What do Project Managers do?

24 August, 2015

A disturbing feature of many job adverts for Project Managers is the requirement to manage multiple projects. Is this just another symptom of the cost-cutting mantra- do more with less? Or is project management really just a part-time job? Having pondered on this for a while, Velopi’s response is to kick to touch – it depends!

If you are involved in the initiation and planning of a project, you certainly would not agree. The project management initiating and planning processes listed in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK© Guide) comprise over 55% of the total. But anyone who has studied for the Project Management Professional (PMP)© exam will be aware of another process group that requires the Project Manager’s attention during the early parts of any project – namely the executing processes.

One of the things that always confuses students on PMP© courses is the process group. Because these process groups roughly align with phases, the PMP© students invariably think that “execution” processes should occur during the “executing” phase of the project. Instead these are processes that the Project Manager needs to execute and what makes things confusing is that some of these have to be done in the initiating / planning phases.

For instance, a great team building exercise is to get the team involved in project planning – it makes them part of the process and lets everyone share in the bigger picture. This implies that acquiring the project team must be done during initiation or early in the planning phase. Similarly, the conduct procurements process might have to be completed early to provide resources for the project. For instance, your project team might contain external contractors. External or not, they need to be integrated into the team in the same way as the in-house staff.

So lots of things go on at the start of a project and the Project Manager is knee deep in all this. Trying to plan more than one project at the same time would lead either to (1) poorly planned projects and/or (2) an insane Project Manager. If you are including the project planning work then we would definitely come down on the one Project Manager, one project side.

However, what happens after the kick-off meeting? Here it depends on what sort of expectations your organization has of its Project Managers. If you want them to track status and report progress then a part-time Project Manager could work. If you only obtain status updates once a week and the Project Manager can access expenditure figures and risk status then one day a week should be enough to update the project records and to inform the stakeholders of what is going on. It should be possible to have a single Project Manager monitor and control five projects.

Seasoned Project Management Professionals are chuckling softly to themselves at this point. If project management was simply a data collection and distribution exercise, it would not be the responsible role that it is. Experienced Project Managers know that projects rarely proceed according to plan and obtaining status is often the least of their worries.

For many front-line Project Managers the Issue (or IAD – Issues/Actions/Decisions) Log takes up a good deal of the week. Stakeholders’ issues need to be dealt with and, more importantly, need to appear to be dealt with. Similarly, any change requests have to be fielded and convincing arguments established for rejecting such a request.

Then of course there is that subtle project management process called direct and manage project work. How many of us have ever had a highly competent team that did not need any carrots or sticks to do their best? How many of us have had a truly harmonious team where disagreements are resolved logically and objectively? What with risks (foreseen and unforeseen), dodgy sub-contractors, changing market conditions (and the associated scope changes) and demanding stakeholders, your typical Project Manager has plenty to do guiding, cajoling, deciding, threatening, explaining and ensuring that the whole experience is correctly documented and status is available at any given time.

However, organizations that want to get the most value from their Project Managers might consider the Project Management Office approach and allow the Project Managers to specialize. You might have some Project Managers who are gifted at planning and scheduling, while others are more at home on the front-lines, managing the teams. The planning specialists can assist many projects at once, while the specialist front-line Project Managers can drive several projects through to delivery.

If you are unfamiliar with project management, you can learn the basics in either our one-day Introduction to Project Management course or our two-day Project Management Essentials course. For experienced practitioners, you should consider a Project Management Professional (PMP)© exam preparation course. These are held in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway for your convenience. If you are interested in the Project Management Office concept, our one-day Introduction to the Project Management Office is for you. For more details of these and other courses, please visit our web-site or contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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