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When you think of your project manager skills, then “compassion” is probably not the first word that comes to mind. You would probably first list some other hard project management tools and techniques like your scheduling abilities or completing your projects on scope and on budget.
And only if you keep adding words to this project management skills list will you eventually come to terms like conflict management, team building, empathy and compassion.
Margaret Meloni (http://www.margaretmeloni.com) says that we project managers should value compassion much more than we do.
If we are supposed to use compassion as one of our project management soft skills then we have to first define what it is, how it relates to project management and hear examples of how to use it on our projects. And that’s exactly what you are going to get from Margaret’s interview.
But the most important question that I have asked margaret is this: If compassion is truly so important for me as a project manager, how can I see quantifiable results on my projects?
Many project managers try to communicate with the minimum possible effort. Part of this hesitancy is a lack of comfort with written and verbal communication in general. It could also be that most project managers simply do not understand the value that proactive communication provides on a project.
Like it or not, communication is one of the core project management processes. However, the communication process can be scaled based on the size of the project. For small projects, the level of communication might be as simple as making sure the business customer understands that the work has begun, and notifying them when the work is completed. Nothing fancy there.
Status Reports Satisfy Basic Communication Requirements
Problems can occur when you apply this small project model to much larger projects. As you get into larger projects, you will need to get into status reporting. Status Reports provide information to the key stakeholders on the current status of the project and what work has been completed since the last communication. These are also forums to discuss outstanding issues, scope change requests, risks, etc. The main purpose of the status reports is to manage expectations and make sure there are no surprises. Delivering bad news is not a communications problem. Not effectively managing expectations is a problem. Lay it all out in the status report, and don’t surprise your stakeholders.
Create a Communication Plan for Large Projects
On larger projects, especially those that impact a wide variety of people, the basic status report is no longer enough. The communication needs to be proactive, multifaceted and targeted. This is the time for establishing a formal Communication Plan. In a Communication Plan, you think about your major stakeholders, their information needs, and the best way to satisfy those needs. Then, you can tailor specific types of communication to meet the particular needs of each audience. In a Communication Plan you identify and plan for three types of communication:
Mandatory communication such as budget and status reports.
Informational elements such as an online repository of project documentation, lunch and learns, and frequently asked questions.
Marketing elements such as pep rallies, success stories, testimonials, and posters to display in the company lobby.
Communication - Just Do It!
Project managers must get over the fear and reluctance to communicate proactively. There are some projects where the project manager thought he had done a good job, but the client was not satisfied because he or she did not know what was going on. There are also projects that went badly overbudget and deadline, but were still viewed as a success because the client knew what was going on and the expectations were managed well.
You have all heard the simple saying, “communicate, communicate, communicate.” Project managers should take this to heart. There are many aspects of a project that are not totally within your hands. Communication, however, is something that is directly within your control. You might be surprised how smoothly your project progresses when you communicate proactively to the team, customers, and stakeholders.
The good news is that project managers deal with the uncertainty associated with large projects all the time, and it is very likely that you can be successful. You can imagine projects with dozens (or hundreds) of workers, and very long timeframes. If those project managers can be successful, you can too.
Okay, so what should you do? Here are a couple suggestions for you to consider, depending on what you think will work best in your situation.
Break the work into smaller pieces
The first thing to do with a long project is to break it down into smaller pieces if possible. For example, let’s say you have a traditional waterfall type of project. Although you are not sure about the work to be done in nine months, you should at least know what you will need to do over the next few months. You are probably going to start in a requirements gathering process. Instead of defining a one year project, start by defining a project that will cover only the analysis phase. After that project, you can redefine and estimate the remainder of the work. If you still feel uncomfortable doing that, then perhaps you can create a project that just covers the design phase. Ultimately, you may complete the work in three or four smaller projects instead of one large one, but you will get there nonetheless. You will also be able to more easily confirm the resources you need for each of the shorter projects.
