Have you ever had to justify adding a project manager to the project?
Adding a project management professional to a team to “just manage” the project is still a relatively new concept, if you consider that project management as a profession is still a young one. The Project Management Institute (PMI) was only founded in 1969. Compared to the engineers who built the pyramids, project management is still a young profession.
I’ve worked on both sides of the client-consultant relationship and there is solid rationale to have project managers staffed on both sides of the project.
Here are five reasons why clients, and even internal projects, need project managers.
Project assurance and stakeholder peace of mind
Assigning a project manager to a client’s project provides assurance and peace of mind that the financial investment will be properly managed. Let’s say a client is about to invest $4 million in a year-long IT project that will deliver five new applications to the company. If 10 percent of the project costs are for a few junior project managers and a senior project manager to successfully deliver all of the work, that is money well spent.
These project managers will make sure that project schedules are followed, risks and issues are identified and key project challenges are communicated to the client and consultant team in a timely manner. The project management team is the dedicated “eyes and ears” looking over the investment to ensure that the project delivers the results on time, within budget and with quality.
If the client doesn’t support a dedicated project manager, then the risk of failure, cost overruns or mismanagement only increases. And that extra 10 percent of overhead is probably worth putting toward well-monitored projects that are delivered as planned.
Proper division of labor
Project teams all have different skill sets that contribute to a project’s success. Let the techies code, designers design and project managers manage. If these roles get mixed up, it can be very difficult to successfully deliver. When I worked on a major recruiting project, one of the consulting group’s lead developers was trying to be the project manager, main developer, business analyst and sales manager. The project was wrought with problems; code wasn’t delivered on time and resources weren’t fulfilling their basic roles.
Assigning a project manager will help ensure there are proper roles and responsibilities are defined, and work is assigned appropriately. On a past project I introduced myself to one of the senior managers and asked how I could help. She curtly replied, “I don’t know where you can help. What is your role?” At first I was taken back by her bluntness; but in hindsight, it was the right question to ask. Good project managers know the division of labor.
Greater probability of project success
Yep. There I said it. If you have a PM assigned to your project, your chances of success have increased. I don’t have any metrics, academic papers or case studies to cite. But after 19 years of working in IT, I’ve seen more projects succeed with project managers than without.
Some Agile enthusiasts and scrum masters might object to adding a project manager, because of a belief that self-directed teams should manage their own work. However, in the past three large organizations where I’ve worked, Agile teams still had a project management role to help communicate issues outside of the core team, and support release and iteration planning. And it was well worth it.
A single point of contact
Having a single point of contact—someone who can talk about the project’s progress in the client’s language—is an essential part of a well-run project. You want the client to go directly to the right person all the time, without there every being a question about who that person is. I don’t think any IT consulting team would want the client going to a developer. Do you really want a developer explaining a stack overflow issue to a project stakeholder?
Some years ago I was part of a PeopleSoft implementation. My company agreed to pay the high consulting rate for a dedicated PeopleSoft project manager—even though we already had our own project management team, which included several IT supervisors and a project manager (me). Why would the company agree to spend over $300 per hour on an external project manager when they already had several in-house?
The answer was simple: for project assurance and peace of mind.
Any time we had a problem with the PeopleSoft product, development staff or any general issue, the PeopleSoft project manager took care of it. In this case, there was enormous value in having a single point of contact who could both account for the project’s true status, and resolve challenges as they surfaced.
Translate tech speak into business terms.
Who is going to explain technical terms to clients in a way that they can easily understand what’s going on, and in a way that matters to them?
A business or systems analyst can help translate business processes into technical speak, but an individual analyst won’t always have a strategic view of the project. A competent project manager can be the effective translator between the technical team and the client. In project management, there’s a specific process for stakeholder analysis. By figuring out the needs and wants of the stakeholders, the project manager can craft the correct response.
Of course even project managers need to be sensitive to how they talk about what and with whom. One time I made the mistake of talking about project status in terms of earned value management, and the stakeholder just looked at me wide eyed. I quickly changed terminology and let him know the project was on track. That was enough.
Polling some PM colleagues
I reached out to PM colleagues Robert Kelly (@rkelly976), Aamer Inam (@AamerInam) and Naomi Caietti (@califgirl232) and asked them: “What are your top two-three reasons why clients need a project manager?” Here are their answers.
- Manage communications.
- Manage resources (people, funds).
- Manage risk and changes to requirements.
- Manage expectations of internal and external stakeholders.
- Drive teams and manage risks by actively communicating with the right people at the right time.
- Manage large, high-risk projects.
- Have someone who is customer-facing, to manage complex and multiple projects.
- Vendor management.
If you’re going to delivery a project successfully, you need the right people to perform the right roles. Project management professionals are a necessity that adds value to the project because they make sure that project issues are properly managed and communicated. As project management continues to grow as a profession across all business domains, fewer clients will ask if the project really needs a project manager. Instead, they’ll be asking who will be the project manager!
If you have a reason to promote project management professionals, let us know in the comments box.