A Tough Question

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Why do we require project managers? For delivering the project on time and within the current budget. But the project manager doesn't do anything on the project--it's the team or team leads who work hard to deliver the project.
    The project manager is the white elephant that sits on top of the team and does nothing. But, if a project fails, no one in the organization complains (except the project manager) about the team. Instead, everybody runs after the project manager since he or she was responsible for the delivery (without doing anything).
    But, is there a structure in which someone else capable among the team would be responsible for the delivery? The reason I ask is because in Asia many of the small-to-medium-size IT companies are more inclined to technology rather than project management. Their success or failure depends on the technology competence and project management has little to do with it. So should the technology manager be responsible for the success or failure of the project? It seems to make more sense, to me at least, that the project manager should just help him out on process implementation, preparing the plan, providing resources, etc.

Posted by sanjay saini on: February 10, 2009 01:11 PM | Permalink

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Interesting observation. We have seen a similar situation within our organization in which the position of project manager of a highly-visible project was removed in the middle of its three year process due to budget shortfalls. Even though the pm has done a pretty good job by coordinating works among and between each function units. Now the senior management has taken over the project and whether it will meet all requirements still remains to be seen.

David Pope
Sanjay, I am pondering the possibility that this message is an attempt at humor however remain unsure. "But the project manager doesn't do anything on the project" "The project manager is the white elephant that sits on top of the team and does nothing" My friend, I am unsure of your position and am unsure why you feel this way why you have taken this position. Yes, the Team does perform the work however, directly under the control and under the direction provided by the Project Manager. Make no mistake, the Project Manager is responsible for a whole lot more than simply delivering to schedule and budget. He or She, is responsible for delivering to the organisation, for delivering to the project team, for delivering to the customer, for delivering positive and continuing relationships to all of the above in order to implement business continuity and future project prospects, for ensuring the team will even be motivated enough to tackle the next assignment. This is simply the begining of the PM's responsibilities. The buck stops with the PM. Cheers Dave Project Director

Hi Sanjay, There is no doubt that the Project Manager is probably the guy who is making the least amount of physical effort in a project. However, at a mental level he has to be far more tougher. Being a project manager in real time is far more difficult than PMP certification. From my practical experience I would try to answer your question... Why a Project Manager is necessary... 1. He brings an element of experience, co-ordination, and harmony within a team. a. Experience : Most IT companies go in for a project manager having a knowledge of the technology and domain of the project. b. Co-ordination : Most team leads lead individual modules. A PM leads a project(product of all modules). c. Harmony : In case anything goes wrong in some project, a post mortem is conducted as to who/which module is at fault. At this point, a PMs role becomes crucial. 2. Even when everything seems ok, the client might be busy screwing the PM over some silly thing or the other. However, a PM cannot transfer this to the team members as the project might suffer. Thanks to cost cutting as the world is continuously changing, the day is not far when the term Techno PM(Technical Project Manager) will become very popular. This guy would be an experienced team lead who would need to do client,resource and technology handling as well.

Chandrasekaran Ramanathan
Tough Question and the answer may be simple. Need to revisit the fundamental questions of what is a project and who is a (project) manager. If a project has multiple technologies, will there be multiple technology managers within a project ? As you have mentioned, the project manager needs to take care of the project planning, human resource management and quality process, etc., I think, that is what expected out of PM and the etc depends on the organization of what else is expected..

Lisa W
Sanjay - what a thought provoking question. Here's my two cents...In my company, the entire team is held responsible for project failure. And within the team, the failure falls to the engineers or QA because technology is the most common cause of project failure (customer/vendor relationships falling second). The most common example is a technology team member agrees to a requirement that they later discover cannot be fulfilled for the customer. While this is a lot of pressure for the technology team, we have implemented processes to prevent these technology misses (mostly spec reviews and design meetings). To me, it makes sense the PM does not get the blame unless they unable to overcome the risks introduced by the technology failure. I think the value of the PM is how quickly they resolve issues and their ability to anticipate risk to the project. If the project fails because the PM is not fulfilling this role, that's a different story.