Provide less detail as the planning horizon gets further out
Many organizations are not structured in a way that allows you to break a large project into a set of smaller ones. These companies only want to pay for one project, and track one project. If you break it up into pieces, people could become confused.
The next idea is to estimate and plan the work for the entire timeframe, but understand that there will be less detail the further out in the future you get. Again, you should have a firm and detailed schedule for the next three months, but then the planning will be at a higher and higher level. You have a framework for completing the project, but only the short-term activities are planned out in detail. This is probably the approach most project managers take on long projects.
Of course, you cannot leave everything at a high level. Every month you need to replan the project, validating the detailed work for the next two months, and then building the details for the third month out. This makes sure that you always have a three-month detailed planning window, and you are filling in more and more detail for the outer months. If the detailed planning leads you to believe that you will not hit your deadline or your budget, attempt to resolve the situation immediately or raise this possibility as a potential risk.
Use multiple estimating techniques
The classic estimating technique is to build a work breakdown structure, estimate the work associated with the lowest level activities, and then add everything back up for the final overall estimate. This approach does not work well when you are not sure exactly what the work is a long way into the future. Fortunately, there are other estimating techniques that will help you cross-check your estimated effort, cost, and duration. Fist, you can rely on outside experts to review your Project Charter and schedule to see if they think your estimates are reasonable. Second, you can see whether there have been similar projects in your company where you can review the prior schedule and estimates to see how they line up with your project. Third, you can use industry guidelines to create overall estimates based on how much time you think the analysis phase will take. For example, if you find estimating guidelines that say that the analysis phase of a project with your characteristics takes 28% of the entire project, then you can provide a high-level estimate of the entire project based on your detailed estimate for the analysis phase.
If you are concerned about the availability of resources, this approach should work. When you create the initial schedule, you can start to communicate regarding the specific people you will need in the next three months, and the general types of people you will need further out. If you keep a detailed three-month planning window, you will be able to give the resource managers up to three months lead-time once you finally nail down who you need for the project work. If resources are not available, you also have up to three months to escalate the problem or to look for alternatives. Two to three months notice should be enough time to manage through any of these resource scenarios.
Generally, the problem with long projects is that there are many things that can happen in the future that you do not know about today. In other words, there are potential risks. We have already discussed some ways to deal with the uncertainty of schedule and effort estimating risks. There are other risks as well. For instance, there is a risk that resources you need in the future will not be available when you need them.
All of these risks can be identified, and then a specific plan can be put into place to mitigate the risk and ensure it does not happen. Every month you would update the risk plan to ensure known risks are being managed and new risks are identified. If you think there is risk associated with any aspect of the project in the future, identify it and mitigate it.
You are right to be concerned about the unknowns associated with long projects. However, there are a number of techniques that can be used to make you feel more comfortable. Being comfortable does not imply that you know everything. Being comfortable means that you have taken your best shot at laying the project out as best you can, and then relying on a good set of communication processes, good risk management, and good issues management to deal with future threats and current problems as they arise.
If you were trying to implement a project management discipline throughout your entire organization, the job would be very complex and time-consuming. In that kind of an initiative, you are trying to change the culture for project managers, team members, functional managers, and customers. When you implement project management processes on just one project team, the challenge is much more contained and within your control. On the other hand, the benefits are obviously more limited as well. First, the value that you are providing is limited to your immediate project team. You will also have to create some of the processes and templates your team will use, rather than having a consistent set that your entire organization uses. When your entire organization is moving in the same direction, you will really start to see the overall value that good project management processes can provide.
To help you be successful, focus these five areas:
As the project manager, you are the primary person to lead this change. You set the priorities and you set the tone for how the project is run. If you make sure to define and plan the project well, and then to execute and control the project using good techniques, other members of the team should follow your lead. But, if project team members see that you are not communicating well, you are accepting new scope requirements on your own, or there confusion regarding who is doing what, they will obviously question the changes being made. Don’t let that happen to you. Talk the talk and walk the walk.
