Wednesday, 01 December 2010 09:19

How Bad Project Managers are Killing the Profession

Written by Jim Hannon
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Feature_Feature_Dec1I often sit in meetings and either being the PM or the development manager I  see eyes roll when you discuss project management. This response is sometimes baffling and also is somewhat warranted in certain cases. In this article I will attempt to lay the groundwork on why there is an internal destruction of the project management profession by some of it own members and what we can do about it.

The profession has a number of current and future challenges that we must address.

Current Challenges

The first comment I like to refer to is the statement "The PM is just a note taker."

As in every project it is essential that a complete and current status is always available to senior management but there always has to be a fine line. In today's resource constrained world the project team does not react well to people who do add value at any level. It is essential that the PM fully understands this mentality and in order to lead your team you must BE involved . I see too often people take on the PM mantle and place a divide between them and the team. The PM wants the project to move and has too many things to watch. In this case the PM must know when to intervene and use monitoring tools, both hard and soft, to identify issues before they arise.

The second comment is "The PM speaks in lingo I cannot understand."

This is a very common issue that you see with the new PM who feels an overwhelming need to put in practice their newly found tools. In the past I have found that the minute you present a full gantt chart to a team or a team member their eyes glaze over. I have found through past experiences if you slice and package the data that you have in the project plan people will be much more receptive. The other side to the comment is that all levels of project management have a tendency to fall back on the standard tools to validate their findings. In this case you need to stand your ground but be very sure you have validated the output of of your analysis because senior management will be making quick decisions if needed based off your recommendations. The PM should remember it is about getting the project done in the standard constraints and not baffling with terms they do not understand.

The third comment is "The PM is just an obstacle and adds really no value."

This is probably the toughest one to counter as this erodes the PM's ability on all levels. The project team and likely the stakeholders feel the PM role is a necessary evil. The team has dealt with too many projects where the failure rate is high and the PM did not either play an active role or failed to meet the standard level of performance that all PMs should be measured to daily. The big issue in this comment is that as a PM you need to work every day to add value to the project. The reader may ask "I manage tasks not do them", well guess what; the tasks make the project a success. If you do not understand this fact the general inclination is to become more administrative.You as the person who runs the project also needs to understand at some level the tasks being accomplished and be ready to roll up the sleeves and get your hands dirty.

Future Challenges

The future challenges the profession face is the continued use of outsourced teams and across multiple time zones.

The industry that you are in has either embraced outsourcing or is looking to put some level of capital in an outsourced relationship. In the current environment PMs usually view these relationships as more headache than they are worth. I would have a tendency to agree that some relationships will never work. You see some companies taking back overseas operations due to a high level of customer complaints. However you also see some relationships, look to the production of the iPhone, as a prime example. The PM must learn to embrace this way of doing business and see the value the PM can add. In most projects you may deal with 1,2 or more time zones. The issue of communication and expectations becomes even more important. The PM today should specifically foster these managing outsourced teams and promote their skill. The PM should look outside the box at international PM organizations and methodologies such as Prince2.

The PM ten years ago simply did the project plan, managed the project to the best of their ability and went to the next project. In today's world the PMs are dealing with new technology but also real time reporting requirements. The profession gets hurt when the PM does not demand a reporting platform that is Internet based and real time. There are numerous low cost alternatives that can be tried on a trial basis to convince senior management. The need for quicker, better and more project and especially risk reporting will only grow in the coming years.

The project today also takes on multiple heads and usually impacts the series of processes and applications that the business has tied together. This trend will only grow in the years to come. The PM will need to play a stringer team builder role more than ever as companies merge and systems are consolidated . The PM will need to direct the team, make sure the right questions are being asked to the right users. This is the area where today we all fall to some extent. The project meeting was just conducted as one of your senior team members states did anyone think of asking the folks down the hall " will this impact them" The PM can add standard checkpoints in the project plan to complete analysis on all proposed downstream systems.

I hope this article is not taken as a critical hammer to my profession but we need to learn each day that the profession, like every profession must show value to be considered worthwhile.

