Tuesday, 12 October 2010 15:13

The Evolution of the Project Manager Role

Written by George Konstantopoulos

Oct_13_Ptimes_croppedOver the last twelve years I have seen the role of project manager evolve. The most significant transformational change I have witnessed involves the subtle integration of a diagnostic framework into the baseline project management approach.

Previously, a project manager was strictly known as an entity that coordinated the execution of easy to understand tasks usually made available in the form of a checklist that was provided at the commencement of an engagement. I refer to this project manager as the “checklist” project manager. A project manager would inherit an agenda consisting of tasks that needed to be delivered within defined timelines. In most cases the project manager did not conduct any project due diligence, provide input towards the project approval process or confirm the strategic value of the items found on this checklist – all needed to justify the existence of a project. The purpose of the role was simply to deliver the tangible results found on the bulletin within the prescribed period

The role of the project manager has recently morphed to include a diagnostic phase of work. In most cases today the project manager must holistically diagnose the current internal and external environments and conclude through facts the necessity of a project before it can be initiated. On average more project managers find themselves engaged in unearthing the business justification for the existence of the project, the recommended solutions that will satisfy the business needs and both determining and delivering the required executable actions needed to bring the solution to life. I refer to this revised role as a “consultative project manager.” Previously, after organizational due diligence had been performed (usually by someone acting in a consultative role) and a project need justified, a series of tasks would be simplified and organized on a checklist and then this checklist would be assigned to a project manager for delivery. The “consultative project manager” has eliminated the need for organizations to have a consultant diagnose the current situation and recommend a solution and a project manager to deliver the results needed to realize the solution.

This metamorphosis has served the project management profession, clients and project managers well. The project management profession has benefited from a correction of perceptions – from being perceived as simply task coordinators and executors to critical and strategic thinkers who can perform the business due diligence needed to quantitatively and qualitatively justify the need for a project. The clients have benefited because they now can receive both diagnostic and action frameworks from a single resource and thus have eliminated the need to have two separate resources (consultant + project manager), ultimately lowering the total cost of each project.  Finally, the project managers have been thrust upon a world that mandates an increase in cognitive competencies and mindfulness that leads to a more advanced skill set, increase in knowledge and ultimately long-term career prospects.

Background

During the dot com hysteria many organizations employed a first to market strategy and subsequently many products with minimal ROI justification were rushed through development. The emphasis on schedule, easy access to capital and the employment of first to market strategies all led to many checklist project manager job opportunities coming to fruition during the dot com era.

Once the dot com bubble burst, organizations emphasized costs over schedule, did not have easy access to capital and reluctantly employed a risk-averse growth strategy all due to the deteriorating economic landscape. Naturally, most organizations employed cost cutting strategies in order to meet street earnings expectations. When looking for expense reduction opportunities one of the first things most organizations realized was that in the past the delineation of project work was inadvertently and expensively separated into two areas – diagnose the need for a project (diagnostic framework) and deliver the actions needed to satisfy the project purpose (execution oriented framework). The diagnostic framework was usually assigned to a consultant and the execution oriented framework was assigned to a project manager. Embraced with a corrective economic cycle most organizations amalgamated the two roles into one thus reducing expenses. Many checklist project manager job opportunities were lost.

Additionally, the new, consultative project manager role was assigned internally to further reduce costs and in most cases without any organizational readiness assessments being performed. Existing internal project managers were “told” to handle the new role expectations. Unfortunately, most internal project managers at that time remained locked within their checklist dogma and were not prepared to handle the new expectations. The failure to accept these new role requirements led to the demise of many checklist project managers.

The role amalgamation resulted in many checklist project managers being unemployed simply because they did not possess the training, experience, skill or will needed to diagnose the internal and external economic, industry and business landscapes needed to produce somewhat complicated analyses required to justify the strategic value and necessity of a project. Almost immediately, the large management consulting firms, mostly known for only performing diagnostic based work began altering their value propositions and delivery models to include an execution oriented framework. These firms would now offer a new service that included problem diagnosis, solution recommendations and solution implementation.

Importance

The purpose of a consultative project manager is to supply the results needed to realize corporate strategy. The consultative project manager is perceived as both a creator of business value and the driver of a results oriented framework. Consultative project managers must have the cognitive abilities to internally and externally diagnose a business situation and provide reconciliatory recommendations supported by complex domain specific data. Additionally, this person must holistically understand strategic intent and opportunities, translate organizational strategy into tangible executable actions and deliver the results needed to satisfy the vision supporting the strategy.  

The transformational change of the project manager role is an important milestone for the profession. Being seen as a both a creator and supplier of strategic equity a project manager has now increased their organizational value. This increase in status has mostly reduced the amelioration of common misperceptions. The consultative project manager is perceived to be a holistic thinker and collaborator who can assess and improve a situation through justifiable projects that deliver value. Whereas, the checklist project manager was mostly perceived as an IT based task coordinator and executor who preaches the merits of a delivery framework.

Additionally, the status earned by the consultative project manager brand has assisted these individuals with acquiring a seat at the executive round table when corporate vision, goals and strategy are being set. A checklist project manager would rarely be invited to an executive forum and asked to provide input towards the organizational strategy formulation process.

The project manager’s role, post dot com era, evolved to include a diagnostic facet whereas in the pre dot com era, the position was mostly relegated to an execution role. This amalgamated role is in high demand today. Organizations want a single resource that can supply both diagnostic and action frameworks. Project managers who adopt the skills needed to satisfy the qualifications associated with the consultative project manager role will realize an increase in employment prospects and lay the foundations for long-term upward career growth. The checklist project manager position is obsolete – the consultative project manager role has arrived are you prepared?

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George Konstantopoulos, MBA, PMP, PgMP, CMC is a Sr. Consultant at Welch International Management Consulting Group Inc. He has managed strategy portfolios and executed complex program and projects in the high-tech, banking, IT, marketing, utilities, retail and professional services industries. His entrepreneurial spirit and keen business insight have benefited many organizations through his effective consultative engagements and compelling achievements. George regularly lectures on management consulting and project management. Additionally, he facilitates quarterly seminars intended to help project managers understand the qualifications associated with consultative project management. You may contact George at g.konstan@rogers.com or through his blog spot at http://welchconsulting.blogspot.com/

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