During the annual budget cycle, portfolio planning or even the adhoc “just-go-do-it” project, project management resource planning and funding can be marginalized and even entirely overlooked.
I’ve seen budgets and resource staffing assumptions that state the project only needs 10 percent of a project management effort. Or, even worse, the team doesn’t assign an internal project manager because the vendor is responsible to “deliver the work.”
Executive teams can make the mistake of overlooking project management needs to make the costs fit the budget or poor assumptions about the project’s complexity. Underestimating the amount of project management required to deliver a project is a critical mistake.
Below are five reasons why projects need professional and experienced project managers.
1. Ensure the project is organized to achieve the project goals.
When I’m asked to consult on a project turnaround effort or help get a troubled project back on track, one common finding is the lack of organization.
Teams will indicate they communicate frequently, know the status of milestones and have a good handle of the key project issues. But, I often find these troubled projects lack an integrated project schedule, a published and understood communication plan, as well as simple project artifacts like an issue list, weekly status report, or an updated project schedule.
An experienced project manager will help avoid these problems by ensuring the project is organized for success. A little bit of pre-planning, clarification of roles and expectations, and structure goes a long way to set up a team for success. Without the organization, teams can churn needlessly thinking that they are making progress.
2. Establish a single point of communication and accountability.
Assigning a project manager to a project establishes a single point of communication and overall accountability.
Project management is not a support role. In fact, it is a leadership role that helps deliver the project. In most organizations, a business lead and a project manager lead the communication effort and share accountability in the project delivery.
When stakeholders have questions, the business typically leads the communication. But project-level details are the project manager’s responsibility.
It is also important the business lead and the project manager are aligned on the communication. I’ve worked on several projects where the business lead’s project status viewpoint differed greatly from the project management level detail. Often, it is the small things that matter!
3. Apply experience and lessons learned.
Professional project managers bring a wide variety of experience and knowledge based on thousands of hours of successful and challenged projects. If the team is implementing a project in a new domain or new business process, adding a project manager with past experience will be instrumental to the project’s success. Otherwise, you’ll bear the cost of experiencing those lessons learned the first time around!
4. Project management is your assurance policy.
You’ve just funded a one million dollar project that will take 12 to 14 months to complete. The results will improve sales and overall company growth.
Are you comfortable just letting anyone run the project? Wouldn’t it be better to provide professional, skilled overhead to ensure the project goals are achieved and if problems arise, the resource has the skills and expertise to help?
Adding a professional project manager (usually less than 10 percent of project costs) provides assurance the project will be organized and managed appropriately. I’d like to say it actually provides insurance, but even project management is a sunk cost on successful and troubled projects.
5. Cheaper to invest in the fundamentals now than later.
The reality is projects are hard. Projects introduce new processes, systems, and organizational change that the organization hasn’t experienced. Executives may be hesitant to fund project managers for every project as there is usually a team lead who has demonstrated leadership in the past.
Leadership isn’t reserved for just for project managers, as we expect each team member to apply situational leadership when called upon. However, it is cheaper to invest in the project management function now rather than later in the project.
When executive stakeholders finally recognize the project needs professional help, it is often too late to rescue the project and maintain the original timing. Providing a project manager upfront mitigates the risk of cost and schedule overruns. Assigning a project manager doesn’t mean guaranteed success. However, you will be guaranteed communication of project issues, delays, and solutions based on years of experience.
When projects go off track, the way to fix most projects is to return to the fundamentals of managing scope, time, resources, and quality. It is better to invest in the fundamentals upfront rather than paying expensive consultants to turn around a project and install those fundamentals mid-project.