Wednesday, 01 December 2010 09:19

How Bad Project Managers are Killing the Profession

Written by Jim Hannon

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.

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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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