What differentiates a great project manager from a good project manager?  What makes someone better at project management than someone else?  Is project management something that anyone can do if they follow a methodology from an organization such as the Project Management Institute (PMI)?  These are questions management wrestles with every time they go to hire an internal project manager or engage an outside project manager for their project.

Project management is both an art and a science.  It is a science in that there are predefined project phases and steps that have proven over time to be necessary to bring a project to successful conclusion.  Initiation helps understanding the What, Why, and Who of the project.  Planning builds upon that initial information to determine the When, How, and Where so that you have a good framework to accomplish what needs to be done.  Execution carries out your plans while Monitoring and Controlling activities ensure you do not deviate from your goals without careful consideration. Closeout circles back to answer the questions of “Did you accomplish what you set out to do?” and “What did you learn that you can apply to the next project?”

There are plenty of information and templates regarding these phases to guide someone through the process; however, it is the experience and the personality of the project manager and the team that can make the difference between a good and a great project.  A great project manager learns quickly how to read the team, and to identify areas and team members who are going to need more attention in order to be successful.  A great project manager instills confidence in and spreads enthusiasm for the project to the team members, acting as both a cheerleader and a coach.  A great project manager intuitively knows when to push or escalate something and when to let things play out, all while calming the jitters of the team and the stakeholders.   A great project manager understands the big picture and priorities, and how to quickly adjust plans to achieve the best possible results.  All these things are part of the art of project management, and are things learned by experience.

While understanding the science of the appropriate steps and templates is necessary, engaging a project manager who understands the art of working with the team and stakeholders will significantly increase the odds of taking that project from good to great.