Article

How to Create the Right Project Management Team with Less Churn

August 9, 2019

Turnover is wrecking businesses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people are quitting at the fastest rate since 2001.

Churn within a project management team is especially brutal. When your project manager gives two weeks’ notice, it can stop the project—cost a ton of time and money, seriously impact customer satisfaction, and disrupt your entire business.

The good news? You can prevent churn within your project management team before it starts. Read on to learn how to create the right project management team and eliminate the churn.

Project Manager Churn Hits Organizations Hard

Project managers act like the quarterbacks of their teams. And when your quarterback leaves, the whole team collapses. Unfortunately, project managers are naturally vulnerable to churn. Here’s why:

They’re at the Heart of It All

Project managers are the heart of the project. They organize tasks, resolve issues, and keep their team focused on what’s necessary to complete the project as aggressively as possible. They can’t leave any time or money on the table, and they have to achieve near 100 percent user adoption on day one. That’s a lot of pressure and stress that can tear up a team.

The Ground Is Always Moving

Project managers work in a fast-paced environment, and their sole responsibility is to identify and mitigate obstacles to completing the project on-time and on-budget, with near 100 percent user adoption on day one. That means they live and breath problems. They spend 99 percent of their time working with struggling team members and coaching executives through what I am sure they perceive as “bad news.”

Even though the existence of project managers is predicated on the fact that projects don’t go according to plan, and we need someone to constantly be on-top of the chaos to ensure the desired outcome, there is still a human tendency to “shoot-the-messenger.”

So, needless to say, project management can be a super stressful, almost thankless job.

They’re Expected to Master All Industries

There’s a steep learning curve in project manager roles. They need to pick up company methodology, software, systems, and culture right away. And, then they have to get their arms around the business problem their project is meant to solve, the complex solution that needs to be delivered, and then fit it all into the always reasonable expectations for how much it SHOULD cost and how long it SHOULD take.

Too Often, They’re Underprepared

This morning I was hosting a call with a clients’ team to go over our 14 week Project Leadership Training Program. I asked the participants to introduce themselves, and the first one told me the story of how she became a project manager just two years before. She said that the founder of her company had a critical, customer facing project that required the deployment of an ERP system, but didn’t have a project manager to start it. She had some success in another role and had earned the founder’s trust, so she got the job.

99 percent of project managers get their first project in the same way. Project management seems to be one of few professions where you can get your first project without any prior experience or training. And, in the United States we have a weird relationship with education. Most of us go to college to get our first job, and then wing it the rest of our career. Because of this established cultural norm, most people that get their first project management job don’t immediately go get some training. They already have the job so they just skip to step two… They wing it.

There are programs, such as PMI-Certification, Agile Certification, Lean Six Sigma, and our own 120VC Project Leadership Program, that can prepare project managers for the role. Unfortunately, few project managers take that crucial next step.

How to Keep Your Project Management Team from Falling Apart

In order to create and retain a high-performing Project Management team, you have to take a hard look in the mirror. Then you need to hire strategically.

First and foremost, you must know who you are as a business and how you want to show up as a team. That means determining your team’s purpose, and then the qualities you need in your team members to most successfully achieve that purpose. As you know, a team’s purpose can be aspirational, but more importantly it MUST be measurable. You need to be able to say, “We are achieving it” or “We need to improve.”

If your purpose is a bunch of immeasurable fluff, it will have the opposite effect on your team. They will see it as disingenuous BS that lacks integrity. That is the last perception you want to create. Once you have a measurable purpose and you have determined no more that five qualities someone would need to live your purpose optimally, publish it and use it to recruit all future team members. When it comes time for you to hire a project manager, they should completely buy into those values and have a team-centric mentality. And you will intentionally interview to vet out those qualities.

At 120VC “We Believe In the Transformative Power of Getting Sh*t Done” for our clients. So our purpose is naturally: To enable every 120VC team member to exemplify leadership; to be the leaders that all others aspire to be. Because leaders change things; they push the human race forward. Leaders inspire those around them to reach for greatness. And fundamentally, leaders get shit done.

So, to achieve that purpose we’ve identified the following values and qualities that we believe are foundational to finding a project manager that can fully realize our purpose:

        • They’re achievers who have a founder’s mentality.
        • They care about people.
        • They value and invest in teamwork.
        • They lead through service.
        • They’re voracious learners.

There’s also a clear set of qualities to look for:

        • They’re self-starters.
        • They have high emotional intelligence.
        • They have a positive attitude.
        • They have grit.
        • They’re articulate.

Hiring the right leader will help, but it’s only half the battle. Once you find the right project manager, you also have to up-skill them, improve their resume, and give them challenges that increase their depth of accomplishments. Here’s how to keep strong project managers on board:

Meet Your Project Manager’s Needs

If you have the right type of leader in place, that project manager will value achievement and want to grow. And they’ll seek growth opportunities—whether it’s with your company or elsewhere. Give them resources. Feed them with opportunities to get better.

Invest in leveling them up by financing their education and professional growth through things such as online project leadership programs.

Don’t stop with education; provide chances to advance through experiential learning. Give them larger projects to deliver new tech or products they haven’t used. Each new accomplishment develops depth, broader perspective, and mastery.

I can’t emphasize this enough: If you don’t give achievers a path for growth, they will leave. Period. And you’ll be left with immediate consequences.

First, it will be expensive. According to Gallup, replacing an employee costs anywhere from half to two times that employee’s annual salary. So if that employee made $100K, you’re spending $50K to $200K to replace them.

On top of that, when former project manager Shanzanna —a trusted leader who bought into the culture—leaves the team, everyone around her will wonder where she went. They’ll wonder why she left and what opportunity she went after. Suddenly, your team will question your business’s values and look elsewhere for opportunities like the one Shanzanna found. And trust me: One by one, they’ll leave, too.

How Specialized MSPs Can Help

So what happens if your project manager does give notice? Is your company completely doomed? It’s a good question, but you don’t have to panic. There’s still an effective, albeit lesser-known, option. Specialized managed services providers (MSPs) bring in leaders who can achieve near 100 percent user adoption on day one. Now, I say specialized MSPs because generalists don’t fill project manager roles the same way. Here’s how specialized MSPs are different:

  • They focus on people and vet candidates for you.
  • They know and live within your culture and buy into your business’s values.
  • They provide leaders who meet a proven standard because they’ve adopted programs like 120VC’s Project Leadership Program and are certified to #GSD.

Learn More About Project Management Team Building

Before assembling your all-star project management team, it’s smart to do your homework. Go here to read through our 120VC project management guidebook for free.

Jason Scott

From the start of his career spent jumping out of helicopters as a Rescue Swimmer in the United States Navy, J. Scott has a long history of leadership, servanthood, and bearing witness to the transformative power of getting shit done. Since starting 120VC he's personally overseen the global transformational efforts within organizations such as DirecTV, Trader Joe's, Blizzard Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Mattel, and others. His team's unique, irreverent approach to change has generated breakthrough results and created meaningful jobs. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, J. Scott is a devoted husband and father and author of "It's Never Just Business: It's About People," and "The Irreverent Guide to Project Management," both available on Amazon.com.