The #Two traits great #Managers have #PMOT #Coach

Managers and management in general usually have a bad reputation. That is probably  doubly so for middle managers. These roles are usually the first ones identified for job reduction and attrition. Why is this? Truth be told, it is an exceptionally difficult role that not many people excel at. Usually people excel at one aspect or another of the role, but not at all of the aspects.

What makes a great manager?

So what makes a great manager? The manager must be an agent for the decisions and directions that come from above AND be an advocate for the teams that ultimately execute the work. Unfortunately, most managers tend to primarily identify with either agency or advocacy, but not both. Most managers focus their effort on managing the teams, but not managing the executives. Managing-up is one of the most difficult and challenging skills and most also be welcomed by the culture of the organization.

It is a delicate balancing act that experienced managers deftly handle – the right balance of agency and advocacy that promotes high-performing teams both above and below them. If this balance is not appropriate the manager usually defaults to just concentrating on one or the other – to the detriment of both executives and teams.

But when a manager has the right balance, they build credibility with both executives and teams. Once that credibility is built, the managers are then invited in to discussion and designs to influence, contribute, coach, innovate, and inspire both executives and teams.

Two Traits

The two traits that a manager or Project Manager must have to reach this level of proficiency are Business Knowledge and Realization Knowledge.

  • The manager or Project Manager must understand the business domain, business strategy, and culture of the organization they are an agent for. Why does the Business Exist? What is the Strategic Plan? Who are their internal and external clients? Who are their competitors? What are their values and principles?
  • The manager of Project Manager must also understand the realization domain and implementation processes as well. Whether the realization practice be accounting, engineering, software development, or teaching – the manager needs to understand the work and the profession. How do we implement changes? What professional skills are required? Who are the experts and why? What are the industry-accepted best practices? What are the new methods and technologies on the horizon? What practices are no longer being used?

Only when the manager has both these traits, will they have the credibility to be invited in, contribute, coach, influence, and help to innovate the strategy of the business and the implementation of business initiatives.

This is a not an easy combination to achieve and the lack of the these traits can lead to just ‘paper-pushing’ as the manager doesn’t have the credibility or knowledge to do more. Most times a manager may have one or the other trait and while this is beneficial, true high-performing teams arise when the manager or Project Manager has both.

Our responsibilities as managers is not to just perform administrative duties, but to relentlessly inquire and learn both about the business domain and the realization domain. Only then will the manager be an integral member that makes the executive and team members better by coaching up and down.


The #1 competency of a great Project Manager #pmot

I was talking on Friday to Steve Rogalsky (@srogalsky) about my thoughts on the #1 competency of great Project Managers. As soon as I said that I corrected myself and said that it is never that simple. There is not just one thing. That was something that makes for a great Blog title and Blog post, but is not a true reflection of reality.

But since this is a Blog post, I’m hoping you will allow me a little leeway in the discussion. ūüôā

Project Manager Competencies

So what is the #1 competency for a Project Manager?

Think of the best Project Manager you have ever worked with. What was the one thing you remember about him/her?

If you were going to describe him/her to someone else, what would you say they did really well?

Let me hazard a guess that it isn’t one of these statements…

  • Man, that guy really knew his way around MS Project
  • Man, she really knew how to create a detailed WBS
  • Man, that guy knows how to drive a team and instil a sense of urgency
  • Man, she really kept on top of the work and followed a good governance process. I mean her Change Requests rocked!
  • and so on…

My favourite Project Manager

My favourite Project Manager was not someone whom I liked or respected initially. I thought that he was weak on having a detailed plan and the change request process. (these were my pre-Agile days) I mean we were taking on extra scope and missing deadlines. Why was he not pushing the client and the team?

As I worked with him, I started to see the real skill he had.

  • He never used his authority
  • He built relationships with both the client and the team
  • He knew when it was time to push and when it was time to be patient with both the team and the client
  • He knew a great team took time to build trust and to gel
  • He was a facilitator first and foremost
  • He had an awesome sense of humour
  • He honestly wanted to know how you felt and what you thought

I don’t know for sure, but I think he would have had great Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is defined as:

“Emotional Intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions.”¬†¬†–¬†

Emotional Intelligence has four main competencies:

  1. Perceiving Emotions: The first step in understanding emotions is to accurately perceive them. In many cases, this might involve understanding nonverbal signals such as body language and facial expressions.
  2. Reasoning With Emotions: The next step involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritize what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention.
  3. Understanding Emotions:¬†The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret the cause of their anger and what it might mean. For example, if your boss is acting angry, it might mean that he is dissatisfied with your work; or it could be because he got a speeding ticket on his way to work that morning or that he’s been fighting with his wife.
  4. Managing Emotions: The ability to manage emotions effectively is a key part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately and responding to the emotions of others are all important aspect of emotional management.

