A Comprehensive Guide to Hiring Project Managers
When to Look for a Project Manager to Hire
It’s never too early to have a PM who can help you assemble the right team for your project. By having the right expert, you can always rely on somebody with the right skills to help you form the top performing team and add a lighting start to your project.
Even if you already have a team working on your project and want to improve its throughput, it’s sometimes wiser to add a project manager to the team instead of increasing the technical headcount. This helps to reduce waste, remove the unnecessary management overheads from the technical team members, and improve the overall efficiency of your team.
Considerations When Bringing On a PM
When looking for a PM, consider the fact that you might not necessarily need a PM working full time on your project. You can always hire part-time remote PMs who are experts in their fields and can help you manage projects effectively, even if they are on the other side of the world. Modern communication tools allow you to check in with the PM on a regular basis. This provides a lot of flexibility when looking for world-class talent and can help you stay within your budgetary constraints.
It is essential to have a project manager once your team surpasses a “two-pizza” size rule and grows beyond 6 or 7 people. After this point, constant communication between all team members becomes sporadic and incomplete, and this is where project managers really help you to stay on top of your project.
Growing Your Project Management Team
If you are running a project with 20 people or more, you probably already have a PM in your team. If this is the case, it’s always a good idea to consider helping him stay on top of your project by hiring Scrum masters and other supporting project managers. This can make sure that you don’t overrun your PM with too many small tasks at once, and that he can focus on keeping the whole project on track.
For even larger teams and enterprise projects, it’s always good to make sure you have enough people in your project management office structure and that you are not missing any specific type of PMs you might need. Specializations such as Salesforce PMs, PMP PMs, or Enterprise Coaches can be hard roles to fill, therefore a lot of enterprises start working with remote world-class experts to help their projects grow.
What to Look For When Hiring a Project Manager
Project management is a complex suite of different tasks joined in one overarching umbrella. It’s rather different from other disciplines because it encompasses a lot of soft skills which are harder to test or define. This guide is going to outline all the important bits about how to hire a project manager, and the things you should look for when picking the right one for your project.
Key Things to Check Before Hiring a Project Manager
Project management is a discipline that has been standardized and reinvented often throughout its history. Starting with Ford’s and Gantt’s theories and moving into a modern age of LEAN, Agile, and Scrum. A good project manager should be able to explain these concepts by heart. Even if they are not working with that particular methodology, good PMs should be able to show capability in running project management tasks such as:
- Daily Standup – A meeting format of a brief daily meeting for the whole team. The intent of the standup is to elicit quick updates about the task performed, current plans, and if anything is blocking them.
- Sprint Planning – A meeting where you plan your next Sprint and involve the whole team in deciding and voting on how difficult each user story is, and what they think the team can achieve in the next sprint.
- Sprint Review – A review meeting similar to a user acceptance test. It happens after each sprint. It is where the project team demonstrates the results of the work that they have done in the sprint, and the product owner and stakeholders accept the work.
- Sprint Retrospective – A form of a meeting where the whole team gets to reflect on what went well, what could be improved and what will they commit to in the next sprint.
- Release Planning – An exercise where a high-level plan is made for the few sprints ahead. To successfully deliver release planning the team will need a prioritized and estimated product backlog, the estimated velocity of the team, and other general goals of the project.
- Preparing a WBS structure – In more traditional project management, work breakdown structures (WBS) are recognized as fundamental building blocks for project management practice. The WBS provides a framework on which costs, time, and performance can be compared against the budget for each level of the WBS.
- Preparation of the RFPs and RFQs – Request for proposal (RFP) and request for quotation (RFQ) are documents that are sent to suppliers to find out their offerings. This format is usually used when looking for outsourcing partners or custom off the shelf solutions.
Project managers you hire should also be confident with using and explaining their preference of tools and be able to apply their knowledge to use these tools to affect change in their projects. These are some of the most popular tools PMs should be aware of:
- JIRA – This is pretty much an industry standard for Agile and Scrum projects at the moment.
- Basecamp – A popular choice for smaller teams and startups, has specific functionality that works well for small and medium businesses.
- Redmine - This is an open source alternative used by companies who are looking for free and open source tools they can modify themselves.
- Asana – Helps with more traditional project management and has good support for tools such as Gantt charts.
- Trello – Implements a very advanced version of Kanban workflow which can be tailored to the needs of your team.
Even though qualifications alone will not ensure that a PM is a right fit for your project, they are good indications of experience and professional level that the PM might have. Many of these require a college degree as a prerequisite and can require lengthy studying to obtain them.
- Agile Certified Practitioner – Accredited by the PMI with a specific focus on agile processes in different areas.
- Certified Scrum Master – Accredited by the Scrum Alliance and ensures understanding of scrum specific values and practices.
- PMP – Accredited by the PMI and often used by IT professionals and CIOs.