Project management deliverables
You cannot successfully introduce good project management discipline without implementing a set of processes that everyone can see and understand. This starts off with the planning processes. With a large project, it should be understood that you need a Project Charter and a schedule. You also need to have a process for managing issues, scope, risk, communication, etc. These don’t have to be long, tedious procedures, but they have to be detailed enough that people understand what is expected of them and how the project management processes work.
Project management advocate
Try to find someone on the team that can be an inside partner. The team will accept the new processes much more quickly if there is another team member who is also on your side. This person should be a senior individual whom the rest of the team respects. He doesn’t have to be a cheerleader, but he will set a good example and encourage the rest of the team to go along with the work processes that have been established for the entire team.
You should make sure that the team is aware of what you are doing and why. Explain to them the perceived value and benefit to the project. This is not a one-time message, but one that should be repeated over and over. This type of communication can take many shapes over time. For instance, you can catch someone doing something right regarding the project management procedures and praise them for their effort. You can also track and publicize how the team is doing in terms of meeting commitments for schedule, cost and quality. It is very difficult to introduce a culture change without a frequent, ongoing and consistent message.
Training / awareness
Lastly, after you have dealt successfully with the people dynamics and the required processes, you should make sure that no one has difficulty because of a skills problem. If your project were long enough, you would expect to receive a positive return on your training investment. You should think about providing short awareness training to the entire team, and then sending your team leaders or other project managers to more formal project management training.
There are some advantages and disadvantage associated with trying to implement formal project management processes on a project team. In general, the successful implementation is within your control. If your project is large enough, you should easily see the value and you will have a chance to integrate project management processes successfully before the project finishes.
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This interview with Frank Saladis was recorded at the 2015 PMI Global Congress in Orlando, Florida. We discuss his paper and presentation "The Indispensable Project Manager". Here is the paper's abstract:
Managing projects effectively has become essential in every organization large or small. The uncertainties of the world business economy, rapidly changing technology, and the intensifying focus on sustainability has driven many organizations to develop specific methods for managing projects and to seek highly qualified people to manage those projects.
These qualifications include the ability lead as well as to manage and create an environment of change readiness, attention to quality, and an awareness that self-development is a critical factor for success at both the personal and organizational level.
Today’s project managers must adapt to change, lead diverse teams, act as ambassadors for their organizations, and deal with a multitude of challenging project stakeholders. They must also continually enhance their knowledge about business, working with people, and how to maintain a reputation of professionalism, thought leadership, and ability to add value.
This paper addresses the importance of the professional project manager to any organization, and the need for the project manager to continually enhance existing skills, adapt to a changing business environment, and become a “go to” person in the organization. Emphasis is placed on understanding the needs of the organization, clearly and visibly creating value, and managing personal brand.
There is a good solution to this problem from a project management perspective, but that does not mean you may not have to struggle to make it work. The key is to proactively utilize risk management, issues management, scope management, and proactive communication to your best advantage.
When you start a project, the first thing you need to do is planning, including creating a Project Charter and a schedule. The planning process includes identifying risks and putting plans into place to mitigate those risks. If you do not think you can hit the imposed end-date, now is the time to say something. When you do, management starts to hear that the end-date is at risk before the project even begins. As part of the risk identification, you can ask the project team and your management for their ideas on how to mitigate the risk. Ideas might include extra staff, leaning heavily on users to get their requirements in on time, etc. Again, there is value in identifying the project risks and working with others on risk resolution. This process also helps from a communication standpoint to better manage expectations.
The schedule and proactive communications also help the users better understand their role. For instance, do they really understand the need for timely feedback on requirements and the impact to the project if they are late? Do they understand the dates that they will be needed so that they can better plan their time? You can raise this as a risk and start to manage expectations for what will happen if the requirements come in late. It also gives you more foundation for the follow-up communications that may be required if the user’s dates start to slip.