(reproduced from¬†¬†–¬†


To me, Emotional Intelligence comes down to being able to having great empathy for others. For your team mates and clients.

Great Project Managers use this empathy to build relationships and read situations when the project is starting to go off the rails. They understand that it is all about the people and not the technology or process. They honestly care. Care about team mates, the clients, and the solution.

Two More competencies

I also believe that a good Project Manager also has a wealth of experience with the type of project being executed. I’m not a fan of the concept that it is best if a Project Manager is not technical expert or domain expert. The Project Manager also needs to be a Problem Solver.

If you do not have the technical expertise, how can you fully empathize with the team?

If you do not have the business domain, how can you fully empathize with the client?


Steve was right. It isn’t that simple.

The best Project Manager I ever worked with had these three competencies:

  • Excellent Technical expertise
  • Excellent Business Domain knowledge
  • Excellent Emotional Intelligence

Although it is rare to have all three, I have found that excellent Emotional Intelligence with either technical or Business Domain expertise is a very good indicator of success. And someone I would like to have on my team.

Iteration 2 Bio

Terry Bunio is currently a Principal Consultant at Protegra. Terry never wanted to be a Project Manager. He started as a software developer and found his technical calling in Data Architecture. Along the way Terry discovered that he enjoys helping to build teams, grow client trust and encourage individual career growth, completing project deliverables, and helping to guide solutions. It seems that some people like to call that Project Management.

He has helped to build awesome teams, grow client trust, encourage individual career growth, and provided Data Architecture and solution leadership for organizations such as Manitoba Public Insurance, LPL Financial, Assante Asset Management, Moventum, Government of Manitoba, Government of Canada, and Investors Group.

As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical book agile and the real world approaches. Terry considers himself a born again agilist as Agile implemented according to the Lean Principles has made him once again enjoy Software Development and believe in what can be accomplished.

Terry is a fan of Agile implemented according to the Lean Principles, the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, Data Architecture, XML databases, and asking why.

Top three rules for an Agile Project Manager

I had some interesting feedback on my post on the qualities on an Agile Project manager/father. I had one thought-provoking comment that asked whether the project manager is responsible for project vision.

Here was the comment from my brother. (we are descended from a long line of project managers) ūüôā (I’ve paraphrased it a little to protect the innocent.)

“A great Project Manager knows where we need to go, long before the rest of us. They actually seldom know how to get there. They rely on their teams, bringing out the greatness in us all.¬†By creating the vision, and giving their¬†teams critical portions of that vision.”

Although my brother is not as familiar with the Agile methodologies, much of the sentiment rang true. Although the Project Manager may know where to go, he does not have an idea on how to get there without his or her team. They rely on their team to bring out the greatness in each and every one of the team members. (including the Project Manager!)
Although I would suggest that one thought might be¬†that the project manager should provide the entire vision and not just the¬†critical portions of the vision. (The team should decide what is critical) ¬†The team members then collaborate and contribute to that vision as they can. The team must all own the vision together. In fact, the Project Manager may know the initial vision only. I’m confident that the vision will then be updated and changed by the team as they learn more on the art of the possible for the project.
And all that thought about never settling for second best is hooey. Great project managers know which products need to be great, and which ones need to be “fit for purpose”. That vision, and the ability to enroll people in that vision, makes a great leader.”
I love this thought. I would stress this isn’t about a Project Manager anymore though. This is about any great team members. There is the critical ‘good enough’ competency. I think we have all been on¬†projects where too much time has been spent on items with¬†little value and not enough on items with great value. The truly¬†great team members have a great sense of what good enough is.¬†This skill is usually built up on the bones of past projects. But sometimes, people have an innate skill about this as well.
Of course all this is after consulting with the clients and acting on their true priorities.
So this brings me to the top three rules for an Agile Project Manager. If the Agile Project Manager does these three things, I have no doubt the project will be a success.
Three rules for an Agile Project Manager 
Team velocity РEnsure that the team is performing at their maximum efficiency. Remove any issues and roadblocks.
Client interaction – Ensure that the client interaction is maximized. Ensure that the team has communicated as much as possible with the client and that the current work always reflects the client’s priorities.
Deliver something personally РThe Project Manager needs to have a role on the project in addition to Project Manager. Something, anything. They need to code, design,test, or analyze. (preferably all four) They need to understand the solution and be part of the solution. We need to stop having the Project Manager just have ownership over the Project and not the solution implemented.