- CAPm – Fundamental framework for traditional PM skills.
- PRINCE2 – UK-based certification usually used and required in the public sector projects.
Technical Knowledge and Skills of a Project Management Professional
If you are planning to have a technical project, where the technology involved is complex and requires specific technical knowledge, it would be a good idea to hire a project manager who has a certain level of technical know how. These are a few reasons why you might want to hire a technical project manager:
- Talking the “Language” – Having a technical project manager would make sure that the technical team members feel much more understood when it comes to evaluating the challenges they are tackling. For example, if your PM has previous experience as a developer it will be much easier for him to talk to developers and understand their pain points and complaints. He can much more easily build a rapport with the team by communicating in the common “language” everyone is familiar with. This often leads to more respect within a project team and a better overall cohesion within the team.
- Evaluating Estimations – A technical project manager can also help the project have more realistic estimations. A common understanding of the difficulty of the project reduces the chance that the developers will take longer than needed to finish the tasks. Technical understanding also helps the project manager better prioritize the task by knowing how much business value the tasks bring and what technical problems the team might encounter. For example, if your PM has a good understanding of data science problems, he or she will be able to judge the scope of a new machine learning initiative much better than a PM without such knowledge.
- Previous Tech Experience – A good technical manager can help the team be more efficient by choosing the technologies that have previously worked on his or her other projects. It also helps if the manager can judge the best abilities of his teammates and help delegate the work accordingly. For example, if your PM has experience in app building projects and how difficult continuous integration and testing for an iOS app can be, he or she has a much better chance to prepare the team, select the right tools for the job, and share his experience with the tech lead.
Real Life Use Cases for Project Managers
Here are few scenarios how these skills and competencies apply in a real project.
The startup is looking for a technical project manager who could take over a team of front end developers working on the look and feel for their platform. Every iteration needs to be presented and approved by the stakeholders at the company.
In this situation, it’s best to look for an Agile developer with experience running Scrum-based projects. A good test would be to provide the PM with a vague expectation of what you want the project to do and get them to talk you through the process of extracting requirements and converting them into stories. A conversation surrounding how they would run a Sprint Zero would give good insight into whether they are capable of executing a project kick off. Understanding priorities and how to apply the MoSCoW model or Kano model can be demonstrated by giving them a list of requirements and asking them to talk you through prioritization. Another test would be to assume that you are nearing the end of a sprint with outstanding stories and get them to explain their process for what they do next, how they handle stakeholders, and how do they plan the next sprint.
A small but growing business has an IT department, focusing on a sole digital product—an industry expert-oriented newsletter. They want to manage their growth from a team of two developers into a larger full-time team, however, for that they need to start using PM tools and establish a set of frameworks they will use for the remainder of their project.
This sort of situation usually requires a project manager who is an expert in various implementations of Agile methodologies such as Scrum and Kanban. They would also need to have knowledge of various project management tools that allow implementing these Agile based processes such as JIRA, Basecamp, Asana, Trello, etc. Look for PMs with startup experience as this usually helps with a project that has a large amount of change and uncertainty.
Within a large enterprise, there is a team of three developers that has grown organically out of the back-end systems group. Their current logging solution is a great help for the company technologically, however, nobody is sure where they should take this project next. So far, the features have been dictated by the technical feature list compiled by the team, but now the team members and their managers have realized they need a dedicated project manager for this project. How do you choose the right project manager for the job?
First, we should look for the skills that our potential candidate might have that will match the current theme and goal of the project. If it’s a logging framework developed by the small team within the enterprise, we might need a technical Agile project manager who would have generally a good understanding about the back-end systems and the problems they are usually faced with. If we are planning to maintain this or develop it into a bigger system within the company, somebody with knowledge of SAFe framework might be a more appropriate candidate for the job since they will need to manage the growth of this team within the enterprise setting and with constrained budget requirements.
A company needs a project manager to manage an infrastructure deployment project where a team of 40 people is going to deploy a new networking infrastructure into a brand new data center. The PM will be managing multiple vendors and tracking their delivery times.
In this sort of situation, it’s best to look for the PM who is familiar with Waterfall methodologies and can deliver projects in a traditional project management environment. ITIL and other infrastructure management certifications can also help to screen for the right PMs.
How Can I Find A Project Manager That Has The Experience I Am Looking For?
When starting to look for a project manager that would be a good match for your project, you should look into the core problems your project is trying to solve. This dictates the larger set of skills and requirements you will have for your PM. As illustrated in the scenarios above, some projects might need a PM with a lot of Agile startup experience, some will require a specific type of certifications and an ability to work well in the enterprise setting.
Here at Toptal, we have a complete suite of project managers specializing in:
Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, PMI, PMO, PMP, Prince2, Program Management, SAFe, Waterfall and other project management methodologies. Looking deeper into your core problems will allow you to choose the right project manager for you.