Manage Issues and Scope
As the project progresses, continue to manage risks, issues, and communication proactively. For instance, if the users end up not meeting their dates in spite of your risk management plans, then you have an issue that needs to be addressed. Issues management (problem identification and resolution) needs to be performed. Again, get your team, management, and stakeholders involved. Ask your manager for input in resolving the problem that is now impacting your completion date. You do not have direct authority over the users. Get more accountability from your management and the business managers to help resolve project resource problems. Your managers and sponsors are also the ones in a position to manage priorities to get the work done. Again, if the problem cannot be resolved perfectly, at least you are continuing to manage expectations.
Continue this proactive project management in other areas as well. For instance, if a person leaves, you have an issue that could impact the end date. Communicate the problem and its consequences, and ask for help in determining the best options for going forward. If the users add more requirements, invoke scope change management and make sure everyone knows the impact to budget and schedule. Don't proceed with the changes unless the sponsor has approved the extra time and budget necessary.
Although it appears that you are being held accountable for events and circumstances that are not within your control, you do have control over the processes you use to manage the project. Manage risk, issues, and scope proactively, and utilize your manager and your sponsor to try to get everyone focused on meeting the aggressive deadlines.
You also have the ability to manage expectations through proactive communication. You should especially point out cause-and-effect relationships. For instance, you can describe the impact to the project if requirements gathering dates are not met.
When it is all said and done, you may, in fact, not be able to hit your imposed deadlines and budget. However, by utilizing disciplined and proactive project management processes, you at least have a shot of success, and you do a much better job of managing expectations and getting management to be a part of the solution, not just the problem.
Establish and Support a Document Repository
One of the value propositions for deploying common project management processes is the ability to reuse processes, procedures, templates, prior examples, etc. However, the ability to reuse documentation does not come about like magic. If project managers want to see whether there might be pre-existing material that would help them, they are not going to be expected to contact every other project manager. To facilitate process and document reuse, the PMO needs to establish and manage a Document Repository. This could be as easy as setting up a directory structure that everyone in the organization can access. It might also be more elaborate and multi-functional, like a tool specifically designed for document management. Depending on how you implement this facility, you need to properly set up a classification structure, make sure that only approved information is posted there, make sure the information stays current and relevant, and make sure that the facility is actively marketed and utilized by the organization.
Convert Key Learnings to Best Practices
At the end of every project, the project manager, team, client and major stakeholders should get together in an end-of-project meeting to discuss what was planned and what actually happened. At some point in the meeting, you should turn your attention to lessons learned. The lessons should be collected and consolidated in the Document Repository. However, one problem with lessons learned is that they typically only apply to that one project.
As the PMO collects more and more key learnings, they may start to see patterns emerge in the lessons learned. At some point, lessons learned from projects can be raised to the level of a best practice. A best practice statement implies that the benefit can be gained for all projects, not just the few that reported it.
Coordinating a Common Resource Pool
All companies need to have a process to staff projects. In some companies, the resources are allocated per business unit. In other companies, all of the project people are assigned to one central staff. Since the PMO is a focal point for all project management-related activities, it is the right place to manage these common resource pools. The resource pool could be for project managers only, or it could be for all potential project team members. Creating a common resource pool involves taking a skills inventory of all shared resources and keeping track of when each person will become available from his current project. The PMO can then have the information available as new projects are ready to start. In fact, the PMO can have certain projects started based on the availability of skillsets.
Document Review Service
Document reviews can be offered on a stand-alone basis to help ensure that project managers are utilizing the standard templates as they were intended and that they are being completed clearly and consistently. This service basically just involves project managers sending in project deliverables to receive a quick review and feedback. The PMO is not “approving” the document, but they are providing feedback on the content, format and readability of the specified document.
Defining the Role of Contractors on Projects
Most companies utilize contractors for some portion of their workload. The question that your company must answer is how best to utilize contractors and how best to utilize employees. There is not one answer that fits all companies. Each company and each organization must determine the things that are most important to them and create an overall policy for utilizing contractors within that context. For instance, one company might decide that their business runs on their legacy systems, and they are not going to trust contractors to keep those applications running. Another company may decide that the legacy systems represent the past, and that new projects represent the future. In that company, they may decide to rely on contractors for support, but they may prefer to utilize employees for new projects. Likewise, some companies insist that all senior positions be staffed with employees. Other companies do not have a problem placing contractors in any position where they are short of employees or do not have the right employee available. The PMO can help determine the right policies for your company.