Valerian Eshelman, PMP
David Lanners, former President of PMI-Dallas, used to start the chapter meetings with a picture of a line of slaves, marching to a parymid which is under construction, in front of a master cracking a whip. He would ask, "Who is the Project Manager in this picture?" If you looked closely, you would notice a character in the line of slaves raising his hand as if to say, "I've got a better idea..." and this is who David would indicate the PM to be. The point is the Project Manager doesn't have to be a formally designated leader from a pool of Project Managers in a Project Management organization that knows nothing about your technology or business. The Project Manager is often an engineer, or a professional who is otherwise trained. PMI offers them a sound approach for delivering the project.

Lots of things here, but top one to me is that time is money (paying people and paying for machines). Without a PM most projects suffer from time lost or wasted and project drift. A good PM at a minimum should be providing linkage and focus to keep the team aligned and avoid any slack or lag time that costs valuable time.

Daniel Mitzel, PMP
Sanjay, What you have described seems right in line with a weak-matrixed organization. If the PM has no authority over the technical resources, nor any responsibility over the results of the project, then yes, placing an unfortunate sole in the role of Project Manager serves no meaning. Now, the greater question in my opinion is how effective is a technical team without oversight? Certainly, if the team is under the direct supervision of a line/functional manager - the leader responsible and accountable for the results of their project, then the functional manager has assumed the role of PM by default. Perhaps this fact, coupled with cultural considerations inherent in Asia - acceptance of personal responsibility, strong work ethic, etc. - creates the environment for project success without the need for a matrixed PM. However, I will argue that under the increasing march of Globalization, where teams may be geographically distributed across national, cultural and other "boundaries" of diversity, a strong, matrixed project team lead by an authoritative, accountable PM will soon become a necessary driver for success, if it is not already. Regards, Daniel M. Mitzel, PMP Michigan, USA

Dear Sanjay, We, Project/ Program Managers, are the captain of the boat. No captain, no one to direct the course of the journey, no one gets anywhere... And to me, this is of the challenges to us - influence the thinking of those who find less value (or sometimes no value) of us in an organization. Cheers! DaveB

Ghani Ahsan
Very interesting comments. Project management is a discipline, just like so many other disciplines such as architecture, data base administration, business analysis, software development, testing etc., that participate in an IT project to deliver it successfully and efficiently. It is also true that projects can be, and do get delivered without practioners from each discipline being present. In these cases someone else is doing double duty. No problem with that either, as long as the team possesses all the skills and has the bandwidth to complete all the tasks on time and with the appropriate quality. In the final analysis, a PM is always needed. The role may be filled by a project manager, a technical lead, a business lead or the business manager. Ghani. Dedicated Project Manager

Anuraag Bharadwaj
Hi Sanjay, Pragmatic thoughts: feel there is a strong need for doing some history browsing of software industry in particular to identify why there is a need of manager (Project Manager) Any task accomplished can be broken down into two parts broadly: a. Technical skills required to accomplish b. Planning, sourcing of technical skills, taking care of the stakeholders, arranging for fund flow, accounting funds, updating stakholder and sponser of the problems, issues, identifying risks to project, planning reponse, tracking where the project is headed to, is project withing scope, how to negotiate with stake holders to keep project within scope or if need to modify then how the changed scope will be accomodated, and on and on and on............. So there is a urgent need to look beyond the to comprehand the full picture as individuals are concerned about their part of picture and project manger ensures the big picture emerging out of the parts should be viewable and usable. "But the project manager doesn't do anything on the project" --- with your logic so does a CEO and senior management; let remove them and lets have developers only why team leads and technical mangers too..... "The project manager is the white elephant that sits on top of the team and does nothing" Work is done by developers or workers at the grass root... then why suprervisors, team leads technical managers............ you mean to say a flat world :) Anuraag Bharadwaj Project Manager & Certified SAP consultant

