The PM Congruency Test: Are You Aligned to the Talent Triangle?
M.R. Sriprasad

The Skills Needed by a Project Manager
The ideal skill set is depicted in the PMI Talent TriangleTM - a combination of technical, leadership, and strategic and business management expertise. The Talent Triangle is an emphatic recognition of the broad role a project manager plays – the connector between top level vision and on-ground implementation.
According to Pulse of the Profession 2016 report, when organizations focus on all the three areas, 40 percent more projects meet the original goals and business intent. BCG research has found that the volatility of business operating margins has more than doubled since the 1980s.
“More than half of the most turbulent fiscal quarters of the past 30 years have occurred during the past decade,” says a BCG report.

The pressure on project managers to effectively grasp the macro business factors and demonstrate cross-disciplinary mastery in a cross-cultural environment is more intense than ever. Studies show a high correlation between hiring for the right skills and an effective talent management policy with project success. You need the right project manager for the job.

There are two areas under technical project management that need attention. One is risk management instead of jugad during execution. Risk management is at the heart of project management. Any number of risks can befall a project and drive it off course, often without any fault of the project team. From hurricanes and political unrests to supplier conflicts and labor shortages, internal and external events can have a significant impact on a project’s progress and performance. Such risks are not fully predictable but with effective risk management practices, potential damage can be mitigated. The second area is requirement management. How many times have we been guilty of serving chicken biryani to vegetarian customers and then trying to convince them it is the right food? “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers,” says author Seth Godin.

Beyond Technical Skills
The project manager should clearly articulate what constitutes a successful project and achieve the project objectives by motivating and inspiring the team. This leads to leadership – mainly communication for intended results and rapport building for effective stakeholder engagement. Simply knowing various leadership styles and practices is not enough when the project manager is placed outside his/her ethos.

About three decades ago, I was on an assignment in a desert 30 km from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. I was dealing with tribals; the laws of the land, contracts, and company policies mattered little. At lunch time, they would ask me to join them, and when I shared their lunch, a paste of red beans and cheese, I could see the glee on their faces. We didn’t understand each other’s language, but on completion of my tenure, I received an emotional send-off from these workers, completed with a song that they had composed for me. What leadership style did I adopt; how did I communicate? These are not answers one can find in a book. The answer is probably in a flexible leadership style that touches hearts.

We take pride in the Konkan Railway project that E. Sreedharan, its former chief managing director, led so well by applying political acumen and negotiation skills with engineering brilliance. When we see hundreds of delayed and failed projects around us, most of them point towards a lack of clear leadership and direction.

Given the strategic importance of a project for an organization, a project manager must ensure that the desired business objective is translated into executable goals. It is not just important for him/her to manage the schedule, budget, and the metrics and dashboards, but also to make sure that the project is delivered on its strategic objective.

Middle and senior managers often get caught up in the daily routine and miss the larger vision. An organizational level project or program is initiated in order to carry out a piece of strategy, which could be a new product development, a strategic alliance, or a joint venture. It must be managed as a program, the success of which is critical for the sustained competitive advantage of the organization.

The project manager must have the ability to understand a situation from the point of view of its strategic implications for the company. Strategy involves factors such as understanding the industry, competition, SWOT analysis, markets, and employees. Strategy may change often due to changes in the marketplace. The project manager must have a high tolerance for ambiguity and an agile mindset.

The project manager is in an unenviable position of being answerable to the executive project sponsors, functional heads, his/her project team, vendors, and any other horizontal teams who are impacted by the project. Clearly, technical project acumen is not sufficient. Strong leadership skills and sharp strategic insights are equally important.

When we start putting all of these parameters together, the picture of a complete project manager starts to emerge. He or she is the one with adequate leadership skills to manage a range of stakeholders and negotiate complex environments to lead a project. He or she must have a strategic frame of mind to gauge the business impact of the project and steer it accordingly. And finally, the project manager must be able to produce the right work breakdown structure, schedules, risk registers, and budget that would act as essential guides for the project team.

While looking for the next project manager, leaders must seek the skills trinity – a person who has aligned effectively to the Talent Triangle – or impart the right training on the three skills of technical project management, leadership, and strategy.

((M.R. Sriprasad, one of the first to receive Project Management Professional® credential in India, manages SABCONS that helps modern organizations and professionals to accelerate their growth through high-end training and consulting engagements in project management, leadership, and strategy.)

Talent Triangle