Project Management Fatherhood – 5 Traits of a great father

I’ve also always thought that there was much in common between the aspects that make a good father and good Project Manager. First off I want to be clear that I am not proposing that a project or team members are children in any way. I just think that the same traits that make a good father can make a good Project Manager. I also thought it would be an interesting way for me to acknowledge my Career Fathers who have taught me these lessons.

The Five traits of a great Project Manager

  1. Emotional Intelligence
  2. Care and Compassion for team and clients
  3. Decisiveness and confidence
  4. Principled and lack of ego
  5. Hard working and sense of duty

Emotional Intelligence – Brad Mundy

Emotional Intelligence and the ability to read the context of a situation and personalities on a team is invaluable. I still remember working with Brad multiple times. I was a young DBA who saw the world in very black and white tones. Brad was a seasoned Project Manager who diligently read the situation and patiently proposed actions after consultation with the team and client. I was often impatient with progress on the project and Brad’s leadership was key in ensuring the entire team was pulling in the right direction. His collaboration skills and ability to read the context of a situation was masterful. I see now in the wisdom of my years how now projects are black and white but all are just shades of grey.

Care and Compassion for team and clients – Corinne Flaws

Every time I work with a great Project Manager, one thing is consistent. They really care for the project, project team, and clients. They don’t look at project team and client issues as just things to be solved. They are honestly upset when either the client or project team members are not satisfied. They are upset when things go wrong and are happy when the project is doing well. I mean, really happy. If you ever want a weathervane for a great Project Manager, just look for whether the Project Manager is happy or sad based on the project. Great Project Managers never¬†look at their career as just a job. The truly great ones never let¬†their caring¬†be perceived as a wavering of confidence in the project as well, just that it is a tough week and we will rebound. Corinne Flaws¬†really showed me this trait by example on the Client Statement project we were both on. She also taught that being right doesn’t count for much if it hurts the project and the team. Her compassion and care for the team and the clients are something I try to live up to on every project I am on.

Decisiveness and Confidence РJacek Hunek

Balanced with the Emotional Intelligence and Compassion is the ability to make a decision when required. The ability to take in all the available information and then help the team to arrive at a decision is crucial. Sometimes it is actually the Project Manager who needs to make the decision as it is his or her decision to make. At these crucial times, the team is watching and looking for leadership from the Project Manager. Jacek¬†Hunek¬†taught me these traits on a major project we were both on. More importantly, he also taught me that you can’t make these decisions without being authorized by the team. It is a very fine line. You have to be able to read when the team has granted you authority and when they have not. Being a Project Manager doesn’t mean you can make decisions all the time. I still remember talking to Jacek¬†after a tough issue and Jacek providing this advice:

“Terry, you can’t march up the mountain and expect them to follow after. They never wanted to go up that mountain and even if they did, you need to go up as a team”

Principled and Lack of Ego – Wadood Ibrahim

The Project Manager must be principled and always do what is right and fair. The Project Manager can’t do what he thinks he can get away with. (from both a client and team member perspective) The Project Manager must also understand he or she is just one member of a team. No better,¬† no worse. He or she can’t have an ego as to what is their job and role. Every member of the team must do whatever it takes to deliver maximum value to the client. In whatever shape or form that takes. When decision are required, it should always be what is right and fair. This is even when the contract may support a particular position. Fairness is not about being defendable, it is about being fair and principled. 100% of the time. I have worked at Protegra¬†for almost 9 years and Wadood¬†Ibrahim has taught me through his actions as to how to always be principled and fair. Always. There has not been one¬†decision I disagreed¬†with since I started at Protegra almost 9 year ago and I sleep easy every night.

Hard working and sense of duty – Larry Bunio

And then in addition to these fine traits it takes a solid work ethic to bring them together. I have my own father to thank for that. My father always stressed how important it was to do the best job you could do and that you needed to complete the job. No what how much you may no longer enjoy it. In addition to a work ethic, my father was also able to build a real sense of duty into my psyche. I remember one time I wasn’t looking forward to going to a relative’s home. I think I was about 10 years old. My father grabbed my shoulder and looked me in the eye and said:

“I know you don’t want to go, but you and I need to go because it is important to your aunt. And that is what matters”

That sense of duty has stuck with me ever since.¬†If I don’t get to do the tasks I want to or I have to do things for others I always remind my self that my duty is to ensure I do what is important to the client and team members and not just what is important to me.

Happy Father’s day Dad.