Project Management Book

...chapter 3 continued


Role of Project Manager

What does the project manager do? Many a team member has muttered that question under their breath.

The list of project manager's responsibilities is either very long or very short. The short one is: the project manager is responsible for everything. Let's break that into some of its component parts:

Define and get agreement to roles. If halfway through a project it becomes clear the sponsor doesn't understand his role, whose fault is that? The project manager's. Defining roles means defining roles upwards as well as downwards. Particularly if it is the sponsor's first project, take half an hour to run through with the sponsor what he can do to help his project succeed. Note, his project, not yours. And as we said on the previous page, do the same with each member of the steering committee.

Some projects go nowhere because senior managers aren't clear what the project is really trying to achieve. If you suspect this is the case take them offsite for a day and get them to sort themselves out and hammer out a clear mission statement for the project. In one case that comes to mind a project had set out to be all things to all men. After several false starts a new project manager was brought in. He made the Directors clarify the project's goals and strip down the project scope, and only then did useful things start to get done.

Secure resources and fashion into a team. Getting promises from Directors - the steering committee - to provide people for the project is one thing. Getting the managers who directly own those people actually to release them is quite another thing. We will address this in a later chapter.

Having acquired the bodies, you will need to do some team building. This could just be a get together meeting. But if your team comprises people from IT, HR, Finance, Marketing, Logistics and Admin, and there has historically been antagonism between some of these groups consider something grander. A weekend canoeing and abseiling may cost a few thousand but this investment in team building could save you a lot of money and a lot of stress later in the project. Definitely worth considering for larger projects.

Plan the project. This covers a multitude of activities. The degree to which the project manager personally plans the project will depend upon its scale. If there are three people in the project team the project manager can easily plan their work. If there will be 300 people in the team the project manager will clearly need to delegate the detailed planning.

Design project control mechanisms. How will you report progress, control change, manage risks, etc? Every project is different, you will need to design control and reporting mechanisms that suit your project or at least adapt and modify any standard processes that are available within your company.

Manage project scope. If the scope is simply too big for the budget and timescale the project will fail. If you carve out a doable scope but then let it grow uncontrolled as you go along the project will fail. Managing project scope boils down to learning how to say the most important word in the project manager's vocabulary: "no". More on this in the next chapter.

Manage and report progress. This rather assumes there is progress to report, of course. We will cover tracking, controlling and reporting in a later chapter.

Be accountable for quality. The project manager's appraisal should depend not only upon meeting dates and budgets but also upon the quality of what is delivered. Even if the project manager is managing a project that is outsourced to a software supplier the project manager in the commissioning company should be held accountable for the quality of the software delivered by the software house. Sound unreasonable? Well, someone must protect the company from the potentially disastrous consequences of implementing a system that doesn't work. If not the project manager, who? After your company has gone bankrupt it's a bit late to sue the software supplier. See the chapter on quality management.

Reward and punish. Handing out the occasional small financial award to a team member who has excelled can really boost team morale, if they view it as well deserved. Where does the cash come from? The sponsor, of course. Or put another way, put a line item in the business case headed "team awards and rewards".


Characteristics of a Project Manager

What characteristics do good project managers share? As you would expect project managers are a pretty diverse bunch, but certain personal traits may help.

First and foremost they like managing projects. Managing projects is not something people are neutral about. They either like it or they don't. Why would anyone want to do a job in which you can all too obviously fail spectacularly and if you succeed people will shrug their shoulders and say you just did your job? Others relish the challenge and like the feeling of accomplishment, of getting something done that may not have happened without them.

Good project managers:

Project managers need all the personal skills that any manager needs so project managers should not only attend courses that teach them how to manage projects (may we plug this excellent project management course) they should also attend people management training: leadership skills, influencing skills, appraisal skills and so on.

Most of all, good project managers MANAGE. They do not just get swept along by the current (see The Tale of Three Project Managers). They grab the project by the scruff of the neck and manage it.

However, it is sometimes the case that project managers do not feel sufficiently empowered to manage and control the things/people they need to manage and control in order to be successful. This problem has a solution.

