The Accidental Project Manager – Part 2

Or, Improving the Perceived Value of Project Management

In Part 1, we talked about how some people end up with the title “project manager”.  It sometimes seems that organizations created the position of project manager so they will have someone to ask about project status and someone to blame when a project goes south. This is sometimes due to project management being seen as a task, not a career or profession. In addition, project managers are rarely part of the greater management team—those who possess knowledge, vision, and skills essential to driving the organization. So why is a function so critical to project and business success trivialized and minimized in the organization?  Or better yet, how do we help project managers become more respected or valued?

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar)

A bit of history
In 19th and 20th century business models (think Henry Ford), projects were activities outside of business-as-usual. Projects were managed ad hoc, operated for a short time, and then disbanded. According to Wikipedia on the history of project management, the 1950s marked the beginning of the modern project management as a specialized field with the advent of formal mathematical project-scheduling tools.

As Information Technology matured in the latter half of the 20th century to become profitable businesses, projects became business models in many companies. Perhaps because those who managed IT projects were technically trained rather than business trained, managing projects was deemed a support function rather than a skill essential to success. Companies valued those who brought project dollars in the door more highly than those responsible for executing the project.  As Harold Kerzner states in his book Advanced Project Management, “For almost 35 years project management was viewed as a process that might be nice to have, but not one that was necessary for the survival of the organization.”

How to improve the perception of value
As a reader of Fear No Project, you know I believe strongly that project management can be done well or done badly. Project management is a profession, and businesses that understand, embrace and reward effective project management will do better in the marketplace than those that do not.  So, how does a project manager or project management organization (PMO) improve the over-all corporate perception of its value?

Think like a CEO when you interact with clients, create status reports, ask for resources, make assignments, establish priorities, create benchmarks, monitor expenses:

  • Consider the value of your project in terms of corporate identity and long-range plans. (To the CEO, projects are rarely ends in themselves, but part of a bigger picture.)
  • Understand the importance of risk identification and risk management
  • Work to get new customers and keep existing customers happy
  • Look for and become an advocate for opportunities
  • Think outcome not process (process is what you do, outcome is the result)
  • Solve problems do not present them. In the words of a CEO Curt Finch, “Be an executor and not an academic.”  If you cannot solve the problem, see “Talk like a CFO”.

Talk like a CFO when you create a project budget, present project status, or identify and solve project issues:

  • Know the status of key project tasks at all times
  • Become comfortable assessing costs of labor, time, success, and failure
  • Talk in dollars made, dollars lost, and dollars at risk
  • Evaluate recommendations in terms of ROI (return on investments) and ROA (return on assets)
  • Project costs forward relative to project budget
  • Present possible negative outcomes that might result from failure to follow correct PM processes in terms of tangible costs and intangible impact on reputation

Sell like a Salesman by using data and specifics. Your instincts and intuition—based on years of project experience—may be correct. However, real data talks louder and with more credibility than opinions, no matter how well founded.

  • Use costs and LOE estimates based on previous project experiences
  • Track project costs in terms of actual versus planned costs
  • Apply predictive scheduling to show dependencies and implications of schedule variations
  • Analyze prior project debriefings or lessons learned. Use summary data to backup recommendations or conclusions
  • When presenting opportunities, quantify the risks and benefits of action and inaction
  • Check out Jimmie White’s post “Selling the Value of Project Management”. He references a new report from PMI that promises specific research data on project management value added.

Act like a politician when you engage executives, stakeholders, customers, and other parts of the organization:

  • Know what is important to the person you are talking to
  • Form a relationship with the influencers and decision makers
  • Learn to negotiate in order to be successful

Alright, so you start behaving and performing with these four attributes – what does this do?  It begins a process that shows a huge difference between the accidental project manager and the dedicated professional.  I have always held the belief that if you want to be something, like a vice president or manager, then start behaving like you are one.  And the best way to show an organization the value of a good project manager is to perform.  I am not saying this will be a quick process, but I will bet that when you and all career PMs start behaving and performing this way, your organization will take notice and have a new respect and value for the profession and role.

So what do you think?  Do you face any of these challenges in your organization?  Please leave me a comment or suggestion on how to address the culture of accidental project management.

The Accidental Project Manager – Part 1

Did you hear the one about Jim? It seems that the boss called the project team together and asked a volunteer to step forward to manage the project. Instantly, everyone but Jim (because they knew the drill) stepped back. Congratulations Jim, you are now a project manager.

I am appalled when I encounter the attitude toward project management reflected in the above anecdote.  In the minds of some managers and executives, a project manager is just the person who could not do anything else useful. That attitude is so wrong and so damaging to the project, the organization, and the profession. Poorly managed projects lead to cost over-runs, failures to deliver what the client wanted on time (or even at all), and often is a valid reason that developers look for alternate employers. It also undermines the value that good and professional project managers bring to a project.

The Basics
So, thinking of Jim, who became a manager by accident, here are some resources to help get your management feet on the ground. I want you to see project management as an opportunity not a penalty. Project management can be fun. Effective project management makes a difference, period. In addition, being a good project manager can become a career path.

Being a project manager requires knowledge, skills, attitude, and tools. It all may seem a bit overwhelming, so here are some resource suggestions that may help. First, step back and reflect on the project managers who know, have worked with, wish you had worked with, or glad you didn’t. Can you summarize character traits and behaviors that distinguished the good project managers from the bad ones? Try to emulate what you respected.

Learn what being a project manager is about from professionals. One place to start is the Project Management Institute which is a non-profit organization dedicated to the profession of project management (Most of the time – I will cover that one in another post). Membership offers guidance and resources including PM Network, Project Management Journal, and PMI Today. But mostly it is the PM Body of Knowledge that they have nurtured that gives the practitioners something to guide the profession.  There are many other valuable resources available and I have listed some of my favorite project management blogs and websites in a past post – Bruce’s Favorites.

Scott Berkun, one of my favorite bloggers, posted an interesting take on this conundrum of project management as a profession and not just a glorified administrator in his thought piece, Why Project Managers Get No Respect. Scott suggests that to gain respect for project management, PMs should focus on achieving and communicating outcomes. The process minutiae are what you know has to be done to achieve the desired outcome. However, the ability to predictably produce desired outcomes is what differentiates a professional project manager from an accidental one.  

What about project management tools?
Professional project managers know the status of their project, they create schedules and assignments that make sense, they know when trouble is on the horizon, they solve problems, and they keep stakeholders informed. Your basic PM tools must cover scheduling, budgeting, communication.  Looking back over previous posts at Fear No Project, here are three that focus on the tools and techniques professional project managers use.

Predictive Scheduling

Collaboration Tools for Virtual Project Teams

Why Projects Fail

Next week, I will look at how to make project management and project managers valued positions in your organization. Meanwhile, any comments or suggestions are encouraged.

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