Investment recovery practitioners are typically responsible for funneling hundreds of projects through their organization’s surplus asset disposition process. Along the way, they recoup many thousands—often many millions—of dollars, adding to the profitability of their company and the sustainability of the planet.
Virtually no one starts his or her career in IR. Often, the IR function is an add-on to procurement activities or a subset of other functions. Yet there is one constant for anyone responsible for the disposition of surplus assets—you’d better be a proficient project manager. In fact, all eleven investment recovery best practices identified by the Benchmarking Committee entail at least some degree of successful project management.
As defined by Jack Gido and James Clements in their book Successful Project Management, “a project is an endeavor to accomplish a specific objective through a unique set of interrelated tasks and effective utilization of resources.” The unique skill set and various resources that must be harnessed for the proper identification and optimum disposition of a company’s surplus certainly fall within that definition.
The project manager has three primary responsibilities: planning, organizing resources and controlling the pace of the project. Improvement in these three areas will improve your effectiveness and value to your organization.
Planning: The project manager is responsible for collecting data from the customer and other stakeholders and defining the project objectives. Sometimes alone or with the help of the project team, the project manager develops a plan to achieve the defined objective within the customer’s expected time frame. The involvement of the project team is crucial during the planning phase as no single project manager can be expected to understand all facets of an involved project. Additionally, involving the project team in the planning process ensures support of the team as the project gets underway.
Organizing Resources: For many investment recovery projects, organizing the resources necessary for completion of the project often means more than “just” gathering the internal staff necessary for the project. Often, it also requires determining which parts of the project should be outsourced to appropriate contractors. Once the project staff, both in-house and outsourced, is assembled, the project manager must delegate responsibilities to the appropriate parties. It is critical to clearly define the tasks for which each team member is responsible. It is important for
the project manager to organize the team in such a way that each project member is motivated to accomplish her tasks and help the team succeed. Consider performance incentives for outside contractors to help keep the project on time and on budget.
Controlling the Pace and Profitability.
Finally, the project manager is responsible for controlling the project. In order to accomplish this, the project manager must receive status updates from the project team members regarding the progress of their tasks. In addition to individual member feedback, the project manager may regularly assemble the entire team to discuss how the project is proceeding. It is important for the project manager to stay apprised of the status in order to facilitate solutions to problems as they arise. In order to fulfill these responsibilities, the project manager must have a certain set of skills, and primary among those is leadership. Investment recovery practitioners must have the leadership ability to allow project members the freedom to complete their tasks with minimal guidance.
Gido and Cements recommend the project manager act as the team coach, helping the individual members along, rather than as a taskmaster. This ability to lead without being overly intrusive works well with the ability to develop individual members. Developing people is the ability to understand the abilities of individual team members and work to develop their weaknesses. The project manager understands that expanding the skill sets of project team members makes them more valuable to the organization in the future. Gido and Clements suggest that one goal of any project manager should be to have all project team members learn something new by the end of a successful project.
Communication: In order to understand what skills team members need to develop, the project manager must already have well-developed communication skills. It is important that he or she has the ability to communicate effectively with team members and project stakeholders. Excellent oral and written communication skills ensure that all involved parties understand the status and objectives of the project. One skill that is often overlooked is listening. The ability to listen and comprehend the requests of stakeholders and customers and the explanations of team members gives the project manager the opportunity to gain a deeper insight into the personalities of the speakers. For example, a team member may be distressed at the level of responsibility he is being entrusted with. Although he may not feel comfortable saying this, the astute project manager can pick up on this discomfort and begin to guide the troubled project team member through it.
An investment recovery manager’s responsibility for dozens of simultaneous projects can be stressful. Project managers must be able to handle the stress inherent in their position and function despite of it. The ability to manage stress effectively allows you to remain clear-headed when problems arise. All projects managers are confronted with problems, whether they are created by changing requirements from the customer or failure at the task level.
The successful project manager must be able to take these setbacks in stride and keep the project team focused and moving forward. Groups tend to take on the personality of their leader, and a project manager who crumbles at the first sign of adversity will have a team that cannot cope with problems. And speaking of problems…solid problem solving is another key skill for an investment recovery project manager. Identifying problems early is the best way to ensure they cause the least harm. Although it is preferable for team members to identify and resolve their own problems, it is necessary for the project manager to be involved if changes to the budget, schedule or anticipated outcome will result.
Additionally, it is important for the project manager to identify problems early and warn the appropriate team members. As with all facets of project management, the goal for the project manager is not to solve the problem, but to facilitate a resolution from the team. In conclusion, improving your project management skills will improve the value and visibility of investment recovery within your organization. Project planning and control are critical, but people are the key to a project’s success.
Reference: Jack Gido and James P. Clements, Successful Project Management (4th Edition, 2009) South-Western College Publishing.