The sponsor should make it clear to everyone that the project manager is operating with the sponsor's full authority: "take issue with the project manager and you are taking issue with me; disagree with him and you are disagreeing with me; I don't care how senior you are, what the project manager says is what I say. Now if he's obviously got it completely wrong come and have a word with me, but other than that what he says is what I say."

Will the sponsor think of making some public pronouncement like that at the beginning of a project? Probably not. Whose job is to write the script for the sponsor? Yes, the project manager's.

How many project managers should a project have? One. That is, one reporting to the sponsor. The project manager may need others below him managing parts of the project or specialist teams, but there is only one project manager accountable directly to the project sponsor.


Project Manager Career Path

And who should this project manager be? An IT person, a business person, an external consultant? If the project is installing new servers with little or no effect on the users (one hopes) it may well be appropriate for an IT person to manage that project. But a project to develop a new software system that will run a key part of the company's business? That is a key business project and should be run by a business person. A significant proportion of the project team will be business users and they will do the most important tasks in the project: defining the business requirements and ensuring the proposed system design meets the business requirements and will be useable.

However, because process-based companies don't naturally breed project managers there may be nobody in the business with the requisite project management skills. This is an argument for nurturing project management skills in the business, not an argument for leaving it all to IT. Some companies, recognising that projects determine their future, are actively growing PM skills in the business. Training is obviously part of the answer. For non-critical projects assigning a business person to the role of project manager supported by a PM from IT aids skills transference. For a large project, bringing in a consultant project manager and assigning a business person as his deputy can also be an effective way of learning the project management ropes.

(Though beware some consultant project managers: bringing in a Californian PM who knows he can get the project done in 6 months when everyone else thinks it'll take a year can be dangerous. You may discover too late that his 6 months pre-supposed the project team would work 90 hours a week whenever he asked them to. Whilst that may have been true on his previous project in Silicon Valley, public sector employees in provincial England may feel more comfortable sticking to their regulation 35 hour week and give such a suggestion pretty short shrift.)

In larger process-based companies that nevertheless need to do an increasing number of projects to live long and prosper, it may be appropriate to have a small group of professional project managers reporting to a Director who acts as their career manager (the Change Director on the project organisation chart). These PMs could be ex-IT, ex-Finance, ex-consultants - but their passports now say "Project Manager" rather than "Accountant" or whatever. These '3 star' project managers would stand ready to manage the company's major projects. And if the project manager's line manager is a Director the project manager comes with a degree of ready made authority.

Two star PMs might be business line managers who from time to time manage medium sized projects, and one star PMs are business people just dipping their toes into the project management water. But we have a conscious project manager development programme within the business.

If projects determine the company's future it may be wise to have senior, competent, professional project managers managing those projects.

What's the difference between a project manager and a project director? About fifty thousand a year. Someone managing a really big project will often have the title project director to reflect the scale of the role. So our 3 star PMs may often take on the title project director when managing large projects.

Strictly speaking programmes never end - projects do. BMW might have a never ending (they hope) 3 Series programme. Within that there will be a project to develop the next version of the BMW 3 Series and even an overlapping project to start thinking about the 3 Series model after that. However, you will sometimes find large one-hit projects referred to as programmes. They may consist of many parallel projects (e.g. software development, hardware installation, office move, user training) which will all end at more or less the same time. The boss is called the Programme Director and may have many (sub) project managers reporting to him. Titles don't matter too much as long as the roles and responsibilities are clear.

Speaking of titles, the HR department in some organisations inhibits progression to a more project-friendly culture. In one example the HR department refused point blank to allow a person to take on the role title of project manager because he wasn't a Manager grade employee. And the idea of giving someone the title of project director would have been enough to cause apoplexy up there in HR's ivory tower. Also, in some parts of the public sector it can be difficult to pluck someone from the ranks, give them the temporary title of project manager and pay them a bonus if they bring the project home successfully. That upsets quite a few applecarts. All part of the process-based, project-inhibiting culture that we need to work to overcome.

Project Management qualifications are increasingly popular. However, if someone has attended a 5 day course and passed the end of course exam (Prince2, PMI, APM, ISEB, etc) that of itself tells you nothing about that person's ability to manage projects.

Have we covered everything a project manager needs to do? Not yet. You might say that the whole of this book is about what the project manager has to do or get someone else to do for him.

 

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Project Management Book
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