Today I’m going to show you how I went about building a team to deliver a critical IT project for a major European service provider. Along the way I’ll give you some insights into what people like me are looking for when we are recruiting. It’ll give you something to think about if you’re looking for a job yourself.
I’ve been an IT project manager for more than 40 years. In the early years I made lots of mistakes – some of them make me shudder with embarrassment even today. But I had a lot of help as I went along and I got better at my job. Eventually I became something of a troubleshooter – going into damaged or failing projects and rescuing them.
There were plenty of troubled projects to go at – and there still are. Research by IAG indicates 68% of IT projects fail. This isn’t so surprising when we learn that according to Capterra as many as 75% of IT executives believe their projects are “doomed from the start”.
For this article I’ll pick just one of my projects, but I could really have chosen any of them. They all have a scary similarity.
My recruitment challenge
This particular project was well behind schedule, massively overspent and unwanted by its customers. The reputation of the project team had hit rock bottom, so it wasn’t a nice place to be. Morale was draining away and key people were leaving the project.
The word on the bazaars was that the project had gone wrong because of “management failures”. But as the new project director I had to make my own diagnosis and start turning things around quickly.
I gave myself a week, to talk to as many of the participants as I could – in teams and individually. I discovered that the real failures were ones of communication and organization. Most of the managers were perfectly competent. But there were too many of them and there were far too many meetings and progress reports.
So my first task was to reset the project and reorganize it into a more logical work-stream structure. I was able to let some managers go, and they were eagerly snapped up by colleagues elsewhere in the company. I recruited all the new work-stream managers internally, mostly from the existing project team.
I gave my work-streams a lot more autonomy than before and they had a lot more freedom over how they ran their delivery programmes. But I had found from experience that delegated authority only works if the centre is small but powerful. That’s where I concentrated my recruitment
Again I looked internally first. In my experience it’s best to recruit from inside the company if you can, because it’s quicker, cheaper and more successful. And a lot better for the morale of your team.
I was looking for two contrasting sets of recruits. Firstly, some wise heads with enough experience to spot problems early and give me good advice. Secondly, a team of energetic, persistent youngsters who I could rely on to monitor progress. I needed them to pester the delivery teams to report progress consistently and surface issues early.
For this latter group, I went to the company’s internal apprentices – teenagers straight from school, and new university graduates. They weren’t afraid of anybody and they wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Not every position could be filled internally, so I went to the HR department and they gave me Brian to help me with external recruitment.
In the past, I would have expected them to engage a recruitment agency who would want a job specification and a fee, and time to pull together a shortlist. But times have changed. This time, Brian asked me about the type of people I was looking for, and we boiled it down to a few keywords. Brian tapped them into a search box on LinkedIn, and next thing I knew we had 100 LinkedIn profiles printed out. Two hours later we had whittled them down to a top 10 that I would interview by phone.
The following day I phoned the candidates, then I made my decisions and the job was done.
The winners had good LinkedIn profiles that contained the keywords I was searching on. Their profiles were full enough to be used as a general-purpose CV. Finally, they were compelling enough to catch my eye when we went through that initial scan.
This is a great system, but I can see why recruitment consultants don’t like it. It threatens their role in the process and it forces the candidates to rely on general-purpose profiles. In the old days I was always taught to write a special-purpose CV, which was like a sales brochure selling me into the position I was applying for. But I was also taught that the customer is king, and using LinkedIn was great for me. I can see it being used more and more.
Anyway I am happy to tell you the project reset worked. The new team gelled quickly, and before long we were hitting our milestones and winning over the skeptics. Furthermore, we forged a new plan that everyone supported, and we delivered it on time and within budget, thanks to a huge amount of dedicated effort from hundreds of people, and considerable forbearance from our customers.
So that’s the story of just one project. What are the main take-aways for someone looking for a better job today? Here are my four top tips:
1. Who do you know?
Remember most recruitment is internal. If you’re in a large company, that’s where your easiest opportunities will arise. But you must also cultivate relationships outside, so you aren’t tied to the same employer for ever.
2. Do senior people know you?
What do they think of you? How do you get to know them? One way is to find a mentor. That is, a senior figure who will get to know you and give you regular advice. Pick someone who is well connected and who can see opportunities you might not find on your own. Then when people are wondering about bringing in somebody new, your name goes up on the whiteboard.
3. Will external recruiters find you?
Have you listed all your key skills on your LinkedIn profile? Do you have endorsements from past colleagues? Is your career history short and snappy, and yet full enough to show good detail about recent successes? Does it look good in a two-minute glance, and in a detailed read-through?
4. Are you using social media?
I’ve talked about LinkedIn, but of course you have a lot of choices these days. What are your interests and talents? Look for relevant special interest groups, and join them, and make yourself known in them. If you’re in a large company, maybe they have an internal social media network you can get involved in too.
Remember every recruitment is a competition. Everyone wants to win it, but only one person can. Let’s make it you.
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Do you have any points to add from your own experience? Please leave a comment below.