As your company becomes more sophisticated at utilizing metrics, you might realize that collecting internal data on internal projects is valuable, but can only take you so far. You don't really know how efficient and effective your project delivery is unless you can compare how you deliver projects against other companies. Benchmarking studies (one-time) and benchmarking programs (longer-term) are a way to compare your organization against others. Benchmarking requires that you gather a set of predefined metrics that describe the result of very well-defined processes. The resulting metrics that are captured from other companies, using the same set of processes and definitions, can be used to create benchmarking statistics that allow you to compare your organization against others. This information can be evaluated to determine if there are changes that can be made in your organization to achieve similar results.
Benchmarking is an area that few companies want to try to start on their own. It requires a lot of work, and the processes you define need to be applicable to a range of outside companies. If you are going to benchmark, you are generally going to need to utilize an outside firm that specializes in benchmarking. This company may already have the core set of processes, metrics and benchmarks defined. They can also spend the time to get other companies involved, they can conduct the study and they can help interpret the results.
Many companies are finding that they must build project management capabilities if they are going to meet business challenges in the future. It is also important to implement project management processes consistently across the organization. This leads to efficiency and helps to deliver projects better, faster, and cheaper. The next step is to determine how best to identify the common project management processes and make sure that they are leveraged as needed by the entire organization.
Many companies give this responsibility to one or more people in a Project Management Office (PMO). There are many structures for a PMO and many types of services that the PMO can offer. Each organization must first determine the services that are important to them and then create an overall approach for implementation. Since this is a culture change initiative, the effort can be time-consuming and difficult. However, the rewards are also large. If the PMO is established with a clear vision, strong sponsorship and a solid approach, it can be a vehicle for creating a tremendous amount of value for the company.
- When the Idea is Generated. Some companies seriously consider this option. Some companies try to focus on the time between when an idea is generated and when the idea is fulfilled though a project. Their concern is that it takes too much time to implement good ideas. Tracking a project from the time the original idea was surfaced provides visibility on the total length of time to implement. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to track exactly when an idea surfaced, and there are many variables that might cause projects to be delayed while still in the idea stage.
- When a Budget is Approved. This definition is a little more concrete than the previous idea. In this definition, an idea has been generated and has made it far enough along that a cost/benefit statement has been prepared. The project has also made it through the prioritization process and an actual budget has been approved. Keep in mind that the budget may have been approved during the prior year’s business planning process. The actual work may not start until the following year. Therefore, this definition again can seem to start the clock too early.
- When a Project Manager is Assigned. This one is more common. It is hard to say that a project has started before a project manager is assigned. When the project manager is assigned, the project planning and definition begins and the major work of the project starts.
- When the Project Charter is Approved by the Customer. In some organizations, the project officially starts when the customer approves the Project Charter document. Some companies require an approved Project Charter and Schedule before the project team can be allocated. They do this to ensure that the upfront agreement is in place before project work begins.
- When the Project Kickoff Meeting is Held. Using this definition, the planning and definition work is considered to be “pre-project” work. All projects start with a formal kickoff meeting between the client and project team. When the kickoff meeting is held, the planning has been completed, the client has approved the work, and the project team has been allocated. The kickoff meeting is the time to tell everyone that the project is ready to begin.
To a certain extent, you might think that it doesn’t really matter when the project starts. Having a somewhat undefined start date does not take away from the fact that the work is a project. It’s obvious that the project started at some point, since there was a point when the work was not in progress and a point where the work is in progress. So, at some point the project did in fact “start.”
