Does ‘Manager’ Really Belong in the Title Project Manager?

This is going to be a quick post.  I want to throw a thought out there and follow the discussion/comments below…

I had an interesting conversation the other day with an old colleague and he said “Project Management has essentially becoming a stripped down version of management.  They have removed all of the tasks and busy work of management and shifted it to PMs, while leaving them  with little authority.  Most organizations don’t let the PM develop the budget or truly own it. They are given a budget and track against it…sometimes, the project budget is completely yanked right out from under them.  Most decisions that have any real impact are brought before some kind of board via a change process.  They cannot hire or fire anyone.  They usually don’t have a say in the roadmap of projects and often aren’t even told how their initiative effects/supports the organizations strategy.”  He finished with “so why do they have manager in their title?”

 If you have followed me for any amount of time, you know that I am a firm believer that most organizations are leveraging project management completely wrong.  I wrote a post on TalkingWork about the value of PM and feel strongly that the plug-and-play approach is a huge mistake for our industry.  PMs should be right up there with management consultants, financial advisors, lawyers, etc in the skills they deliver and in the strategic, advisory capacity they should act on.

What are your thoughts on all this?  Does this align with your experience/s?  Outside of the agreed upon project scope, do you have authority as a Project Manager in your organization? 


3 thoughts on “Does ‘Manager’ Really Belong in the Title Project Manager?

  1. Here is my take… project management as a discipline is on the rise because our organizations are fundamentally broken.

    The predominant pattern, at least in software organizations, is to organize people into functional groups. In other words, the strong side of the matrix is with the functional manager, and value has to be created by coordinating the work across these silos. The problem is that no one is really accountable for the outcome. We like to say that the project manager is accountable, but the reality is, as you point out, project managers rarely have the necessary authority. They are on the weak side of the matrix.

    My observation is that organizations which structurally align people with value creation are better at creating value. You might call this a projectized organization, but I tend to think of it more like a productized organization. Traditional thinking suggests that we need to optimize the productivity of the individual, so it makes sense to group them into like skillets, underneath a functional manager, and deploy them across multiple projects. I suggest we optimize for the creation of value… products or projects… by establishing relatively stable, cross-functional teams, focused on solving business problems.

    In this kind of an organization, there is still a need for project management, but it is less important to define exactly who has to perform that role. Project management can be shared by a greater number of people, even if we have a dedicated person called a project manager. Project management, and thus project managers, have a greater chance of being successful working in these kinds of environments. We remove the competing agendas, politics, empire building and focus on outcomes. We can hold project managers AND teams accountable for delivery.

  2. I often wonder if it’s a chicken/egg situation. Has the industry become watered down and stripped down to merely administrative behaviors by organizational hierarchy/implementation, thus attracting that ‘type’ of PM, or has the accidental hiring of less competent, less strategic PMs resulted in stripping away authority to protect organizations from resulting harm? I’ve honestly seen examples of both. Ultimately, of course, it’s the organization’s responsibility to make better choices to maximize their results – whether better choices in organizational structure/implementation of project management, and/or better choices in hiring qualified PM resources.

  3. Good points, it is certainly about perception. Lots of thoughts on this Robert. First some questions; do you want the PM to be both a functional manager and PM? Is a PM less valuable because they don’t have direct reports, manage the overall budget or participate in strategic planning? No and no…a PMs key role is to add value through their approach of the right use of methodologies, business acumen and leadership. They are there to manage and control the project and product lifecyle and ultimately bring the project in on budget, schedule at or below cost of the project. An organizations’ maturity, PMs; maturity/influence and governance have alot to do with how a PM will leverage their authority.

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