Project Practitioners > What Really Is A Project Manager?

What Really Is A Project Manager?

By Margaret de Haan


The longer I work in some form of a Project related role within any organization, the more I realize that the skills required to manage a Project to a successful outcome requires so much more than is encompassed in the PMBOK.   I have also found that there are many Project Managers that don’t share that philosophy, insisting to stay “inside the lines” of what is outlined in the PMBOK – a “that’s not part of a PM’s job” mentality.  I have seen again and again that ideal increasing risk, reducing the quality of deliverables, and costing money.

The big one for me in terms of the need for a blending of skill sets, is between Project Management and Business Analysis.  I know a few individuals that refuse to step outside of the “PM duties” box on their Projects, usually resulting in rework due to mistakes that are made because there wasn’t a deep dive into the details.  In many cases these PM’s hide behind an Agile methodology, not truly understanding that even though you are developing features from a User Story that is more often than not defined by a sentence on a post-it note, that you still MUST dive in deep to ensure success.  I have watched many Agile novices make that mistake, not documenting the processes with resulting issues down the road.  Even though it is Agile, it isn’t an excuse not to do the work.  Agile is a framework, not a religion.  In my opinion, Agile relies more heavily on the expertise of the team members than many other Project frameworks, and can be an excellent way to add features to an existing system as well as tweak features that already exist.  Cutting things into increments allows for the Sponsors to provide quick feedback, but if not done correctly, Agile can create a huge mess when building a new system, and failure is almost guaranteed if there is no analysis into the details when defining the design.

My organization has been restructuring recently, which has resulted in adding to our IT department.  Management has been hiring a few PM’s that are being aligned to functional divisions, and the description of this role is that of a blended PM/BA.  We are looking for someone that is able to manage all aspects of a Project and ensure its success, without a division of labor between the PM and the BA as is seen in many larger corporations.  We are looking for one-stop-shopping, as we are looking to stay as lean and mean as possible.  I have been involved in most interviews, and I am amazed at how most PM candidates have few skills in conducting Business Analysis!  Looking back I realize that I have always done it, whether it was part of my job description or not!  I don’t understand how being able to map processes, conduct requirements gathering sessions, and model systems can’t be part of our jobs, it could be just me, but sitting in a meeting room updating a Project Plan and orchestrating meetings doesn’t feel like I’m doing the best job I can for my Project, the company, or the team (OK, let me say that I KNOW that it’s more than that.  Don’t get upset yet).  I have caught other PM’s mistakes in the past due to their lack of those exact skills, many of which if not caught and rectified when they were could have resulted in disaster.  So then my question is, what does being a PM mean to YOU?  To me it means OWNING the success of the Project, REGARDLESS of what it takes in terms of tasks and duties.  If I can assist a team member in meeting a deadline by running and getting them lunch so that they can eat at their desk, I am willing.  If it means staying late or coming in on a weekend so as to show that I am a member of the team, I am willing.  If it means picking up other people’s paperwork (something I CAN do for them to free them up to make a deadline completing something I CAN’T do), washing windows or even CLEANING THE TOILETS, I will do it!  I want to plug every hole I can in my Projects, every chance I get.  If that means stepping outside of my comfort zone, learning new skills so as to be more effective even if they are not in my job description, so be it.  Just like Blockbuster went from defining themselves as a movie rental company to an entertainment provider, I think our personal definition of our role and responsibilities should evolve over time.

So how do you define YOUR role as a PM?  Do you stay inside the lines, or are you a Project owner?  What are you willing to do to ensure Project success?  What additional skills could you learn to be able to plug holes left by other members of the team?  I see the bottom line as “how successful do you want to be”?  As the world of Project Management changes, for most of us this is something worthwhile to think about………

 Margaret de Haan - MBA, PMP, CSM

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

I couldn’t agree more Margaret. There are many organizations and individuals that believe project management fits nicely within the bounds of the PMBok. Those that have been in the field and successful in the field know differently. I’m also amazed at how someone in project management could not have business analysis skills, or the willingness to pitch in regardless of task. These skills are a must for any type of management position.

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