The Conflict Between Doing & Managing: The Project Manager's Eternal Dilemma

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

Since time immemorial, project managers have struggled with the balance between doing, managing and leading. For many project managers, these obligations represent an unholy trinity far more complicated and difficult to manage then the traditional triangle of constraints of cost, budget and scope.

Most of our problems start with doing. We interpret the term to meanĀ "the real work" of the project, rather than fiddling with Gantt charts and cheerleading from the sidelines. What is unfortunate is that this rather uncharitable perception rarely comes from the team members, but instead from the project managers themselves. While the source of the problem is an easy one to understand, the resolution of it requires considerable effort. Most of us got our start in the trenches. We were analysts, programmers, database administrators or architects. Good ones, too. Among the best in our organizations. Until our superiors, in their infinite wisdom, said something along the lines of: "You are exceptional at what you do. We need more of you. I want you to lead this team, and help them to develop the same skills."

So one day we woke up and we were management. Not middle management, necessarily, but certainly the project-flavored variety. Yet there were a number of assumptions being made here that--at the outset, at least--may well have been just plain wrong. Firstly, that because we …

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'Human existence must be a kind of error. It may be said of it: "It is bad today and every day it will get worse, until the worst of all happens."'

- Arthur Schopenhauer



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