The reason it is important to know the start date is that there may be consequences and incentives based on how long it takes to complete a project. The following are examples of these consequences:
- Project team accountability. It is hard to hold people accountable for things that are not within their control. For that reason, it makes sense that a project manager is held accountable for the project no earlier than when he is assigned. If the project clock starts before he is assigned, it is possible that some decisions were made and some resources expended before he was assigned to the project. Likewise, if team members are held accountable for completing a project within budget and on schedule, it is hard to hold them accountable for work and decisions that take place before they are assigned. For that reason, perhaps the project should officially start when the Project Charter and Schedule are approved, or after the project kickoff meeting is held.
- Process improvement. Many companies keep track of the total duration of projects and attempt to shorten the average project duration over time. It is important that everyone within the company use a common starting and ending point, or the project duration numbers will not be meaningful.
- Financial / accounting. Many projects are considered capital expenditures. Precisely defining when a project starts has consequences in terms of the work that can be capitalized and the work that needs to be expensed.
- Comparisons with other companies. If you compare how long it takes your organization to deliver projects, you want to make sure you have a common definition of start and end dates. If your company considers a project to start when a project manager is assigned and other companies start the clock at the kickoff meeting, it will appear that your company takes longer to deliver projects.
All projects have a start date. But knowing exactly when a project starts is something that companies can define differently. There are a number of events that would be candidates for the start date. Some dates are very early in the business planning process. Other companies place the start date closer to when the work is ready to begin. If your company does not capture metrics and does not provide incentives based on completing a project on time and within budget, then it doesn’t really matter. However, if there are consequences based on the defined start date, then a company must be careful to make sure that the defined start date drives the behavior they are trying to achieve.
Project changes are typically caused by two reasons. First, the client does not understand all of the details and nuances of what they need before the project begins. This is normal. The project team sometimes thinks that their clients must know every detail about the solution, but that is too high an expectation. Some requirements will come up later. Some requirements won’t be known until the client starts to see how the solution is shaping up.
The second reason for project change is that the business is changing, the industry is changing, and the world is changing. Even if your specifications were initially perfect, business change might require changes to your work.
It is vital that the project manager and project team recognize changes when they occur and manage the changes through scope change management. This allows the sponsor to make a decision on whether the value of the change is worth the cost to the project in terms of cost and schedule.
Change is not inherently bad or good. However, the team can react to changes in positive or negative ways, depending on the state of the project. Project teams will typically react to change with the thinking that if the project sponsor wants to make the changes, then they will go ahead and make the changes.
Changes Can Be Perceived Negatively
Some teams react to project change in a way that can be more problematic - the team may not want to make any more changes. This situation usually occurs on projects that have had problems, and there could be a variety of reasons for this reaction:
- This may be a long project, perhaps requiring overtime, and people just want the project to end.
- The proposed changes will require a lot of work, and the deadline date is being held firm. Again, overtime may be required from the team.
- Members of the project team and the client have not had a smooth relationship on the project. There may be project team members that do not want to help the client and others that, again, may just want the project to end.
- The changes require major upstream rework to the design, which will require changes to construction and re-testing of the entire solution.
It’s a Tough Sell
Frankly, it’s a tough sell. The team members are tired and they are not motivated. Morale may be poor. However, this is the time for the project manager to show leadership. Delivering yesterday’s solution is not going to help the company. The project manager must get the team motivated to make the changes. Since the cause of the team problems is probably complex, the solution should be multi-faceted as well. Here are some strategies for the project manager to consider.
- Explain the facts first. Do not start with a rah-rah speech right away. First, meet with the team and explain the background and circumstances. Then, talk through the changes that are needed and why they are important from a business perspective. The project manager should make sure everyone has the same understanding of the problem and the challenges ahead.
- Acknowledge the pain. The project manager must acknowledge the problems. Let the team know that you understand that they may not want to make the changes and that their morale is poor. Don’t dwell on it – but acknowledge it.
- Be motivational. Now is the time to motivate the team. Appeal to their sense of working together as a team to get through this adversity. Let them know the value they are providing to the company.
- Talk to everyone one-on-one. In addition to the team meeting, talk to the entire team one-on-one to understand where they are mentally. Listen to their concerns and get their personal commitment to work hard and keep going.
