I love being a Project Manager! My wife is always amazed at how much I enjoy Monday’s or how I come home from 9-10hrs of work and start reading about PM best practices. “Don’t you get enough?’ she asks me. With this great excitement and appreciation for the PM discipline, also comes great frustration. The misconceptions as to the value that project management brings to an organization, their role in the organization, and who should lead projects gets me burned up. There are a lot of great posts on the characteristics of a PM, so this is not going to be a top 10 list of great PM traits (some links below for that). Instead, I want to discuss the practice of taking a strong developer or engineer and turning them into a PM… “the accidental PM”.
Before I get into my rant, I mean post, here is the video of the week…ever wonder how some folks got their job?
Through the years, I have seen phenomenal developers take on a project management role and then watched the project tank. All to often, I see wonderful communicators and very smart people take on an initiative and watch as it never gets off the ground or a project gets spun off to fix the last mess. I think there are three key factors that cause failures of this sort…
- Lack of Awareness: Many corporate executives aren’t aware of the role a project manager plays. Many organizations view the PM as a task master to track dates and provide a status update. They aren’t seeing the PM as someone that manages people (maybe not from a functional perspective), resolves conflicts, negotiates with internal & external resources, manages a budgets, and balances between technical/business/legal/etc facets of the project life cycle. In turn, I don’t believe the majority of organizations are giving the PM sufficient authority to make decisions in order to keep their projects within budget, on-time, etc. I have seen it countless times…a functional member of the team feels their request deserves some fast-track approval and lobbies their managers help. A meeting happens over lunch or golf and I am getting a phone call that something needs to change. Often times I can share some of the concerns and risks as to why we need to go through the ‘approved’ change request process so everyone can way in on how it affects their respective functions, but not often enough. Because of this lack of respect for the profession, we are often seeing a top performer turned into ‘accidental project manager’.
- Poor PM Assignments: Top performers should get a shot if they want to go down the road of Project Management, but they should be given the training to do so. One of the biggest issues with taking your star developer and having them lead the Customer Interface Redesign Project is that they are too close to the work. We see it all the time…job postings for an Infrastructure PM who needs to have 10 years of Network Engineering Experience and a PMP nice to have. (PMP is an example…could be Prince2, Scrum Master, etc for all I care). My point is that the lack of understanding from my first point bleeds into this space. Does the developer for your Interface Redesign know what the business units want? Does he/she know what the competition is doing in this space? Do they understand any legal ramifications of content they may post? Do they know what Corporate Security will expect of the portal and encryption keys? For your infrastructure project, does your Systems Engineer know legal aspects of what is required for SOX/HIPAA compliance? Do they know what language version are need for software on the app server? Okay, you get my point. There is value in having someone with the background or aptitude in the product/service, but I am not convinced it is a must-have and certainly not the number 1 item on my list.
- Double Dipping: Not only is a functional superstar not trained to work across functions, their time and attention will naturally gravitate towards those activities in their comfort zone. I know this first hand. I was in the Service & Support for years, so when I was assigned to develop a global PC deployment solutions I got way too deep in the process development efforts. I became the SME on selecting the workflow tool, creating the workflow, identifying resource utilization rates, etc etc etc. While my contributions in that space were valuable, that is not what I was hired to do. I was the PM and should have been pushing on my client (internal business unit) to complete their requirements of the offering, working with our finance rep to complete the Unit of 1 P&L for the justification, and so on to get Executive sign-off of the Concept.
Doctors are very intelligent, but you would not see a Physician performing brain surgery. A general attorney is tremendous at contracts, terms & conditions, and such but they probably wouldn’t lead the organization’s next big M & A transaction. So why is it then that companies will spend millions of dollars in market research or process optimization (lean) to find the next great break through or cost reduction strategy and then turn it over to ‘strong performer’?
Project Smart’s – The Top Five Project Management Traits to Master “the How”