What makes a project manager’s role so valuable is that they provide ownership for successful results linked to change. Whether that is organisational restructuring or providing new products and services. As a result, project managers are expected to wear many different hats throughout the project and can get dragged into doing almost everything on the responsibility assignment (RACI) matrix if they are not careful.
To be effective you need to ensure there is an achievable plan and that the resources (people, tools, materials and funding) are available and utilised appropriately and the team are clearly aware of exactly what they need to have done by when and that they are capable of completing their assignments across all phases of the project. Plans are broken down into their specific elements and the resource and timing needs are calculated, negotiated and agreed to establish a realistic plan. Once the plans are set, they’re monitored and reported regularly, ensuring they are on track for delivery with respect to timing, cost and scope. Until the end of the project all risks and issues to the agreed outcomes must be captured, assessed and managed.
Monitoring and reporting the project performance to the plan is essential throughout the project. A project manager must keep on top of task commitments to ensure that all the critical elements are completed on time and in the right order. Establishing clear governance up front sets the rules of the game with regard to decision making and communication at the appropriate levels – the project manager’s responsibility is to ensure that this is in place and properly adhered to. Stepping outside the agreed lines of authority within a project risks problems further along and no clear guidelines risks chaos.
To facilitate that communication across all stakeholders is a key part of the project manager’s duties. Ensuring that the right stakeholders are identified and contacted when appropriate is crucial. People need to appreciate the purpose of the project and the customer or sponsor’s expectations i.e. what needs does this project fulfil? Also, those expectations need to be properly managed in order to avoid disappointment further on down the line. Note that communication goes both ways and you have to be receptive to information from all stakeholders as well as relaying information. Being able to effectively filter and prioritise the messages coming and going from all directions is crucial to a successful project. Depending on the message different formal and informal channels of communication must be determined.
Leading the project team to focus on what is important and stay motivated throughout the various challenges and setbacks that inevitably arise. Making sure that the team have the required support when needed and enabling them to perform at their best is a key skill in project management. The ideal project manager should be in the driving seat, imbuing the team with a sense of urgency for delivery. It’s good to have realistic deadlines, but avoid padding the plan as this may lead to continued delays (Parkinson’s law) within critical tasks leading to a knock-on effect on downstream activities. Having a sense of urgency within the team is crucial as the value lost through project delays risks loss of competitive advantage when you are behind your competitors or moving in the wrong strategic direction. If the project manager does not have formal authority, they must at least have the respect of the team in order to influence the desired behaviours leading to successful outcomes.
Continuous problem solving is required within projects as both anticipated and unanticipated contingencies materialise and trade-off decisions present themselves, these need to be analysed, considered and agreed with all impacted parties. Depending on the authority and the problem the project manager may be empowered to decide themselves or provide recommendations for the project sponsors.
Finally, as with most functional roles the mix and depth of the above for a given project manager role will depend on a various elements including the nature of the project, the organisational structure along with the responsibility and authority plus the specific domain expertise of the individual project manager in a given project. Businesses will always need people who are willing to take ownership and drive projects forward which is what puts project managers in high demand.
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