FMI project management survey: Perfect PM elusive

RALEIGH, N.C. One reason the perfect project manager is so hard to find is that few companies provide an environment in which the best project managers can thrive, management consultant FMI Corp. states in its 2006 Project Management Survey report. FMI believes it may be more profitable for companies to spend less time chasing after the mythical perfect project manager and more time creating a culture

RALEIGH, N.C. — One reason the perfect project manager is so hard to find is that few companies provide an environment in which the best project managers can thrive, management consultant FMI Corp. states in its 2006 Project Management Survey report.

FMI believes it may be more profitable for companies to spend less time chasing after the mythical perfect project manager and more time creating a culture that fosters perfect project management. In addition to creating this environment, the FMI 2006 Project Management Survey results suggest that companies can take steps in their hiring process to improve their chances of finding the right person for the job.

The survey results also suggest-that part of the problem of finding the right project manager rests in how a company defines the role and, more importantly, how a company defines its project management processes. For instance, when asked to "define the document controls the firm uses in the area of project management," only 51% replied that "consistent, company-wide project management processes, forms and manuals" were the rule.

No single weakness is shared by all project managers — unless, maybe it is the failure to plan properly. What that signals is that, if contractors are relying on on-the-job training to make their project managers more well-rounded, then they must create a training program that exposes project managers to best practices in many different areas. Such a program should focus on developing solid management best practices and training in those practices. This approach reduces the reliance on finding big, superstar talents and places the emphasis on developing a system that fosters the growth of the whole team.

Four main areas
In the survey, construction industry executives were asked about the performance of their project managers and their practices in four main areas: technology use, personnel, operations and project coordination. Some key findings from the survey include:

  • Experience and communication skills (written and verbal) are the most highly prized traits in project manager candidates.
  • Financial management tops the skills most lacking in new project manager candidates.
  • Client/customer relations and building skills are the strongest skill sets for current project managers.
  • Among the weakest skill sets of current project managers are cost-tocomplete and profit projections.
  • Only 21% of respondents rated their project managers' effectiveness in the area of documentation as " efficient, concise, and well documented."
  • The project manager is the primary contact and project leader from the customer's perspective, according to 80% of respondents.
  • Better integration and coordination of trades, according to 85% of executives responding to the survey, could result in an improvement in schedule of 5% or more.
  • Only 11% cited construction experience as a concern, mostly because that's the area on which they focus
  • when they hire project managers. Correspondingly, schools of construction management teach technical skills more than business management.
  • FMI separated out a group of top performers, only 6.6% of the survey respondents who said they finished on time and on budget all of the time. Many more respondents said they finish either on time or on budget but not both a lot of the time.
  • Of the on time/on budget group, 46% of the contractors said their project managers do a thorough job planning, and 54% said the PMs do a moderately good job planning. FMI tied in planning skills with leadership, with a job plan being a leadership tool for directing people and material. Many respondents complained that their PMs don't lead.

"We see this scenario a lot in our work with contractors," FMI said, "which is why we say that project managers should be project leaders not project witnesses or project secretaries."

In the survey, 53% of the contractors said their project managers play some role in estimating, and 35% said the PMs contribute more than 50%. Of the on time/on budget group, however, 50% of the projects managers contribute more than 50% of the estimating process. FMI noted that trade contractors tend to get their project managers involved in estimating more than general contractors.

Processes more important
Project management performance can make or break the profitability of a construction company, FMI said. The focus for improving project management performance should be on the company's project management processes and practices. While most help-wanted advertisements focus on finding the perfect project manager, the better headline for such ads might read "Wanted, the Perfect Project Manager to Work in the Perfect Project Management System," FMI said.

A copy of the FMI 2006 Project Management Survey report is available by contacting Phil Warner, FMI marketing coordinator, 919/785-9357, or by e-mail at [email protected].

FMI's management consulting practice provides services including strategy development, leadership and organizational development, marketing and related research and project delivery improvement.The company's Website is www.fminet.com.