Project Management Software
Specialists in Project Infrastructure
As project managers we assume everyone sees a need for a professionally trained or experienced project manager on every project. It is sometimes a shock to find that non project people see a project manager as an unnecessary overhead. Often we need to justify why a project manager should be involved. This white paper sets out to list the reasons for employing the services of a project manager.
Differences to Operational Business Areas
A project is different to 'business as usual' in the following way.
All this leads to the following differences in managing a project:
Given the difference between the requirements of an operational management role, and a project management role, can a typical manager easily slip between the two? The answer is sometimes, but not always. The skills required are often very different.
I was asked to look at one project which was managed by a production manager. Whilst it produced reports on schedule, and seemed to be tightly controlled, it was not making progress. After meeting with most of the team, it became clear that the management was totally inflexible. If three weeks were allocated to a particular task, that is how long was spent on the task. If in reality the task took one week or six weeks to do properly, the team still spent three weeks. If it became clear there was a better way to go forward, it was not taken up. Deviating from the schedule was heresy. Problems were mounting and not being addressed because they were outside the original plan. In fact the manager proudly told me that there had been no need to adjust the plan from the original schedule created some nine months before.
This blinkered approach did not suit a project where things change on a daily, if not hourly basis. A project is not a production line. A project is like a plant. You know approximately what it will look like, but it doesn't grow to a blueprint. It changes and evolves as it grows. A good production line manager may not make a good project manager.
Managing people in an operational area is usually much easier than a project area. If a person has a repeatable piece of work they are trained for, and know how to do, the management effort is not significant. If on the other hand, the person is not trained for the job, it is not their main job, and they have competing priorities, management is more difficult. On top of this, when there is a degree of uncertainty, there is usually stress. You put together different functional representatives with different drivers, different priorities and different expectations. Add to this wildly fluctuation workload and you have a major management issue. Project burn out is a real risk
Project management is increasingly becoming a people stress management role. The really good project managers are the ones who can manage people through the stress of a high demand project. They spend 80% of their time managing the project, and 20% to ensure the people are still motivated and involved. They use the carrot rather than the stick.
The project manager who sees people as "live assets" rather than "human resources" may have a role in a project that is in crisis. It is the equivalent of the person who takes charge on a battlefield and makes autonomous decisions when nobody knows what to do. People will follow because they have no alternative. Using the same approach in an environment where everyone has a different view just doesn't work as well. It is leadership by volume. The louder you shout the more you think you can influence people. People react by either defiance, or by doing exactly what is requested and no more.
Impact of Poor Project Management
I was told of a project for a US Bank that required people to work 80 hours a week over a number of months to meet deadlines. When the project was in its second year, there was a change in senior management and the project was cancelled without notice. The de-motivation was incredible. People were asked to return to their old jobs and carry on as though nothing had happened. Many just walked out. Others returned but were poisonous in their departments. They were so angry at the management they became a liability and many were eventually fired. In a few months they went from highly motivated company workers to disillusioned employees.
Would project management have helped?
By better project management, perhaps the warning signs that the project was at risk could have been communicated. Expectations could have been managed. Perhaps better project management could have refocused the project to smaller deliverables in shorter timeframes, or a complete re-scoping of the project. All these are the normal activities of a project manager. Any experienced, people oriented project manager will understand these sorts of potential issues. By project managing the close down of the project, many of the employees could have been salvaged.
Project Manager Value
The value a project manager adds is to a project is:
Note that none of the things above relate to gathering requirements, cutting code or data conversion. They all relate to managing the work and the people. The flip side of the coin is that without a project manager, there is likely to be:
The skills required by a project manager are different to those of an operational manager. An operational manager does not necessarily make a good project manager - and vice versa. Project management is about focusing everyone on a goal, and managing the resources and workload to achieve that goal. All this in a high stress, deadline driven environment. Projects requires trained professionals with project management expertise.