The book »Alpha Project Managers: What the top 2% know that everyone else does not« presents results from a research among a large number of project managers conducted by the company Velociteach. The purpose of the research was to discover what the best project managers do differently as well as to find out what they know that everyone else does not.
The researchers invited more than 3000 project managers to participate in the study and they finally chose 860 qualified participants who fulfilled strict criteria to be included in the research. Among others, participants must have had at least a certain number of hours of project management experience, they must have led at least one project worth more than a certain amount of money and they had to secure the participation of their superiors, team members and clients.
The first part of the research was to rate the project managers. This was done by their superiors, team members and clients while the project managers themselves had no say in rating their own success. Various criteria were used in the rating process such as expectations management, communication effectiveness, issue and risk management, team management, completing the project within the planned schedule, budget and scope, procurement management, change management, stakeholder management and fulfilling project goals. A score was calculated for each project manager according to the success rates of the above criteria. The top 2% of those with the highest scores were rated as the alpha project managers (18 out of a total of 860 participants).
The remainder of the book investigates alpha project manager traits and compares them to the rest from different viewpoints.
The researchers first examined the demographic structure and they discovered that alpha project managers are represented in equal proportions by gender, education and work experience as the rest.
Alpha project managers are very satisfied with their work because they perceive project management as a career. They believe that they have the authority to do their job, which is interesting if we take into account that project managers typically work in matrix organizations where they do not have formal authority. This was also confirmed by their superiors.
Alpha project managers in general spend less time using email and they conduct fewer meetings than the rest of the population. Researchers conducted follow-up interviews where they discovered that this is due to that alpha project managers are better at defining priorities and are able to distinguish the more important from the less important.
With respect to communication, both alpha project managers as well as the rest of the population believe that they are good at this. However, according to other project stakeholders, alpha project managers are much better communicators. Alpha project managers contact project stakeholders early in the project and they make sure that they understand their communication needs. They also communicate regularly, are brief and concise, and are always open to communication.
Both alpha project managers and the rest of the population answered in the research survey that they believe that planning is very important in project management. But a more detailed analysis discovered that alpha project managers spend approximately double the time planning as the rest.
Understanding the scope of the project is much higher with alpha project managers than with the rest. On average, alpha project managers have been employed with the same company about two years longer which may explain their better understanding of the scope.
The use of a particular methodology or the existence of a project management office does not affect the success of a project manager although both alpha project managers as well as the rest answered that they consider it important. Their superiors were asked a similar question where it was interesting that superiors of alpha project managers find methodologies and PMO more important than superiors of the rest.
With respect to issue management, alpha project managers have fewer issues because they resolve their issues as they arise and therefore most of them never even make it to the issues list.
Alpha project managers have higher scores for leadership, although they themselves were not able to explain what they do differently that makes them good leaders. In general they believe that they do not have to be friends with their team members, nor must they be popular.
Follow-up interviews also uncovered that alpha project managers often talk about their shortcomings and how they would improve while they talk less about their qualities. It could be inferred that they are aware of their capabilities and are constantly striving to improve.
The book concludes with advice to the rest of the population who would like to become alpha project managers. First, it is a cruel fact that there will always be a small fraction of alpha project managers and therefore it is not realistic that everyone can be the best. However, research results show that alpha project managers are constantly trying to improve themselves and so the advice is very simple in that everyone can focus more on personal and professional development.