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12 Things a Project Manager and Project Management Is and Is-Not

Well, since this is my first blog post I thought I would make it about what I do and what I’ve seen working as a project manager over the past 15+ years. This is a foundational blog post sharing my views on what project management is and is not and what project managers do and don’t do.

Some people have a misconception about what project management is and what a project manager does. In the end project management is about executing change in your business*. A project manager helps facilitate that change, helps to ensure success across the business, and helps reduce the stress a company feels about the change through effective organization and education. The change might be wanting to grow (or even a start a business) with the implementation of a marketing project. The change might be a result of growth you have or are experiencing, it might be a technology deployment project, it might be an office move, it might even be preparation efforts for the transition of ownership/sale of your business to someone else… your exit strategy.

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With that overview in mind, I thought I would start by sharing what I think project is NOT… and then get into what I think project management is and what project managers do. So let’s start with the “nots”…

A few things a project manager/project management is NOT:
  1. A project manager is NOT a task manager. A task manager – and not the one you find on your Microsoft Windows PC – is a person that works through a list of things that need to get done… they manage the list… project managers do not check things off a to-do or task list.
  2. A project manager is NOT a certification. The Project Management Institute (PMI) promotes their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, but their certification is not about practical project management experience. Instead, it is a test based upon the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) – it is not a certification based practical experience nor the demonstration of that experience. I have worked with many folks that have the “PMP” designation but were unable to effectively organize, communicate, or execute resulting in a lack of respect from team members and stakeholders.
  3. A project manager is NOT an overhead expense. You bring people into your organization to fulfill a role and take on the responsibility of getting work done. The same is true for a project manager, she has ownership of one or more projects’ completion and success. What may be different here is the distinction between operations and projects. The operations of your organization are ongoing and generally generate or support revenue creation, if they end the company ends. Projects on the other hand have a beginning and an end with a defined scope of work and goal. Projects often shift the revenue curve. So, I can see why some may not understand the value a project manager brings, but they certainly add value to your business. (NOTE: I’ll be doing a future blog post on a few options you might have when it comes to staffing this role.)
  4. A project manager is NOT the implementer. Just like a conductor does not play the instruments or an IT manager does not run cables but rather manages the IT team, so too the project manager does not implement the project but rather manages the team the executes the collective work activities.
  5. Project management is NOT a tool. Some organizations purchase Microsoft Project, some subscribe to a cloud-based tool, others simply use Microsoft Excel; in all cases these are just tools to facilitate the work a project manager does. QuickBooks is not “accounting” it is a tool that makes the function of accounting easier to manage. The same is true for all these project management tools. Do not fall into the trap of purchasing a tool and then thinking you have “project management”… a fool with a tool is still a fool.
  6. Project management is NOT just for large companies and corporations. All organizations go through change. In fact, I would argue that small and medium-sized business go through change more often and more rapidly than large companies and the impact of failure of just one of those projects has a greater impact and can have more distressing consequences. Large companies can absorb the failure of a project or two, even large ones. Small and medium-sized companies have few resources and project failures cannot, as easily, be absorbed by the financial and human resources of the organization. Believing this to be true, it is even more important for businesses to ensure a project management practice is in place and a project manager is assigned to own the delivery of the outcome.
Now let’s transition into what I offer as the things a project manager does/project management is:
  1. A project manager is organized, is a communicator, can effectively direct others, and is respected and ethical in the work they do. These are key skills and attributes you have to find in your candidate for a project manager role.
  2. A project manager is a conductor. He understands the big picture and can orchestrate the efforts of many in an organized fashion to achieve the goals of the project on time, on budget, and within scope.
  3. A project manager reduces stress on a business and its owner/leadership. Having a resource assigned to take responsibility for a project helps to ensure there is the focus needed to get work done. Knowing that there is someone in your organization that is capable and trusted minimizes the stress felt by the company’s owner/leadership. Your organization has others that take responsibility for operations within the business, maybe it’s a line manager or sales manager, giving you the peace of mind that those efforts are accomplished successfully… a project manager does the same. Having said that, the project manager can, and perhaps should, be part of an operational team within your organization – either the team that is directly impacted by the project or part of an external team to offer an “outsiders” perspective.
  4. Project management is the implementation of change. Change that can transform your business. Without change businesses stagnate and competitors pass you by. Change should result in growth by increasing revenues, creating efficiencies, minimizing risk, creating opportunities, reducing cost, etc.
  5. Project management adds value. An effective project manager minimizes delays and scope creep, monitors spending, manages risks and issues, and communicates. These activities bring value to the effort and company as a whole. Imagine the outcome of unmanaged efforts. You’d likely not have insight into what is going on or the status of the project. Is it running on-time or behind schedule? You’d likely not understand how much money has been spent or how much is left in relation to the work still to be completed. You’d likely miss warning signs of potential issues that could derail the project. And the project that you started would probably have morphed into something much bigger and different than expected as various stakeholders add more and more “bells-and-whistles” to your project.
  6. Finally, project management is often over complicated (the current version of the PMBOK-Fifth Edition is over 550 pages long) but it doesn’t have to be. Working with my clients we implement practical project management solutions scaled to the needs and maturity of the organization. I help educate my clients, and if they wish, give them the tools and support to lead projects with internal or external resources. I’ll talk more about that in a future blog post, but essentially, I practice a practical project management methodology. Meaning, do what you need to do to get the information and results you need to be successful. Focus on the core elements of project management that have value and meaning to your stakeholders. Don’t consume the limited resources you have with the creation of documents that will sit on a shelf just because the PMP certified consultant you hire at $125+ per hour says it’s required by PMI standards. Just as the absence of project management can create a stressful environment, so too can the development of assets that tax the project team and keep them from focusing on the real work.

Except for the normal day-to-day operations of your business, almost everything in your organization is a project. Having a project manager, or someone on your team to take ownership of project efforts regardless of what you call him/her, is essential to moving your business forward and really is the key to working ON your business rather than just working IN your business. Identifying who that person might be is key. I’ll have a future blog post talking more about that, but for now know that the right person must have strong organizational skills, effectively communicate, and be able to lead people they may not have direct responsibility over and hold them accountable while helping to remove roadblocks that might be keeping the team from getting work done. Finding this person either in or external to your company will surely reduce or even eliminate the stress you and your team are feeling about changes you are or want to undertake.

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* Note: I use the term business, company, and organization interchangeably because project management is a discipline that facilitates change in for profit businesses, associations, not-for-profit organizations, departments, product teams, etc. I feel that this choice of words helps to reinforce the fact that project management is not just for large companies.

About the Author Mark Mraz

I have been in project management and process improvement for over 15 years working for large and small for-profit companies, associations, and not-for-profit organizations. After working in hospitality management for over 10 years, I underwent a career change moving into technology, working for GE. It was there I began working in project management and process improvement; training with GE's Six Sigma program. Later my career had me working with Constellation Energy in Baltimore, Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas, and eventual transitioning into consulting working for federal agencies and most recently an industry association in the utility sector. I enjoy working with and helping small and medium-sized organizations build value in their business through strategy, project execution, systemization, and marketing.

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