Being a Project Manager

09 May, 2014

What is a project manager? If you are a Project Management Professional (PMP)®, you will probably say it is someone who applies knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. As an encore, you might go on to explain that a project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. Even without PMP® training, you probably have a good idea what a project manager is – the person who makes it all happen, the conductor of the orchestra.

But what is involved in making projects happen? What does a project manager do on a day-to-day basis? For hands-on, technical workers, this is a difficult question. Because many project managers today have been promoted through the ranks and, while extremely skilled in their work, have no idea what management – and specifically project management – is all about. The biggest tendency for people in that position is to revert to what’s most familiar and spend the bulk of their time doing what they did before. So, the project manager takes comfort in writing programs or writing editorials or anything that feels like real work.

Because that’s the big difference between being a manager and a worker: managers are not supposed to work. No, instead they provide the environment where work gets done. On PMP® courses, you will see “management skills” cited as being very important for project managers. But, whatever about the skills, understanding your role as a project manager is vital.

Your first responsibility is to know where the project is at. At any given moment, you need to know how the project is faring and be able to articulate that status to any stakeholder that needs to know. PMP® training is a huge help here. The structure of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) provides a useful framework to focus your attention. As a project manager, you need to integrate scope, schedule, budget, quality, human resources, communications, risk, procurement and stakeholder management. Reviewing that lot every day will keep you busy!

Scope really anchors the whole project: what needs to get done? Well, what has been done so far? Have we met obstacles trying to achieve any of the components of our unique product or service? That unique aspect ensures that we are often pushing back the envelope in project work and we regularly find ourselves trying to do things that have never been tried before. In other words, disasters are commonplace, and the project manager needs to be aware of these uncertainties and flag them as risks.

The schedule is your next concern. PMP® courses call this Project Time Management and it is probably the area most associated with project management. You only have a limited amount of time to do the work, so how are we tracking in relation to our estimated schedule? Novice project managers often tend to hide slips in the schedule. We seem to be innate optimists – expecting the project to return, miraculously on track. Do not ever do this. If the project is running behind schedule, it is your job to know this; it is your job to flag it and it is your job to come up with ways to get things back on track.

This is a very important part of the job. When you report schedule slippages, or budget overruns, or other problems with the project, senior managers are not going to be happy. But they are realists – projects are inherently risky, so they expect problems. PMPs® who struggled with budgeting will never forget the concept of “management reserve” – extra funding available to handle unknown unknowns. So contingency is always built into every project to cope with risks materialising. However, the project manager cannot simply stand up and report a problem without also reporting a plan of action to address the problem.

In fact, the wise project manager will suggest a range of possible solutions and open these up for discussion. It is much better for the project manager to state that the schedule is slipping, or the scope is not being met, or whatever the problem is together with possible remedial action. The important thing for your future in a project management role is that you become associated with solutions and not problems.

Keeping an eye on things and knowing what to do if things go wrong is all very well. But what makes project managers into grim-faced men and women is the front-line fire-fighting work that goes on all the time. When someone has a problem, they turn to you to fix it. When something goes wrong, the project manager gets the blame. This is where your expertise helps out. Knowing the industry allows you to understand the problem and offer suggestions for its solution. The important thing is not to dive in and fix the problem yourself. Instead take the opportunity to guide one of the team through the solution. That’s another part of project management – developing the project team.

Project management is difficult and can be a thankless job. But consider working towards a certificate in project management – it will put a structure on the chaos and clarify for you what you, as a project manager, need to do. Velopi’s PMP 4 day exam preparation courses are run in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. For more information, please visit our training page or contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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