Being a Project Manager you need to act in different roles at once depending on many factors in a certain time. Nowadays in the DNA of the PM there is an ability to play and juggle different roles and responsibilities for the success of the project. You as PM need to be a functional or hierarchical manager, sales person, finance manager, change manager, risk manager etc. at once. Sometimes you ought to be a psychologist as well or even play a role of devil’s advocate to make sure your team will achieve their deliverables in the boundaries of the project. Sounds like you shall see your projects as if they are pictures in a kaleidoscope to lead your Team to success and bring customer satisfaction – from different angles, in different shades and colors.
Project manager and their interdisciplinary role
Let’s get back to the basics of the project management. “The project manager is the person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives.”1
In many cases PMs are very focused on the primary goal of the project only and this leadership is concentrated on delivery of the project itself. They are focusing on project goals, progress, operational issues, daily reporting, daily ceremonies or they are just trying to make sure the project is going forward by firefighting as much as possible. Multiple roles of PM and interdisciplinary character of this role make us, PMs, forget or neglect certain aspects of it. Usually this depends mostly on the project situation like – tight deadlines, very demanding clients, lack of resources, very big scope, too much bureaucracy in the organization etc. All of those make our lives harder and make us focus on fighting windmills not consciously managing all aspects of our projects.
Don’t forget about different perspectives in the kaleidoscope
“A kaleidoscope is an optical instrument with two or more reflecting surfaces tilted to each other in an angle, so that one or more (parts of) objects on one end of the mirrors are seen as a regular symmetrical pattern when viewed from the other end, due to repeated reflection.”2
Being a Project Manager you cannot stick just to the basis. You need to remember about the “other end” of the kaleidoscope and remember about different areas of the project that shall be addressed. In my view there is an art in it, as you attempt to adjust those areas to multiple layers such as the project itself, organizational and environmental factors around as well as the Client expectations and needs.
From my perspective, what I can often observe or I’ve taken as lessons learned, both junior and senior Project Managers may overlook different aspects in their project fervor of the fight.
First of all, quite an obvious and surprising field – continuous improvement.
Delivery focus may put us in the shoes of firefighters, when issues are arising and the Team works hard to solve them we forget about root causes elimination and making sure this is not happening again. Here the learning curve of our Team is helpful but it won’t address all needs on the way. Project, to be successful, needs to continuously evolve in the meaning of people and processes as well as product (up to Customer’s expectations). Project Manager ought to ensure there is a continuous improvement process embedded in the project mechanics. Great tool for this is retrospective. You identify what works well and what is not working to make sure you and your Team are not repeating wrong patterns. Let the Team vote and include actions till the next retrospective. Do not cancel this ceremony and prioritize other work instead – without that you will be in the same place all the project long. Make sure as well you analyze root causes of the errors made and eliminate them for the future. Possibly your Team would like to forget about the issue that has just been solved, nevertheless don’t address only symptoms as the project will not be on the success path.
Another point is to listen to feedback and adjust to that feedback – this will also let you better adjust to Client needs and improve – don’t forget the feedback shall be incorporated in your Sprint Review meetings. If you will treat it as status or demo meeting only, you will lose the perspective of the Client and you may land far away from their expectations.
Risk management is a second important point which is overlooked by PMs or performed as a process which is never used in practice of the project. Statis tics show that “Risk management practices are widely used across (…) organizations – 27% say they ‘always’ use them, while 35% use them ‘sometimes’. 3% of surveyed organizations say they ‘never’ use risk management practices. (PMI)”3. Both ‘always’ and ‘sometimes’ answer barely summarizes to more than half of organizations surveyed, while ‘sometimes’ does not mean risks are managed effectively. PMs are very often fighting with the project fire, looking very short term on the goals and deliverables, which is why they are attempting to make the situation better here and now but they forgot those fires can be prevented or mitigated if they try to identify them earlier on and prepare for them.
Dr H. Kerzner in his article is showing very nicely what might cause ignoring of potential problem: “Knowing about a problem and not addressing it can be seen as a ‘kiss of death’ by the sponsor to the point where the project may be subject to termination.”4 Lack of risk management is like knowing that something may happen and that it can have a really big impact on the project and not trying to manage it. You as PM shall remember about this important knowledge area and process. Identify risks, plan risk management, embed it into your project management processes, plan risk responses and breathe life into that process so that the Team is part of it. Do not let your risk management be just a risk register which is never updated during the project lifecycle.
Stakeholder and expectation management are two processes which are obvious and known possibly for all Project Managers. Have you reflected how you address them in your projects?
“Poor stakeholder-project manager alignment is a big cause of project failure. Only 55% of people involved in projects – team leaders and project managers – feel that the project’s business objectives are clear to them. More than 80% also feel that the requirements process doesn’t articulate the needs of the business. And when the project is wrapped up, only 23% of respondents say that project managers and stakeholders are in agreement when a project is done. (Geneca)”
PMs in many cases limit themselves to identify and manage stakeholders who are the closest to the project. For instance, working with the Product Owner on the Client side they focus only on this person and forget about other stakeholders
be whom the project is interacting with and who may have a significant impact on the overall satisfaction form the project result. You can think about different persons – so called “Business”, where the product of the project will be serving certain business people in the organization or you can think about the managers of your Product Owner or Client’s IT Department etc. Those examples should already ring you a bell and show you how much you can be wrong not caring about those guys expectations or influences wider.
