Tuesday 7 December 2021

What does a project manager really do?

From time to time we are asked this old-world question: "What does a project manager do?" 


You might think that by today the exact answer is already known, but it is obvious that this is not the case. Indeed, we know what the project manager is responsible for, namely for such useful things as planning, organizing, monitoring and control, i.e. for "management". 


But none of this explains to the uninitiated what exactly this person is really doing – all day and every day!

A few years ago, a classic executive insisted that the best project managers should do "delegation." The idea was that you didn't have to run around all day with your tongue on your shoulder. With the growing skill, the project manager had to be able to relieve himself of all his responsibilities and sit with his feet on the table. 


We have cherished this dream for many years and did everything possible to realize it. The problem with this scenario is that in reality, bosses expect you to do something, by and large, it doesn't even matter what, just to do something. People who have served in the military are familiar with such a mushtra. 


Wherever you go, hold a folder or an official-looking document in your hand. With such a "pass" you can go anywhere and anytime for as long as you want – and you will not be asked questions. But as a project manager, bury the idea that you could organize your work so well that you would really have time to sit at your desk with your legs up on it.

Then there was another "hit of the season" – an urgent order to "manage by watching everyone." At first glance, a very reasonable thing, and moreover, it made it possible to know what and where is really happening. But not in the project.

If there is a good prospect, everyone knows about it and is strongly motivated by it, then the last thing that project team members need is for some "business" manager to walk around and put his nose into someone else's work, distracting them from fruitful ideas.

So what does a good project manager do all day? The best answer we can come to is, "Be creative and communicate effectively," and effective communication can be both formal and informal. 


But whatever it is, it means essentially the same thing: conversations with people seasoned with a good listening ability. It's funny that such concepts rarely appear in serious project management texts!

You may ask, what is creative thinking in general and why is it needed? 


Remember that no project is executed exactly as well as the previous ones, so someone, or rather the project manager, must think through all the branches and nods of the project plan to ensure that it will work and / or is already working, and that potential problems or obstacles can be minimized or completely avoided. Some call this risk management. 

Either way, there are always unique problems that need to be addressed, and the project manager is the position that should solve them best.

What is effective communication, and what is it for? 


Receiving information from people who have it, weeding, synthesizing or interpreting it, passing information on to people who need it, and convincing people to act on that information. We think this is happening on several levels. 

The first and main level of communication is that the project manager provides communication with the sponsor, client, customer or other person in whose hands the sources of financing are located.

This connection includes things like identifying customer requirements, cultivating customer trust, engaging the client in collaboration and properly sharing responsibility for the project, being attentive to changing priorities and guidelines, and avoiding the spread and dilution of project goals and content. That is, managing expectations by freeing the project from inappropriate external influences and irrelevant, undesirable, not budgeted work. 


And also - the conclusion of contracts with suppliers, subcontractors and other parties, negotiating to increase the priority of their project in their lists. And, of course, standard team activities remain: holding meetings, distributing minutes of meetings and monitoring decisions.

Then there's the role of "people management manager." Identify constraints and "plug holes." Convince supporting units that they need to do their job, not dump it back on your people. 

Persuading people to come to a project, taking care of their motivation and looking after them, and abandoning them when they are no longer needed is perhaps the hardest part of all of the above. 


Then there is the necessary standard set of actions for managing the project team – meetings, open communication, reports on changes in the project plan, clearing (preparing) the way for the Next Important Operation. 


Another aspect of this work is the obligation to be "the person who accepts the results of the team's work." And if these results do not meet the requirements, you will have to spend a lot of effort on explanations.

Finally, the role of responsible for the shipment of the product of the entire project. This is the role whereby the project manager reports to the sponsor, client, or customer about the results of the project. 


This is not an easy task, and its implementation in the literature, in our opinion, is also given too little attention. It involves a huge amount of work on the verification and approval of the product in all its aspects, such as: functionality, quality criteria, etc. This is where, as they say, "the fun begins.

But finally, your project is complete. 


If it has a resounding success, remember that it is the result of the heroic and persistent efforts of your project team members – and for these efforts they should be rewarded fairly. On the other hand, if a project fails, remember that it's entirely your fault. 


This failure has nothing to do with the ineligibility, incompetence, apathy, hibernation, laziness, idleness, stubbornness, or resistance of your people. As well as interference, stupidity, incompetence (etc., etc.) of the leadership. Have a successful career in project management!

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