Don't Forget to Leave Your Comments Below

Jim Hannon has over fifteen years of diversified experience in the Information Technology and Financial Services Industries, functioning primarily as a Senior Project Manager/Lead Business Analyst/Program Manager with proven experience in trading systems and numerous financial applications domestically and global. Jim currently holds his MBA, PMP, PM-RMP and is certified in Prince 2 fundamentals. Jim is planning on sitting for the PgMP and PM-SP in the next 6 months.  Jim also teaches Project Management at Boston University and Excelsior College and created the PM program at Excelsior. Jim is also a Senior Professor at Cambridge College. Jim works for a major IT firm and also has a consulting firm The Bentley Group, which offers PM and Business Analysis services.

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-1 # a guest 2010-12-01 05:06
Nice article. A PM should be engaging stakeholders and be clear on their process. Too often I have seen teh PM take notes, then get up and leave,as I wondered where the collaboration was, transparency and deliverables. My background includes a Masters degree in Project Management, which the PM's are not aware however it does have me questionning the process and ability to facilitate an shared approach. Then I hear PM's complain behind closed doors about the client. Or, their inability to understand. Guess what, not all will understand however soem do. For those who do not, then would a possible option be to offer some training so they are familiar with the process. And why a dedicated SME is important, for example. Or, who should be involved in testing withina live environment? How many PM's begin the session by asking their clients how they will evaluate their project? What are their indicators of success? Or, from a business point of view, what are the business outcomes? Is the business/operat ions manager your partner? Or, do they simply delegate and blame?
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0 # a guest 2010-12-01 05:08
Senior Management must be on board as well. If they do not support a PM culture - even a great PM culture, the PM will suffer. Great article. I observe this behavior in new PM's and they need to overcome these limitations to add greater value.
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0 # a guest 2010-12-01 05:08
you wrote: "However you also see some relationships, look to the production of the iPhone, as a prime example." What does that mean? What about the iPhone and what relationships? I assume you're pointing to a success case of outsourcing. can you be more specific?
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0 # a guest 2010-12-01 05:09
Should this say? ...the project team does not react well to people who do "not" add value at any level. Instead of ...the project team does not react well to people who do add value at any level.
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0 # a guest 2010-12-01 05:18
...the project team does not react well to people who do add value... I think the opposite is probably what the author intended.
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+1 # Confused reader 2010-12-01 08:25
Shouldn't this article be titled: "How a lack of proof-reading is killing this article"
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+1 # GottaBeKidding 2010-12-01 09:13
After the third very obvious typo/missing word, I gave up on reading this article. I expect a higher degree of professionalism in articles of this nature. Was there any review / oversight conducted before publishing this article? Or was it rattled off as ideas came to mind....?
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+1 # MS 2010-12-01 10:36
This is a poor article and adds no value. A PM adds value is by doing these two things 1) Administrate/Ma nage (Schedule, Risk, Issues, Budget, Status etc) and 2)Lead/Relation ships (Client experience/Peop le management/Buil d a climate of trust/support the team/ etc).
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+1 # Program Manager 2010-12-01 13:56
Very poorly written, as noted by other readers. And having been authored by someone with a collection of PMI and OGC credentials, serves as a sad example of how bad Project Managers are indeed killing the profession or at least giving it a bad reputation. Th e 'current challenges' listed above are minor and insignificant when compared with real-world true challenges affecting today's project managers. Provided authority to manage a project and the means to do so via a Project Charter - do silly comments about the PM's role present a 'real' challenge, or is it controlling scope, schedule, quality, and budget? Are managing remote teams (outsourced or otherwise), or providing business intelligence via reporting, or managing risk and dependencies anything new, or 'futuristic'? And even if viewed as challenges, how do these turn PMs bad? or kill the profession? Wi th all due respect to the author, I find nothing in this article to substantiate the allegation of 'internal destruction of the project management profession by some of it own members', with the exception of this article being posted on a respectable site as ProjectTimes, a PMI REP...
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0 # Guest 2010-12-02 02:49
