Good versus Great

My experience to project management is minimal; and the actual idea seems slightly ambiguous. According to, it can be defined as the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. To some degree the idea of PM has been informal, and as of recent (mid 20th century) has it began to emerge as a distinct profession. In an article I found on “Good to Great: How to be the best Project Manager” it discusses several areas of topic on how to be more successful.

The first point compares a Good Project Managers actions versus a Great Project Managers actions.

•A Good Project Manager simple takes care of scheduling, communication issues, and production.

•A Great Project Manager is more deeply involved in building the skills of team members. They are also more involved in the tactical execution of the strategic vision of the project.

Lessons to take away from this are that Great Project Managers are more adaptive. They know how to bring the best out from their team. They know when to encourage rather than push.

A second point that the article highlights is the mapping of the project.

•A Good Project Manager will try to stay on task

•A Great Project Manager knows that the track will have unexpected turns and can created real-time solutions.

Lessons to take away are that aside from the top priority of helping customers/products reach success; Great Project Managers are aware that the administrative details of their projects have a higher purpose. Taking the time to look up from the projects plans and schedulers to consider the long-range, strategic outlook.

One of the more important points that the article alludes to is the communication abilities of a good and great Project manager.

•Good Project Managers hire talented teams

•Great Project Managers know their team at hand and know how to utilize each person’s skills at the correct time.

The lesson to take away here is that a great Project Manager will know how to use the talents of each team member on his or her team. Knowing how to get everyone on board with the projects strategic vision will bring out the best work. Effective communication is a key attribute to a Great Project Manager.

These are all key areas that I agree make a Great Project manager. However, I think to get to great you have to be good. You talk with people and you ask how they got into this profession, and often times it seems as if they fell into the position. I think these people start in smaller roles with less responsibilities and take the initiative on certain tasks that may demonstrate or exemplify these characteristics of a good project manager type role.

13 thoughts on “Good versus Great

  1. I like this post a lot Caleb. It’s very true how there is a huge difference between just a good project manager versus a great project manager. I think it is essential for a project manager to utilize their current assets. So although in theory one could hire the top employees for the job, they could also take the time to figure out each team member’s current strengths and utilize those to assign tasks. Motivation and consistent communication is key too. I think the best project managers are able to take whatever dilemma is at hand and turn it into a positive.

  2. Caleb, I enjoyed reading this article as I have experienced some great project managers on my past projects. I can add to the article by saying that a great project manager is one that trusts their team to perform and gives them the autonomy to do their individual jobs. Additionally, I completely agree with the fact that a great project manager is one who is flexible and is able to adjust in order to cope with unexpected obstacles or goal changes.

    Many times the scope of the project will change. The project managers who are able to adjust their focus and utilize the team in the adjustment are usually the successful project managers.
    Thank you for the article, I will continue to look out for these PM characteristics in my future projects.

  3. Caleb, this post is relevant as great project manager would develop certain skills and personal qualities through his work experience that would identify him from just a good project manager.

    From dealing with great project managers in previous jobs I could add that they are flexible, adaptable, people oriented, lead by example, and good communicators.

    In addition, one of the quality aspects of great project manager is to identify, assess, and mitigate risk within a project. Also, maintain high quality for a project, finish the project within the deadline, and not exceeding the project’s budget.

  4. Caleb, this is a great article, describing a good versus a great project manager. I’m in the same boat as you with minimal experience in project management. Development of skills are vital for a project manager. Leadership being a vital factor in project management is a must after reading this article a communication and motivation are vital factors as well. Reviewing our project manager for our group project this semester came to mind, and I believe we voted the best candidate to lead our team. This article gave me so much knowledge on how to be great project manager.

  5. Caleb,
    Thank you for sharing – this really reminded me of a poster that used to hang in my high school that compared traits of “Bosses vs Leaders.” True leadership, not bossiness, is essential for successful project management. A boss can certainly make deadlines and keep team members on track, but a leader will ensure that everyone on the team gets the most out of what they are doing. I particularly liked the part about utilizing team members skills at the correct time. This is probably the most challenging part of project management, but those who are able to accomplish it with finesse will be the most successful.

  6. Caleb, very interesting article you shared. You point out a very important characteristics to consider for any role in a job and that is “Great Project Managers know their team at hand and know how to utilize each person’s skills at the correct time.” If you think about a sports coach, either you have a bad coach, good coach, or a great coach that understands the dynamics of the team and knows how to utilize each player’s skill set to full potential. When a project manager lacks the ability to do so, the end results shows.

