What Project Managers Do

11 August, 2014

As part of Velopi’s Blended Learning Solution, we provide our students with assistance in making their application to sit the PMP® exam. An important part of the PMP® exam application is breaking your project management experienced down across the five process groups – initiating, planning, executing, monitoring / controlling and closing. Often, a student’s first attempt will look like this:

What is happening here is a mistake that many potential PMPs® make: They define the majority of the work they do after the planning phase as executing. This is a reasonable thing to do – after all, executing is where the bulk of the project’s budget will be spent, so it should figure prominently in the Project Manager’s experience too.

However, remember what a manager is for. A manager is not supposed to do work – instead s/he is supposed to create the conditions where work can get done. In other words, while the team is executing the plan, the Project Manager should be monitoring and controlling what happens.

That being said, there is still work for the Project Manager to do. S/he is responsible for acquiring the project team and developing them into a cohesive unit. S/he must also distribute project information and keep the stakeholders satisfied. If procurements are involved, the Project Manager must select vendors and award contracts. Of course, we must not forget the executing process from the Integration knowledge area: direct and manage project work. This is where the Project Manager explains how the plan affects each team member and assigns work as appropriate. Managing project work is closely related to managing the project team – the Project Manager needs to ensure that work is being done and creating the conditions where there are no obstacles in the project team’s way

Everything else the Project Manager does should be considered monitoring and controlling. Project Managers are often technical experts and may, during the course of the project, be called upon to advise on certain issues. However, these interventions come about because of problems with status. While monitoring the project work, the Project Manager might realize that something is not proceeding as planned and investigates. Alternatively, the team may approach the manager for advice on an issue that has arisen. Before taking action, the Project Manager needs to review the overall project to ensure that an intervention will not have detrimental effects elsewhere. S/he would also use the change control process to allow proper consideration of the proposed action.

Unfortunately, many Project Managers spend a great deal of time engaging in an activity called “firefighting”. However, it is important to appreciate that firefighting comes under the monitoring and controlling process group. Project Managers get into these situations mainly due to poor planning, in particular, poor risk planning. Instead of scanning the horizon for events noted in the Risk Register and triggering contingency plans as appropriate, the unwary Project Manager stumbles from one crisis to the next, often making quick fixes without regard for the long-term consequences. A hallmark of a Project Management Professional is a cool head and an appreciation of the need to be in control.

To be in control, the Project Manager needs to be aware of what is going on in the project. This is where monitoring comes in. Is the work getting done? How is the project tracking against the schedule? Are we still within budget? Are the quality steps – design reviews, inspections – taking place and are they finding defects? Have any risk trigger conditions been satisfied? Have risks that have not manifested been removed from consideration? How are our procurement contracts going? Are we keeping close tabs on progress there? Again this is something that needs to be built into any contract – the right to obtain ongoing status. How about our stakeholders? Are they getting the information they need? Are the communications channels effective? Do we need to consider different ways of interacting with these people?

Factoring in all this work into the Monitoring / Controlling process group, your experience breakdown should look more like this:

In 2001, Tom DeMarco stated that the second law of bad management is to “Put yourself in as your own utility infielder”. In other words, if a low level job needs doing and everyone’s busy, do it yourself. New Project Managers often find themselves doing this – the hands-on technical work is reassuringly familiar and a lot more tangible than the politics and people management that Project Management requires. Once you get to Project Manager level, you need to move from worrying about how to do a particular task, to how that task can be facilitated by providing the right environment and resources to the team. It is their role to worry about how to do the task.

Velopi’s project management training courses cover all aspects of project management, including the five process groups. If this is an area of interest to you, our project management certification courses are held in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. Find out more by visiting our training page or by contacting us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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