Agreed, this article is very poorly written - poor grammar, poor sentence structure, poor content. Certainly not a positive reflecton of the PM profession if status reports and senior management updates are presented this way! "The profession gets hurt when the PM does not demand a reporting platform that is Internet based and real time". Does this REALLY hurt the profession? Don't think so. "The project meeting was just conducted as one of your senior team members states did anyone think of asking the folks down the hall " will this impact them". Again, does this really hurt the profession or does it mean the PM needs to be able to lead a team that will ensure all the right stakeholders are engaged? There is a fine line between a PM getting too involved vs. one who has removed themselves from the everyday work. This is all dependant on the size of the project team therefore if the PM is acting in multiple roles then absolutely it makes sense to roll up the sleeves and do what is necessary to make the project a success. If, on the other hand, the team includes all the required roles then a PM who is supportive, who can lead, and who can manage (the "Manager" part of Project Manager) is ideal.
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0 # Project Admin 2010-12-02 03:30
There are bad PM;s. I have found with two recent Project Managers on a Major Project (over 200M) that they do not encourage communication. They keep most of the information to themselves and a select few. ALL stakeholders are not kept informed. As a Project Administrator, I am not one of the select few. Very disappointed with the contracted PMP's.
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0 # CEB 2010-12-02 04:06
The three challenges you have listed can easily be overcome with a good project management leadership, and by developing a strong project management culture within your organization. A good example of poor Project Management cultures are the federal and provincial governments. They talk the talk but don't walk the walk! i.e. Every government project I have worked on with the exception of one (DND); had NO formal or COMMON project management processes or tools within a department, let alone across government. Sounds to me like the author works or has worked in a NON Project Management environments. I don't take this as a critical hammer to our profession but rather a systemic problem with in organizations that do not understand or support our profession. It is up to the organizations and the senior project managers to communicate and implement a proper project management culture for both employees and third party participants. With that said the professional maturity of project management in various industries varies greatly... industries such as IT are very green...and are still developing their project management culture. Whereas the Aerospace industry has a higher degree of maturity as many companies were forced by Government contract demands to have project management in place.
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0 # sbr 2010-12-02 05:27
I agree with the comments above about the typo's. Certainly doesn't reflect well on the profession. However, one of the things I was looking for and didn't see was those PM's that are not LEADERS! Others have made similar comments in different ways. However, the strong PMs are leaders who attempt to understand the technical portions of the project their managing (to a certain level without micromanaging), work on identifying risks, driving issues to resolution, and most importantly building relationships with their team to identify and remove obstacles to success. Certainly the usual administrative items (planning, reporting, etc..) are important too, but it's building strong relationships with the team (and of course other stakeholders) that really help a PM shine and show value. I work for a very large IT company (you definitely would know the name) and have worked with technical teams that at first did not value Project Management. However, after a group of seasoned PMs that came in to our organization and did what I've stated above, I can confidently say that we now have a lot more respect of our technical counterparts. Remember, it's not just about management.... it's about LEADERSHIP!
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0 # Zed @ Safeway 2010-12-02 06:20
It seems to me that there is a definite overlap between the IT project Manager and the IT Business Analyst which would suggest that there is a opportunity for 'hybridization' of these 2 roles....obviou sly there is some practice areas that are unique to both but as with world affairs there are more in common than there are differences. P roject Scope, Requirements, Communication, Organizational impact, Risk Mitigation maybe we need PMBABOK or a Unified Project Govener (UPG) or..........
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0 # Associate Project Manager 2010-12-02 06:43
I agree with this article to a point. I would agree that there are a lot of PM, that just take notes and do not understand the nature of the business beyond the project that they are working on. I have been in the business for about 3 years now and I value myself and what I do, I feel that in order to have sucessful project you have to get in and get dirty along with the rest of the project team. However you have to also remember that you are the PM and you are responsible for that project from start to finish. "Im basically saying what you put into the project is what you should expect to get out of it."
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0 # Jim Hannon 2010-12-02 08:06