  7. Caleb, thank for sharing this article. This is an interesting topic. In my experience I have seen too many people become project managers not because they are “good” or “great” but more because they were at the right place at the right time. Sometimes this is disturbing because upper management may truly believe they are “good” or “great” managers, but those individuals who have worked with them before they were promoted to a management position know in fact that they really have not gotten their “hands dirty” with real type of work where they can demonstrate to be a great project manager. I agree that there is a difference between being a “good” project manager where one just handles scheduling and communicates project status, versus a “great” project manager who gets more involved with the core of the project. However, I have seen too many times managers report project status for work that other people in his/her group have done. In some sense, I sometimes think the real project managers are those working directly with the project. It’s not difficult to report out ones project status. Does reporting someone else’s work make one a “good” project manager? I agree that before becoming a “great” project manager you need to become a “good” project manager, but how do you become “good”? How does an individual get noticed so he or she can gradually move into a project management role? Like I said earlier, many times it seems like one gets promoted if they are at the right place at the right time, or thru someone they may know. Unfortunately when this happens we get individuals in project management roles who think they are “good” and “great”, but the rest of us really know that they are far from it.

  8. Great post and blog Caleb I find it very clear, straightforward and applicable, the statement that made me feel more identified was “A Good Project Manager will try to stay on task. A Great Project Manager knows that the track will have unexpected turns and can created real-time solutions.” I remember when I was working as a Risk Analyst in a Bank back home, and they implemented a new project to see if a restructuration of the workflow was needed, and they increased 20% of the front office personnel, but they didn’t add any to back office and said that they will see how many they will add according to the volume of workflow. Our project manager stayed on task but, it was a total disaster she didn’t anticipate that the volume of work would increase notably, and yes it was a disaster and 6 of the analyst quit the job and the problem only grew from there.

  9. Caleb, thanks for sharing your insight.

    In my work I’ve encountered both good and great project managers. In general both are able to meet their targets and metrics. However, the great project managers truly inspire their teams to perform at their best. As the article stated, the good project managers were effective planners and action trackers, however did very little to engage or challenge the team. This type of project management resulted in more of a paper work driven role. While it was nice to have autonomy, it would have been great to have true leadership. These projects were generally run smoothly, but were not very exciting.

    The great project managers I have encountered were passionate about both the project and the team. These individuals had both the technical skills to effectively plan the project and the soft skills to anticipate risk and mitigate in advance. When the team met adversity, the project manager never held back and continued to push and challenge the team to find creative solutions. These projects tended to be more chaotic, but you felt a real sense of satisfaction and pride to be involved in something meaningful. It is a challenge, but this is definitely the kind of project manager I aspire to be.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Dan,

      I liked your comment on the idea of autonomy from the “good” PM. There are certainly some advantages to this style (creativity, working at your own pace to a degree). The excitement factor of a project you mentioned is also an interesting point, and an element to a “great” PM. Nice.

  10. Great post Caleb, thank you for sharing your post. I really liked your post because it explains a very important concept; Good vs. Great. Being a great project manager is not an easy task. I know few people who pride themselves on being a great project manager, but when I talk to their team members I get a very different feedback. I’ve not managed a project yet and I find your post very helpful as I look forward to managing projects in the near future. So many project managers think that as long as their project is progressing according to the schedule they are doing a great job as project managers. Not so fast, this is the very basic approach that won’t make anyone a great manager.

    To your point, for those who are starting on their project manager adventures, first we have to be good and then we can be great. Also, I agree with Jen and her post that a great project manager is the one who can take the negative situation and turn it into a positive experience for all.

  11. Thank you Caleb, I have enjoyed the other awesome posts because of how easily each person related to it in different ways. After reading the line “A Great Project Manager is more deeply involved in building the skills of team members,” I feel re-energized to do my best to help those around me to learn new things. It usually means an investment in time, but pays off when members feel engaged in the project for the long term. I also agree that being “good” is the stepping stone to being “great.” It’s not overnight, it’s a building process.

  12. Hi Caleb! I agree with the differences that were pointed out between a good and great PM. A great PM takes the time to get to know the team so they know what task they will excel at. Everyone has different skills and it helps that the PM knows how to use them to teams advantage.

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