- Get management and the sponsor involved. Now is a good time to ask your manager and your sponsor to talk to the team, thank them for their work so far, and ask for their continued help getting through the changes.
- Look for perks. Little perks can help a team get through motivational and morale trouble. These can be as simple as donuts in the morning and pizza for those that have to work late.
- Make sure the clients are in there with you. Normally if the project team is working more, the clients are sharing the pain as well. The project manager should make sure they are contributing.
- Communicate proactively. Keep everyone informed about the state of the project and the time and effort remaining. If the project manager starts getting closed and secretive with information, it causes more morale problems.
- Celebrate successes. The project manager does not need to wait until the project is over to declare success. Look for milestones, or mini-milestones, as opportunities to celebrate a victory and give praise to team members.
Some people might read this column and say that the team members are being coddled. After all, they are paid to do a job, and they just need to do it.
Yes, you can take that approach as well, but this is an example of a team that is already hurting. Taking an attitude of “just do your job” can result in people cutting corners, short-changing testing, and looking for the path that gets them to the end with the least effort required. In the longer-term, it increases burnout and makes it harder for the team members to be productive in their next assignments. It can also lead to turnover, which is exactly what you do not want to happen in a situation like this.
A project manager needs to have more management and leadership tools than simply telling people to “do their jobs.” This is a tough situation and requires good people management skills to get through successfully. Success is never guaranteed, but utilizing some of these tips can help you push though.
Project manager responsibilities are fairly similar in different companies
Whether you have the title or the role of project manner, there is a basic set of job responsibilities that you normally have. Although all publications look at this differently, the responsibilities can be broken down into two major areas.
- Process responsibilities. This includes defining and planning the project, and then managing risk, issues, scope, communication, etc.
- People responsibilities. In addition to process skills, a project manager must have good people management abilities. These include leadership, motivating, communicating effectively, listening, providing performance feedback, etc. (Notice that the basic people management skills don’t include hiring and firing people.)
Most project managers would agree that they have general process and people management responsibilities. However, different companies have different ways that they assign authority to the role of a project manager. The PMI Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) captures this thought by identifying different types of project management authority. At one end is a person who manages projects part-time, but has very little authority other than to coordinate the project team workload, and notify others when there is a potential problem. At the other end is a project manager with total authority over the project and the people. In between these extremes are other types of project managers who have various levels of authority.
You need to recognize your level of authority
There is nothing wrong with calling yourself a project manager, even if your level of authority is low. (Of course, if you called yourself a project coordinator or team leader, there would be nothing wrong with that either.) What is important is that you recognize the level of authority you have, and determine how best to manage the project to a successful conclusion.
Let’s take an example of scope management. All project managers should recognize when scope changes occur, and be able to document the benefit of the change and the impact to the project. If you are a project manager with less authority, you might need to take all scope change requests to the sponsor for resolution. If you had more authority, you might be able to approve a scope change yourself, if the impact is below a certain threshold. In both scenarios, the project manager manages the scope change request. The difference is how much authority the manager has to make final decisions.
This holds true with communication, risk management, quality management, etc. You should first understand the level of authority you have, and then determine the project management procedures that are necessary. You might be surprised how few project managers have everything within their control. It is much more common for the project manager to have less than total control over all the people and resources. Instead, in many situations you need to see your functional manager, your client sponsor, a steering committee, etc. for a final decision.
You will find that the more experience you have and the more successful you are, the more authority you will be given. Unless your managers are control nuts, they typically would rather delegate much of the routine project management authority anyway. They just need to have a degree of confidence that if they take on a less active role, you will be able to step up and fill a project management role with more decision-making authority.
Most project managers have limits on their ability to act independently. Even within one company, you will usually find some project managers with more authority than others. There is no shame in that. You need to understand your situation, and then determine the proper project management procedures within those limitations. You should find that you are able to acquire more power as you gain experience and have successfully completed projects in the past.