Viorel Serbu
Not tough but dumb question. Let’s take it simple - a project has a set of requirements, start date, end date and budget - that’s all. And believe me there is no room for trial and error. Within this narrow space someone needs to drive the work from a business perspective and not from a technology one. Why? Because other way, you’ll deliver a state of the art useless product .The customer usually doesn’t care about the technology, it only looks at the implemented features, if they comply or not with its needs. A pm will tell to the team what and when to do because it is required by business, while a technology leader will tell to the team how to do because it is technologically possible. It’s like a coin. You cannot have a single side one.

PM Hut
I don't know why you're saying that a Project Manager does nothing. The project manager is not only accountable for the project, but s/he has a huge list of responsibilities: - Develop the Project Plan - Manage resources (how can employees work if not properly managed) - Handle project conflicts - Monitor/Manage the project schedule/budget/risk. I have published a while ago a list of responsibilities of the project manager ( http://www.pmhut.com/project-manager-responsibilities ), I'm sure you know about those responsibilities. I still have no idea why you're saying that, all companies are shifting a Project Management environment and are hiring Project Managers by the dozens. If there wasn't a real benefit in doing that (as you say), then why are they doing this?

My friend, my friend, my friend as a project manager for over 25 years in environments such as IT, Engineering, Finance, and Business Management, the role of a project manager (if applied as it should) is that of a facilitator, a navigator, mediator, a collaborator, a negotiator, a peace-keeper and most of all resourceful. He/she wears many hats and must be fair, impartial, and clearly understand the objectives of the project.

Sachin Sangamnerkar, PMP
Hi Sanjay, It seems to me that your original comments based on following environment "The reason I ask is because in Asia many of the small-to-medium-size IT companies are more inclined to technology rather than project management. Their success or failure depends on the technology competence and project management has little to do with it.". Well it's true that the "Actual Projects are comparatively lower in truer sense when it's executing in Offshore IT hub ( say in Indian IT shop ). Most probably it's a subset of much bigger project running at client site ( by Clients ) where they need some Resource help ( to bring in Additional help for temp duration / particular phase ). Let's take example ... For example there is 40,000 hours IT project from Fortune 1000 company for some IT initiative... the Whole nine yards from Rerquirement analysis to UAT to Procution Implementation ... Most oftenly what Indian Offshore get out of this is coding & unit Testing and/or Testing phase ( within oversight Client defined SA, BA & Architects at client site & some control of Client Manager) which are may be 5,000 to 10,000 hours on higher side to lower side of 500-1000 hours WHICH got defined as Project. ( hmm anything above 40 hours could be project ). Needless to say it will have much more Technology focus than actual project management. Due to cultural difference the PM role / actual scope / expectation and the value to organization from PM is different. So your comments from your perspective have "some truth" in it but even in India PM is a Accountible / Responsible person aka SPOC for the projects from Sr. Management point of view. Regards, Sachin

Bob Trafton
The project manager is to a project/program what a conductor is to an orchestra. The conductor must coordinate the strings, woodwinds, percussions to produce the desired result for the audience. There are a lot of behind the scenes activity: rehearsal, personnel, music selections, delivery, expenses, presentation, etc. I should think the conductor is a very vital element of the orchestra. Similarly, the PM does the same for a project/program. Just in a different media for a different clientele.

George Pitagorsky
We must differentiate between the role of project manager (PM) and the person or people performing the role. The leadership aspect of the PM role can be played by a technologist or subject matter expert. There is the Surgical Team model in which the chief surgeon is managing the "delivery". There may be another person playing the more administrative part of the PM role. This part of the PM role is responsible for coordinating, facilitating the planning, reporting, providing information, etc. It is important because it enhances the ability of the team to perform and increases the probability of success. If PM does not do that, then there is something wrong with the way it is being performed. PM must add value.