I appreciate the comments and of course take responsibility for the typos. I would now like to respond to the points: 1) I am surprised that most of negative comments focused on the typos/approach/ style yet I challenge these folks to take a critical look at the profession. I also find it interesting that comments such "add no value' and questioning a person credentials add value to the discourse I had expected, maybe I have hit a raw nerve? If you ask 10 senior managers their feelings about PM I would guarantee 7-8 view the PM role as a "expense". We need to be realistic and truly address my issues, though they were deemed "minor" and the other excellent areas other people have commented on in response to this article. I truly believe in PM, but we need to re-build our standards, enforce them and practice it daily. We also need to come up with some method of policing the industry. The project teams of today have dealt with too many "PM's" who leave a very negative impression on team members 2) I have received numerous positive responses through this thread and through email. I believe we must be very clear when we educate, train and bring on new PM's. The clinical approach of having a PM "Administrate/M anage (Schedule, Risk, Issues, Budget, Status etc" just does not cut it anymore!!! The project teams of today are lean and spent and placing a PM in the project where they just collect a status is dooming the field. Also, as the fact that 90% of PMs or higher still use Excel to report a status is a problem In conclusion, please look around in your company,which group is one of the first to be hit by layoffs? Project Management . I look forward to debating these comments, not the fact there maybe a typo, to hopefully bring these issues to light and build the profession
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0 # KR 2012-12-12 17:26
Jim, you make some good points about "re-build our standards, enforce them and practice it daily". I work in a financial services company with a strong BA and PM capability (CMMI3), based on PMBOK and BABOK. What I have seen over 10 years of working with PMs is there are those who are masters of their profession and there are others who call themselves PMs but are helicopter pilots / note takers. The PM can make or break the project.
The BAs in my company are constantly under srutiny to improve capability but the PMs are not. The PMs are immune from scrutiny and each runs their project within the methodology but soft skills vary immensely and are not held to a standard (communication, stakeholder management, level of involvement in detail, team morale, coaching etc) which directly impacts the projects success/ productivity/ morale.
I'd like to see enforcement and improvement of PM capability but have come across defensiveness whenever this subject is raised (as seen in this blog). The PM Masters are supportive of capability improvement as they are probably at the top of the game and the defensive PMs act like no one has a right to question their ability.
In an age of intense focus on lean, productivity, collaboration and agile - the PM is the lynch pin in the project - so having a consistently high standard of PM capability is in everyone's interest?
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0 # IT PM 2010-12-03 00:59
It's interesting that people have focused on pointing out typos and grammar. Too bad, but I believe it points out the real killer for the PM timating. How many times has the amount of effort for the PM role on a project been under estimated? Team members gripe about the PM not knowing the infinite level of detail, yet they were part of the estimating team who thought they only needed a few hours a week of a PM's time--and that can include both your own team as well as a client's team. It takes the commitment from your management to backup a plan for dedicated PMs on certain projects--wheth er by budget clip or risk level or hours/effort clip. There is a shift in the mindset of clients and management that PMs can cover a Portfolio or Program in an effort to do more with less. When that happens the PM is less in tune with the pulse of a particular project and must rely on their team members. So while PMs need to adapt to this change, I say team members (Architects, Analysts, Developers, Engineers, QA, etc.) need to also adapt. They can no longer remain ignorant of the principals of Project Management. And my two cents on the grammar of this article: I would gather this author had 30 min to crank this out and a deadline to meet (oh, look, there's that reference to lack of time). So for all you 'fill-in-the-bl ank-in-the-temp late" types, go read a published book for perfect grammar. Instead, contribute your comment/suggest ion on the topic.
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0 # A Project Manager 2010-12-05 02:42
This article, along with the author's rebuttal further in the comments section, is a good example of PMs who don't take responsibility for their actions... that's the real story here and what is hurting the profession. Oh, and if I see another tag line that says "senior project manager" instead of just "project manager" I'm going to puke. PM's with egos are hurting the profession. As a PM you have to leave your ego at the door and really relate to everyone and everything around you to effectively do a GOOD job. I see so many half-assed results from PM's and consultant PMs that it's a wonder they get any work at all. The bottom line: PMs everywhere: just try harder.
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0 # parsad 2010-12-05 18:39
No Comment
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0 # Happy PM 2010-12-08 06:00
Looks like Jim did a good job of getting a conversation started, regardless of whether or not you sit in judgement of his writing style. Good opportunity for all of us to consider proof-reading every written communication we send out, as I'm certain we all commit far more errors than we know of. I've heard many of the same comments Jim spoke of, usually from departments who end up coming to the trained project managers for help when their projects get into trouble. Remember, anyone can get the title or role of project manager, but training, passion for PM'ing, and leadership will show who really shines.
