Author: Gordon Whitehead

Effective Project Managers Get Real Work Done

I served as the VP of IT Operations for a successful healthcare company in Portland, Oregon many years ago.

 I remember one of the first problems we tried to solve was the issue of delivering projects. I suggested to the CIO that we should hire a project manager and consider setting up a PMO shop. The CIO was skeptical. He didn’t see how a project manager would help us. I was a little baffled by his response, so I pushed forward. My feeling was if we could put discipline into the process of planning we would execute.

Related Article: Anatomy of an Effective Project Manager

I hired a project manager on a short contract. After 3 months I had to explain to the CIO that we haven’t seen much of a change. The reason why is the same reason that causes complex PMO structures to fail regularly in large organizations.

Problem: Just Another process layer

First, the project manager did his best to implement some project management process. However, the process was academic. The project manager spent considerable time crunching data and developing wonderful looking charts and plans. His timelines and Gantts looked inspiring. So what was the issue? He was not connected to the actual work – he had no responsibility or empowerment to execute. As a result, he was simply pushing information around in his project management tools and no real work was happening, even when he tried to help task-workers, he couldn’t because he did not have authority or technical knowledge.

Because the project manager was only a process layer, he directed no real work. In the end, who was right – the CIO or me? Both.

The CIO was right because his instincts told him that a formal project manager added extra process and would not be effective in an agile environment – though he could not express these thoughts in advance.

I was right in that project management as a discipline was important to getting real work done on time, within cost, and within a stated scope. I also knew that instinctively.

What is the reality?

When we tried to put the project discipline at the wrong place in the organization we did not