Bill Atherton
Think of each important project or program within your organization as coming from an outside vendor rather than within. As a senior manager, if you were dealing with this vendor to get the project done, would you want to be dealing with a whole slew of programmers and engineers, or would you rather have a single point of contact making your requirements reality? The true role of the Project Manager is to simplify the life of his customers, be they internal or external. Bill A. Senior Engineer, Supply Chain

Like beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, value of PM depends on the valuer! Comments given here in both directions are true. and the question is a practical question. I was a developer/techie, turned Tech/resource/Project Manager, turned Project Manager in matrixed structure. I guess this discussion is in an IT environment and my comments here are with due respect to both techies and PMs. When I was in the all in one PM role, team members just litened to me regardless of what I am saying is good or bad. No issues here from a PM's perspective, it is probably an agenda for techies forum :-) When I am in the PM role in matrixed structure, nobody listens (i'm not talking abt anything real technical or functional. any simple thing, e.g., you have to submit the request at least on Friday morning to promote the code to UAT environment to let business start UAT on Monday considering the fact the operations team has an SLA of 24 hours to promote the code) unless you prove it because 1) the PM is in the same level in the org chart or may be even lower level compare to senior techies involved in the project and you know how things work, 2) some of the techies want to talk with only those who are knowledgeable as much as they are or with people directly above them in the org chart. Simply CCing the PM on their emails would be a big help (catch a typo in expected completion date of a task, catch someone inadvertently missed in the distro), but I have seen techies who refuse to do that. Techies have a role and set of responsibilties and PMs have their set of responsibilities. The problem is when people don't understand each other's. PMs role is less valued: * when the developers, especially experienced developers tend to do it more, neither understand nor help the role of PM. * when business community and senior management deal directly with developers even for things that PM is held responsible for (e.g., project status, schedule). when the organization works in less organized mode and depends on the success of individuals rather than a team. When the senior management don't emphasize the role of PMs in the organization, especially in matrixed project environment, PM role will remain undervalued and the PM skills will be underutilized. I have seen the following notions from some techies which is where the PM and the project suffers most, and I will not be surprised to see it more: * Project plan - why do I need it? I know when to complete my work. Dont waste my time trying to involve me to create a project plan. * Direct project resources - I know what I have to do. I dont want anyone to tell me what I have to do. * Slippage in Schedule/Status - So what, I have spoken to the director, I have spoken to the business & they are ok. * At this rate, we can't meet the deadline: Don't eat my brain, or send emails to people. I will pull it off overnight. If not, I will explain it to the Director. * Why a PM is required? Not only project money is spent to staff the position, he/she will waste my time too. I have also worked with techies who help the PMs (which is merely understanding the role of PMs whether they like you or not) and I can gurantee that the projects have gained a lot by that, and life for them becomes comparatively easier too.

Bob Rahm
The perspective is common, if the project is an application development project, and the PM doesn't architect or code, then the PM doesn't add any primary value to the project. This is especially true if the user/client is in operations. Operations folks don't always have a good feeling for the complexity of the creative or development process. Doing something again (operations) is completely different from creating something anew. Couple that with the fact that the requirements were also initially underdeveloped, and continue to change; and the resources are human, and though sold as plug compatible, are subject to wide variation in experience and talent, availability and compatibility; and you have a underdefined objective, underqualified resources, and underfunded charter that the primary customer doesn't understand. It is no wonder that 70+% of IT projects fail outright or come in over budget or late. Project managers are the reason the number isn't 95%. The real goal of project managers is alchemy, turning what would otherwise be lead into gold. Nobody understands the burdens on the wizard. We defeat that when we talk about it in forms and numbers, and become instead project administrators. We become managers when we advise and resolve, and not merely prolong the schedule and revise the deliverables. Also when we work with the clients to ensure that the requirements accurately reflect the needs, instead of some MBA driven buzzword based overgrown spreadsheet. We should promote automation of project administration; status gathering, workflow based authorizations, and time management are all tasks that could do with less management and more auto-administration.

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