Who's Really the Project Lead?
On teams that work in creative services, like those found in advertising and in consulting agencies, often the person who serves as the project lead is not a project manager.
This situation can be very tricky for a truly robust project manager who provides -- or wants to provide -- strong leadership and guidance to the team. It can lead to conflicts of interest and power struggles that can leave team morale in shreds.
When you see project managers in these environments, they've typically been relegated to a more administrative function. They essentially provide resource scheduling and reporting on data such as project profit and loss, rather than being empowered to provide much true leadership. (I discussed this in a little more detail in my first post.)
So should we eliminate the project management position and have the creative leads or account managers take on those responsibilities? Well, no.
Companies that attempt to eliminate the project management position from their ranks are ultimately just pushing this responsibility to other members of the existing team. Those members may believe they are able to take on the role of project manager, but more likely are too busy with their current responsibilities. Not to mention, they are nowhere near as knowledgeable or skilled in project management as they would like to believe.
The challenge lies in the perception of what it takes to manage and lead a project team from start to finish. If you were to ask your creative team or your account team, I'm willing to bet their description of leading teams would be inadequate. And much of the job they describe will be tasks they simply don't have an interest in performing.
So what do we do in these situations?
To me, the answer lies in accountability. If creative or account teams are going to claim leadership positions on projects, they need to be clearly identified by senior management as owning of the final, holistic project outcome. These project leaders must understand that their success -- and the project's success -- is tied directly to their ability to make all of the parts come together, even when many of the parts don't fall squarely in their functional purview.
Have you experienced this kind of conflict? How was it resolved?
|Erin Lynn Young|
I totally agree with your analysis. A project manager is always necessary - and managing the project often means the planning and facilitation to ensure that things get done (not necessarily controlling WHAT gets done).
I love user experience design & strategy -- and one reason I left a past job was because there weren't project managers. I was responsible for planning the project - so the bigger the project, the bigger the project planning. The bigger the planning, the less time I had for other things. The result? The bigger the project, the less strategy we applied to the project!
There is so much that a project manager can do to enable others to do their jobs. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER skimp on this role!
Well said Geoff.
The first is to quietly manage the project in the background. Identify and enlist key allies and simply do what needs to be done. This works, but the power struggles are always simmering and it can be unpleasant for you and your competitor.
A better approach is to treat the project as a learning opportunity and do what you can to embed pm knowledge and techniques in the heads of the rest of the team. Not only is this more rewarding personally, it also builds organizational capability in the long run.
What do you think?
Unfortunately, many companies expect the 'technical' guys driving the projects to handle the 'additional' responsibility of a project manager. In such cases, I have seen that project managers who have the 'technical' domain knowledge, are the ones who can contribute more to the needs of the project. Maybe a jack of all trades is what such companies are looking at.
I'm a new project manager on an existing project with a team lead who was "managing" the project before me, and is having difficulty letting go of the planning responsibilities.
It has become quite a tug of war, and I'm seeking ways to correct the issues so we can get back on track. I like the suggestion of clearly assigning the roles and responsibilities based on "technical how" and "project how".
Tiffiny, did you ever come across a forum that goes into this topic further?
The competitor had eliminated the PM position and instead designated a lead person over each trade area. Thus, there was no single point of accountability and continuity between the project team and the client. This forced the client to spend nearly 50% of his time managing the project, rather than focusing on his primary role as an engineer. Opportunity lost.
I shared with him that the cost for a PM was included in the unsuccessful bid. Project Management comes at a cost but...what's your time worth?
It all comes back to a single point for accountability and communication. You can call that point a PM, a lead, or anything else...that's semantics. But it has to be there, and it has to be spelled out in the Project Management Plan.
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