“Where do you work? What is Project Management? What does a Project Manager do?” I’m inevitably asked these questions at every dinner party, social gathering, and family event. Depending on the audience, however, my answer changes every time I respond. The easiest explanation is: “I run projects for my company.” This is the answer with the broadest stroke to the canvas that is my world and the easiest to understand. However, this answer is also the least descriptive of what I actually do, so I want to explain the important role that project management plays.
The industry has created endless definitions of Project Management and everyone -I mean everyone- has an opinion on what a project manager should do. The description in the Information Technology (IT) industry differs from the same job title in Power or Oil & Gas and the same goes for the medical field or the construction industry. You might be surprised to learn that the opinions of your coworkers can be as differentiated as those across industries.
According to PMI® A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge® (PMBOK® Guide), project management is “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements. I also polled my office, and my co-workers say:
“Project Manager: A person with the responsibility to ensure the delivery of the project scope on time without the direct reports or control of resources to make it happen.” – Response 1
“To me, a project manager is an expert that is responsible for taking a project from planning to completion.” – Response 2
“It is like running a chariot race with 6 dead horses and still being expected to win the race.” – Response 3
“Team member with responsibilities of planning, coordinating, and implementing internal and external project resources while interfacing with all project-related customer and supplier parties.” – Response 4
“Glorified babysitter” – Response 5
“A project manager is the main point of contact for the customer, all vendors, and the internal activities. They are the stewards of the budget and schedule.” – Response 6
As you can see, even within my own office, opinions differ. Move outside of my industry and the disparity is even greater.
“An organizational leader dedicated to the imposition of order upon chaos, even if chaos is perfectly happy with the status quo.”
“Professional herder of wet cats.”
“Someone who solves a problem you did not know you had in a way you do not understand. See also, wizard, magician, leprechaun.”
Someone who does precision guesswork based on unreliable data provided by those of questionable knowledge.”
“One who is tasked with completing a project on-time, on budget, and with the best quality.”
A project manager is all these things and more. For myself, the best definition of a project manager is, “The single point of contact tasked with the responsibility and accountability of the project, without the authority to do things autonomously”. To break down this definition, the Project Manager must find ways to manage customer expectations, the use of resources that they do not supervise, and suppliers’ needs against project needs.
Project Management is no longer just the rigid division of tasks. Instead, it relies on multiple dynamic approaches, tools, and processes. The Project Manager must possess an arsenal of management methodologies at their disposal to apply the correct methods, tools, and processes to achieve the expected project goals. There are 10+ processes that can be used to manage a project and 5 phases of project management according to PMI. The Project Manager must rely on expert instincts to determine which techniques will result in a successful project. Since each project is different in scope of supply, customer expectations, risk mitigation, and resources, there is not a best method for all projects.
What does a project manager bring to the table?
Project Managers bring excellent time management skills, budgeting expertise, and superior teamwork capabilities, along with the ability to motivate the team, to the unique projects they encounter.
Why is project management important?
“Can’t we just brief the team doing the work and manage it ourselves? It’ll be loads cheaper.” You might wonder if you really need a project manager because, on paper, it looks like an unnecessary cost. But, consider whether you can afford to not invest in project management. Without experienced project management, what holds the team, client, and suppliers together? Who is left to navigate the project changes, challenges, and obstacles? Who will identify the opportunities hidden in the sea of comments, questions, and requests?
Great project management means more than keeping management’s iron triangle in check. It is delivering the required scope on time, within budget, and at the highest quality. It unites clients and teams, creates a vision for success, invokes buy-in from team members and shareholders, and positions the team to achieve success. When projects are managed properly, the positive impact reverberates beyond simple delivery of the equipment; it bolsters the company’s underlying reputation and increases its standing in the marketplace.
From that, the question clearly should be reframed: can you afford not to engage a project manager in your organization?