Published here June 2014.


Musings Index

How Do Corporate Hiring Practices Affect You?

In our companion paper: How Do You Motivate Your Project Team? we introduced a reference to research by Authors Dr. Vittal Anantatmula, Michael Thomas, Ph.D., and Yang Fan, PhD. on A Longitudinal Study of the required skills of Project Managers.[1] While validating that abstract from the original LinkedIn discussion, two contributors, Jim Brosseau and Luis Alarcon, offered additional observations. These contributions are presented below.

Jim Brosseau wrote:

Hi Max,

A few thoughts here ...

Regarding the research you quoted, this appears to be focused on practices around selection of project managers, and I agree that the state of the industry is such that most organizations focus primarily on technical or project-management (PM) based concerns. Unfortunately, for most organizations, it would be naive to expect the industry in general to tackle a more comprehensive set of requirements, particularly for entry-mid level PM positions. Many organizations would not be equipped to make the selection effectively, and there would be a much smaller pool of candidates to choose from. This would be more of a senior PM role to consider.

Note that I worked with one large organization here in town a couple of years ago. Their challenge was that they were hiring project managers into these positions precisely as the research suggests, i.e. using the PMP Designation as a quick way of whittling 400 applications down to a manageable number to process. What that company found subsequently was that they ended up letting a number of these hires go, as they were unable to successfully wrangle a team and project to completion. These hires lacked the perspective and skills that Luis and I talked about in the thread.

The company's conclusion was to no longer hire solely based on the project skills and credentials, but to look for a broader based set of people management skills. Indeed, internally they have built a comprehensive set of soft-skills modules that are part of all employees' advancement requirements. They still support the PMI-based designations, but not exclusively.

Overall, on this point, I believe that most organizations are waking up to the importance of effective people management skills, and we are improving in that direction. Still, there is a great deal of improvement to come, however. Someone said once that the average PM gets less training for their role than someone that moves from burgers to fries at McDonalds. As another anecdote, my daughter was given 40 hours of training before she could become a sales associate at Lush Cosmetics for a seasonal position last holiday season.

Another comment from the research stood out for me as well, for similar reasons. The research states: "... with standardized processes and procedures that relieve the project manager of excessive people management responsibilities".

My experience, having sold standardized processes and procedures in the past to a wide range of organizations, is that this standardization is a strong step ahead of the ad hoc approach that most organizations used previously. This indeed relieves the PM of excessive people management responsibilities, but I see this only as a step in the right direction, rather than the final resting point.

In my view, standardized processes and procedures, despite their benefit over ad-hoc approaches, can produce excessive overhead (make work) in some projects. They can allow an organization to fall into a document-centric rather than value-centric approach to measuring progress, and can stifle creativity and "out of the box" thinking on projects characterized by a great deal of uncertainty, risk and opportunity.

When the RUP[2] was in vogue, there was one organization in town that had to shut down because they dogmatically applied the breadth of practices rather than tailoring them down — and the overhead killed them. I have also seen the majority of CMMI[3] and ISO[4] implementations result in dramatic overhead levels. Unfortunately, most Agile implementations also suffer from too much dogma, missing the point of the original principles.

Even within an organization, projects come in many shapes and sizes, and a standardized approach will not fit each project instance. Therefore, I believe organizations should strive (perhaps with standardization as a waypoint) to be competent enough to consider the shape and size of each project. And hence explicitly identify the approach that makes the most sense for that particular set of challenges on that project. This requires a depth of knowledge in the range of potential practices and perspectives that could apply, and an awareness of how each would improve the insights on this particular project.

Alas, we need to walk before we can run. Both of these points — broader soft skills for PM's and project-centric selection of a reasonable approach — seem to be beyond the many organizations that are simply trying to survive.

Hope this is useful ...


Luis Alarcon then wrote:

Hello Jim and Max,

Funny you suggest that there is so much to discuss; I wanted to share a couple of quick perspectives to consider from my industry's point of view. I'd like to add to the complexity behind the glacial pace towards the implementation of more progressive employee hiring techniques, and how various industries need a custom tailored approach to engage greater political influences.

In my industry (Engineering and Construction Program Management) — the designations (PMP, CCM, LEED-AP, PE, CPE, QSP/QSD, etc.) are often just a sales tool. Not only does the company hiring the Project Manager need to understand how to identify talent, but also they often weigh a talented individual against a less talented but highly credentialed individual because the organization with the contract seeks credentials. We work for Utilities, Universities, City's, County's and Airports, and these bureaucratic agencies are for the most part old fashioned and easily impressed by designations and advanced degrees.

Often these agencies are receiving money from the larger government agencies that impose a minimum criteria/requirement for project employees in order to be reimbursed for capital improvement funds. The mentality then becomes: "Well — let's look for employees whose credentials and overall education exceed these requirements". Thus the money allocations become a competition — for example the FAA provides large amounts of discretionary funds that are often tied to politics and/or select on the best project resumes.

Now — speaking open and candidly — in my industry you see a lot of public employees who are highly credentialed. We have a lot of 40-hour per week individuals who take time during the day to attend various training courses that are reimbursed by the agency. Yet consultants are hired to manage and carry a heavy project load and then you see a typical disparity in the work effort between the two groups of employees.

Many consultants spend their careers competing with other consultants and working longer hours, developing outside of the box solutions to save money, time and provide exceptional deliverables. These creative minds tend to be solution focused and I see a lesser general focus on credentials. Often the consultant contract managing public employees use these credentials to leverage their competence against the ambitious consultants.

I'm diverging but wanted to share another variable. For example, with government or other agency controlled spending being a large part of our economy and employment funding, how do we begin to make the changes that are at the root of the problem? Another issue, poor management or lack of leadership often leads to poor office moral and I've seen figures in the ranges of 300-400 Billion dollars per year in America alone in lost productivity attributed to such management deficiencies.

I wrote this in a rush and haven't conveyed everything I'd like to discuss, but I'll leave it there.


Max's comment

Luis's last observations are also serious topics that deserve thorough analysis and discussion. However, perhaps it is comforting to note that project management is not the only discipline with these challenges. Management, e.g. corporate general management, also suffers from these debilitating cultures.

1. Dr. Anantatmula, Vittal, Michael Thomas, Ph.D., & Yang Fan, PhD. A Longitudinal Study of the required skills of Project Managers published in the Journal of Modern Project Management, Mundo Press, Curitiba-PR, Brazil, January-April issue, 2014, pp54-65
2. Rational Unified Process
3. Capability Maturity Model Integration
4. ISO is best translated as the International Standardization Organization
Home | Issacons | PM Glossary | Papers & Books | Max's Musings
Guest Articles | Contact Info | Search My Site | Site Map | Top of Page