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0 # JohnTurley 2010-12-09 17:49
The premise of the article (forgive my spelling mistake please) is great! Bad project management is hurting our profession. Well done for trying to address this issue head on. Thanks to those who made positive comments, for they seek to turn the situation around. For the others...come on. Here's my stab at the first thing business leaders need to here from us PMs so that we again become a valued part of successful organisations. And yes it was proof read. A lot. But you might still find a typo.
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0 # Interested 2011-01-20 02:27
Thanks for tackling a tough subject. I am a business analyst, and I have had the good fortune to work with a number of excellent project managers in my 10 years in IT - however, this past year, we had a contract PM that was horrible - in fact, I suspect this person had never actually managed a project before in his life. He set a project schedule without getting any input from the project team - by the time we hit two months before "go live" the gap between reality, and the PM's schedule was so huge, it wasn't feasible to make it up. Despite numerous attempts by myself and other team members to get this PM to interact with the team, and to actually get time estimates for tasks that would add reality to the schedule, he never did so. The business went live with their new software, but they are now experiencing many difficultities and a lot of pain, because they did not test enough, and the PM failed to establish consistent scope and manage to it. From personal experience - the quality of the PM can make or break a project - it really does matter that your PM have good skills and experience.
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0 # KR 2012-12-12 17:26
Totally agree with these comments!
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0 # Meredith 2011-01-20 05:39
Jim: It's inevitable you'd get some static when broaching such a sensitive subject. Even with a technical or industry-specif ic background, PMs are often accused of being little more than "stuffed suits." Lovely. PMs must spend a significant amount of time promoting themselves and demonstrating what they do, in order for their colleagues to appreciate the value they add to a project. I realize it can be d*mn near impossible to carve out that time, but nobody's going to read the documentation, I'm afraid. You have to repeat your "sound bites" and draw big, colorful pictures. (And dance, project manager, DANCE!!!) I'd love to hear more about other PMs' favorite internet-based reporting platforms. What works best, for tracking your project *and* getting through to management?
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0 # Jim Hannon 2011-02-03 23:06
Thanks everyone for the comments , good and bad!! I will be following up with another article
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+1 # zhongjianzhou 2011-12-26 16:01
What's the current expectation to a PM? how it will go if there's no PM, will the project more successful in that situation? To somehow, the article is right, but I would still say something for PM. It's totally wrong to doute the PM's effect to a project. Just remember to explain your expectation to the PM when you hire them
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0 # AB 2013-03-19 04:55
Give some good article
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0 # Mark 2013-05-22 12:08
I've been in technology / IT for 25 years and during that time have met only maybe 3 PMs who actually helped projects. The others, the vast majority, throttled progress by emphasizing process over productivity or demanding blind adherence to the fad productivity tools of the time. While PMs don't need to know in great detail the technology behind a given project, they at least need to understand some rudimentary concepts that would enable them to make realistic projections and/or understand how a given technical barrier might be a show stopper.

Truth is you can tell the PMs whatever you want and it won't make any difference. They'll point to the Gant Chart as if that is immutable. Had they listened genuinely to the team in the first place, the chart might reflect reality instead of a highly compressed, unrealistic (either too short or too long) schedule of activity.

In short I'm in the camp that feels that it is the project team that props up the PM, who likes to take credit for success even if all they did was take notes and meeting minutes. If an organization has recruited quality employees then they'll know what to do with minimal supervision and meeting time. Yes, it is important that someone take the lead in reporting to management but it doesn't need to be a generally unknowledgeable person whose involvement rarely adds value to the process.
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0 # Scott Griffiths 2013-05-22 18:15
One of the problems (in my opinion) is PMI accepting a masters degree as an equivalent to 1000's of hours of PM experience. I think inexperienced PM's who use PMBOK memorization to pass the PMP exam are causing more harm than good to the profession. I believe that the only experience that should be accepted by PMI for becoming a PMP is actual project participation work.
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