What Project Management Means to Me

Written by lewsauder

September 25, 2013

What project management means to me

Project Management

I’ve been blogging for about three years now. Today I’m trying something a bit different.  I’m participating in a Flash Blog.  More than forty bloggers are contributing a blog at the same time on the same day with the same title: What Project Management Means to me: A Project Manager’s Sermon. (To see other participants’ blogs, check out #pmFlashBlog on Twitter)

I’m not a regular church-goer and I don’t intend to get too preachy, but the initiator, Shim Marom specifically chose the S-word to ensure the content is genuine, convincing, rational and emotional. So here goes.

Friends…we gather here today to discuss something dear to my heart…

The Bible

I’ve been managing projects for several years now.  I have sinned often.  And I’ve learned from them.  When I started out, I did what I think most new project managers do.  I was a task master.  I had a Microsoft project plan and it was my bible.

Every task had an estimated begin and end date, an estimated duration and an assignee.  Every week, we gathered together for status.  Every week we reviewed what got done last week and I doled out the planned tasks for next week. Git er done!  We met like that every week throughout the project.  Religiously.

Success on the project was defined by two things: On time and on budget. As long as both of those measurements were met, we were good.

Lessons learned

As the years went by and my experience level increased, I learned a few things.  First of all – and most importantly – if the project you deliver to the business people doesn’t provide the value they expect, on time and on budget is meaningless.

Secondly, if you drive your team into the ground to get a project done by a specified date, you risk losing some or all of your valuable people.  That will make adding value on your next project more difficult.

The ultimate goal of the project manager

Don’t get me wrong.  Delivering a project on time and under budget are important goals.  But if that’s all you focus on, you risk missing the mark by a long shot. So here is my list of things that define the true meaning of project management.

The project manager is the project’s CCO (Chief Communications Officer).  Imagine a project as a wheel with spokes.  Each spoke is a project stakeholder.  I manage IT projects, so my spokes generally consist of developers, business analysts, QA testers, architects, external third parties, business users and so on.  My top priority is to ensure communication is flowing to and from all of those spokes.

Do the developers have all the information they need to do their jobs? Have the business people been informed of the issues with the proper detail to allow them to make good decisions? Something that took me a long time to learn is that communication is a two-way street.  The most important aspect of communication is listening.  Did I hear and understand the issue from the developer so that I can communicate it to the business team?  Did I hear and understand the business users’ concerns well enough to translate it back to the team?

The project manager is the blocker buster. Instead of weekly status meetings with the project team, I’ve evolved to a more agile approach.  (Not pure Agile, mind you.  That’s a whole other religion and a totally different sermon.) This is more of an iterative approach.  We divide the work into manageable three- to four-week segments and put our tasks on Post-it notes on the wall.  Then we hold a daily stand-up meeting where each team member provides three updates:

  • What I accomplished yesterday
  • What I plan to accomplish today
  • What issues are blocking me from making progress

It’s the project manager’s job to remove the issues blocking each team member.  Often times, it’s a third party dependency like the database team or a vendor that hasn’t responded to an email.  Sometimes it’s another developer who hasn’t completed a task on time.  The project manager is responsible for finding out the root cause of the blockage and facilitating its removal.

The project manager keeps an eagle eye on risks and issues. When team members bring up issues that are blocking their progress, that’s an issue that needs to be resolved. Sometimes that can’t be avoided. The goal is to be more proactive to avoid the issues from occurring in the first place.  That’s where risk management comes in.  Risks are potential issues.  Issues are risks that came true.  Although it’s impossible (and impractical) to anticipate every issue that could occur on a project, it is important to do the due diligence of risk analysis.  Brainstorm with your team early and often about what could go wrong.  For each risk, identify at least one risk mitigation strategy to avoid that risk from becoming an issue.  It’s also good to have a strategy for handling the situation if it becomes an issue.

The project manager is more leader than manager. Managing risks, issues and task status are important aspects of the project manager’s job.  You can’t get the job done without doing those tactical duties.  The more important responsibility is to lead the team.  For each team member, the current project is just one building block of their career.  It’s the project manager’s job to help each team member develop and grow while they serve on the project.  Whether the person is an employee of your company, a client or an outside contractor, you may end up working with them again in the future.  Helping them develop will help their career and may be beneficial to you in the future.

To be a good leader of the team, it’s important to make sure they have a good understand of the purpose.  They need to understand the purpose of the project so they have some appreciation for why we’re all working so hard. They also should know how their role fits in with the big picture.  If they have a sense of purpose for the project and for how they are contributing, they will be more motivated and more willing to go the extra mile on that project.

The meaning of project management has evolved for me over the years.  It used to be a rather simplistic series of checking things off of a list.  For a project to be truly successful there is a much deeper meaning. A good project manager has to have excellent communication skills, a proactive approach to issue resolution and risk mitigation and assume the role of a leader.

Tasks have to be managed.  There’s no getting around that.  But if that’s all a project manager focuses on, he or she is doomed to burn for eternity in project hell.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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