I keep a Database with the lessons learned from most projects I have managed or supervised. This way I can always review lessons from similar projects and apply them to projects I am about to start. So you want to hire PM’s not only with the right number of years on the job but also check how many and what types of projects the candidate has managed.
  • Knowledge: You also want your new hire to have the knowledge required to perform the job well. If the PM will work on technical software development projects, it would be great if this person understands about Agile, DevOps, CICD, etc. If this professional will manage business transformation projects, Organizational Change Management techniques, Marketing and Communications would be useful. However, even more important than having all the knowledge, you want your new hire to be able to learn fast, on the job. As I mentioned before, each project is unique and project managers need to always be learning new things to deliver better projects.
  High Caliber Project Management Consultants

High Caliber Project Management Consultants

Hiring can be a frustrating and time-consuming activity. An important step in hiring the right person starts with the identification of the key requirements for the candidate in line with the job opportunity and company culture, the “must have” and the “nice to have” criteria. The better these requirements are defined the better your recruitment team or staffing agency can fulfill that role.

For hiring top project management professionals, contact Progile Tech. 

Recruiters often rely on direction from hiring managers to identify the right-fit candidates. Making recruiters aware of your needs and expectations behind the opportunity (What will success look like 6 months from now) is a good investment of time up front that will pay off later in the process.

Progile Tech: All good points. Lets' go to the second part of my question: How do you create the best environment for your project management professionals?

F. Almeida: The foundation of a successful team is trust and it should start at the top. Leaders must demonstrate and promote openness, respect, constructive feedback and as much fairness as possible. It will build trust within the team. At the individual level, managers have the (hard) responsibility to make sure every person is getting the necessary training to perform their job, people are challenged so their work remains interesting and that good performance is recognized with development opportunities. Creating the right environment will also define the culture of your project management organization. For example, I have seen very good results when PMO’s sponsor Communities of Practice (CoP) encouraging collaboration instead of competition among project managers. Every year one PM was selected to be the coordinator of the CoP, a theme was chosen and all PM’s were invited to a monthly call where they covered topics like projects lessons learned, knowledge sharing on different estimating techniques, new tools and other topics related with the theme for that year. If you have people asking when a new position will open on your team, it means you achieved your goal.

Progile Tech: When do you know your people are performing at their best?

F. Almeida: You may think that projects delivered on spec, on time and within budget are clear signs of good performance, but it’s only part of it. You know people are performing at their best when the engagement level is high. By engaged people, I mean those that show up to your meeting, contribute to topics in an effective manner, people interested on the performance of the project portfolio, people who take pride in their work, and most importantly - people who are afraid to ask for help when needed. You may see good projects delivered by project managers with a low level of engagement but you will see great projects delivered by engaged project managers.

Progile Tech: To conclude our conversation: Would you have an advice for project management practitioners that want to differentiate themselves in the market?

F. Almeida: Over the years organizations got better in strategizing and planning but their ability to implement remains below expectations. Projects are about delivery, and outstanding delivery requires rigor. By rigor, I don’t mean inflexibility. Delivering with rigor mean, delivering as promised (on time, on spec), attention to details and give all you have to create the highest quality deliverables possible. Also, project managers can be very detail-oriented and lose sight of the big picture. Take some time at least once a week to perform a cold-eyes review on your project, check if it’s still relevant if you are on the right path to meet all objectives, deliver the expected benefits and identify risks and opportunities.

A high performing team just don’t happen like magic. Getting to know your team members well, their strengths, weaknesses, interests and career plans allow PMO heads to create the best ecosystem for their teams. At Progile Tech we leverage our extensive experience to select the best professionals to our clients based on their objectives, requirements, and culture.