People management – this area is associated with line manager responsibilities. In projectized structures this is a more visible field of responsibility – PMs shall generally care about their people as a rule of thumb and have to play a role of manager who supports their development, goals setting, gives feedback or makes sure people are feeling appreciated as well as feel good in the organization and the project. Is this so obvious? In many cases no, as PM being totally focused on project delivery, current performance, metrics, results may put that area somewhere on the back side, which may be really dangerous for the project and the organization leading to dissatisfied or burned out Teams. There is also the perspective of PMs who are in matrix organizations, where their Team members are just “borrowed” for the projects – here the motivation of individuals plays a key role so people management aspect sounds even more important for project results.
Maybe you think this is black and white view but I hope it will lead you to reflect on whether you are saying ‘thank you’ for a good job and asking your Teammates in which areas they would like to develop themselves and have more frequent one-on-ones to understand ‘how is it going?’ in general.
Being a psychologist in the project – managing projects is working with people and their psychological side as well as handling emotions. Talking with people you work with, knowing something more about them, letting them integrate together even by small talks, short coffee meetings or some off work integrational activities will help the project to be effective and make people feel that they are working in a nice environment with great people around. PMs may just underestimate the power of integration of the Team, sometimes they need to balance be tween profitability and team buildings but always they can try to find creative ways to do that – especially in our current virtual times.
Longer term planning horizon – delivery focus may keep us in a very short term planning horizon, especially if you think agile and you focus with your Team on the next two Sprints, nevertheless you cannot forget about the bigger picture and strategic / long term horizon. In case you’ll be looking only on your current contract with the Client and focusing only on it you may find yourself in the situation where the prolongation of the contract will be missed. Another possible result is that you will need to release the Team because preparation of the contract or budgeting process on the Client side takes very long – does it sound serious enough to ensure you take a look broader than two Sprints ahead? Obviously details of planning should be adjusted to the planning horizon but still actions shall be taken. In many cases PMs are too much into current operational delivery that are forgetting about this super important aspect of planning.
Playing a bit of a sales representative role – You possibly heard about upselling and cross selling and you also think this is the task for a sales person – actually not only. The practice shows that you, as the PM, are the closest to the Client and you know very well where additional needs may appear. Your main source of this information may be your Team. Listen carefully and grab opportunities. Once you are working with external Clients think about your account development plan. Plan actions that will let your Teams grow. Sometimes there are opportunities that will be really lucrative for both – your Client that will get a very decent level of delivery and your organization in terms of profit.
Next aspect that may be put by PMs somewhere aside is thinking as a finance person and balancing that with aspects such as people satisfaction, project quality, organizational requirements, profitability required, project goals, customer satisfaction and many more… This one sounds very complex and it is because you deal with projects, people, processes and there is one more P – PROFITABILITY – that is required by your organization. Being focused blindly on it may lead you to loss of people, lack of proper quality and finally loss of your Client. This is where art of management appears again, where you need to balance and maneuver between all those priorities. There is yet another aspect of being a finance person and managing finance properly – do you like administrative processes? I bet the answer is no, but guess what? – you have to be super careful and super cautious with the numbers. Lack of proper focus on tracking finance of your project may lead you as well to big troubles. Think about points like: is your Team reporting hours diligently? Are the figures form reporting systems aligned with the invoices? Have you forecasted costs well for next period? Those questions shall appear in your head at minimum to effectively manage costs and budgets.
Those and many more
There are many more areas which PM may neglect or overlook being really focused on daily delivery only. You can also consider:
- being a change agent – treating a change as positive but in organized manner,
- communication aspects – making sure everybody is aligned about current state of the project,
- planning activities that may be done only really briefly or focusing on too many details on the other hand or
- neglecting organizational factors that are influencing the project etc.
I bet as many PMs as many additional points that can be added to the list.
You may then ask – how to use that kaleidoscope of PM? So many views, so many angles and so many topics to address. In my view receipt is simple and very complicated at once – keep the balance and adjust to what surrounds you. This golden rule is the hardest to be achieved for humans in every aspect of life but you can always try to be as close to the balance as possible. If I am to advice, that would be: think creatively, learn to operate within colors and angles of the project and people, think out of the box and use the best practices as well as be flexible and adjust to changes.
- A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), Sixth Edition
Delivery Director in an IT company leading a business unit delivering different types of projects for the success of the Clients. Certified Project Manager who is considering Project Management as a science and an art. Project Manager working in complex cross functional and international environments realizing projects such as innovation and transformation, HR with focus on improvements, system implementations, transitions, integrations/ splits (M&A), go-to-market etc. After work – traveler who is looking for undiscovered and surprising places in Europe as well as all over the world. Amateur of macro photography, who likes listening to good music and interesting audiobooks. Usually, looking for perfection in the world around.