READ TIME: 5 minutes
I am excited to bring you a seven-part series answering the question, “What is a project manager?”
I get asked this question often after I state my profession. It is such a broad profession that can span any industry.
What organization does not want people that focus their attention on cost, scope, and schedule? I have yet to find one that likes projects spending more resources than anticipated.
The question of “What is a project manager?” is simple yet nuanced. The answer will rarely be the same. It depends on the individual.
My idea behind this series of articles is to encompass that variety. Each article will be written using the acronym P.R.O.J.E.C.T. and each letter will represent some of the nouns used to describe a project manager.
Week one begins now.
P is the first letter and will start the show.
Project managers are leaders of teams. They are looked up to in times of stress and pressure. Because of these expectations, people may take them for granted. Project managers have answers and a plan.
When these solutions and plans go haywire, the project manager is asked more questions. Why did this or that happen? How come this or that did not work?
Sometimes people forget the human side of the job. Working ten, twelve, or fourteen hours per day takes a toll. A robot can simply be fine-tuned and get back to work. People need more than an upgrade to their software or hardware to push through the obstacles.
I attended a wedding this past weekend. The friend getting married is a medical professional with a team of people he leads. As I spoke to his friends, it became apparent I knew more about him than they did. Some of the stories I would tell did not translate to them very well because of that boss dynamic I had forgotten.
These people looked at him through a different light than I did. I had the personal aspect they had not known because of their professional relationship. It gave me an insight as to how people can lose sight of the fact their bosses are people.
This word is used more for making coffee, but I like the idea of a project manager percolating ideas and getting their teams to create something magical. A coffee percolator cycles the boiling water through the grounds using gravity to make a delicious cup of coffee.
A project manager needs to cycle ideas, plans, specifications, and so on through his or her team to remain successful. Stagnation results in atrophy. Atrophy turns to disaster.
Being a percolator involves never stopping. Once an idea, plan, estimate, and so on are ready, time to push it out and start anew. Those subjects become so hot they need to cycle. It is a comedian that is tired of his or her material. Once that occurs, a one-hour special is filmed, and then the percolating process begins again.
A prognosticator predicts or forecasts future events based on present indications or signs. A project manager must look at the requirements and resources to see how a plan can come together.
Work breakdown structures, estimates, plans, and so on help a project manager determine what is next. Industry shifts can be predicted. Are there buyouts occurring that would impact a project you are running? Will the industry be ahead of the product you are developing?
A project manager needs to be proactive, not reactive. Prognosticating helps a project manager remain active and involved with the current and future state of whichever industry.
Being first to market can be a huge advantage over your competition.
Being a part of the process helps a project manager understand what the present and future hold. Sitting on the sidelines and watching does not help anyone.
I have written articles about the worm’s eye view. Instead of taking a bird’s eye view approach and watching from afar, get your hands dirty. See things for yourself. Experience what the end user experiences.
Hearing about a great restaurant is nice and all, but getting to smell and taste the food bring about so much more.
Partaking allows the theoretical information to be applied logically. Calculations and drawings are great, but when they do not work, they become useless. Without seeing why it is not functioning, the designer may think the field personnel is making a mistake. Boots on the ground is an effective strategy.
Project managers come up with ideas how to run projects or teams all of the time. If you cannot express these needs or wants correctly, you will end up empty handed.
Purveying an idea so it spreads and catches on with your organization is a major task. The words must be right. You must speak with confidence. Trust is involved. There are so many aspects to getting an idea across, and project managers must take each of them seriously.
Requirements need to be communicated properly. You have to understand what the owner or sponsor is looking for to succeed. Once you possess that understanding, now you must communicate those requirements to your team.
This scenario becomes a childhood game of telephone. It starts out as one thing then ends with a completely different message. A purveyor of information not only gives the information but also builds trust within the team to continue to lead.
Being a professional is not only knowledge-based but also the way you carry yourself. Dress codes, while I do not always comply, are setup for a reason. Perception is everything.
A recent sports story involves a basketball coach’s wife. He has been very successful at a small school. One of the reasons he cannot find a job coaching a major program is his wife. In the stands, she is vulgar towards referees and opposing team’s coaches.
She is not professional in the way she handles herself, and it costs her husband opportunities.
The same scenario can be played out for project managers. The way you run a meeting or make phone calls or send emails all plays a role in how you are viewed. If there are misspellings throughout your emails, the message will get lost because the focus becomes your grammar.
If you start to swear on a conference call amongst executives, you will be seen as unprofessional. There is a time and place for everything. After work hanging out with co workers, swear all you want. On a conference call with executives and possible clients, put your professional pants on.
I like to use practitioner because ‘practice’ is the root word. Project management is an industry you should learn something new every day. This knowledge can come from performing, reading, writing, listening, and so on. There are so many avenues for finding out new information.
Being a practitioner allows a project manager to remain active and current in their industry. Sitting in an office hearing about issues does not do you any favors. Practice allows for that 1% daily improvement that adds up over time.
I remember project managers running projects from headquarters. The on-site project manager would report to the headquarter project manager and their ideas for the next steps would be different. Who’s opinion would you put more faith in, the guy out there experiencing the project or the person hearing about it?
There is no way one article on the topic could cover all that encompasses a project manager. This article is a start. Politician and psychologist are two more words that come to mind.
The number of hats a project manager is required to wear is countless. Every day a new hat gets put on. There is no cap on the number either.
A project manager’s skill set is always being added to and shaped.
What are some of the ‘P’ words you would use to describe a project manager?