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What Is a PM? Twitter Facebook Print E-mail
Written by Rich Farr   
Monday, 08 October 2007

The job title of project manager (PM) may be one of the most vague titles in the industry. I realize that certifications have become available for project management as organizations have attempted to standardize project management as a discipline, but from my experience the expectations and responsibilities of a project manager vary widely from organization to organization. A few of my thoughts on the subject follow.

Not long ago, we instituted the role of “technical program manager”. With this role, we set expectations of what it takes to manage complex IT projects and programs at the Church. One of our lead program managers succinctly described the characteristics required to succeed in this role.  I’ll elaborate on his exact terms:

Technical Depth:  It is a given that project and program managers need to understand how to gather and organize requirements, control scope, manage tasks and dependencies, communicate status, etc. But I believe that beyond this, the program manager must be well-versed and current in the technologies that are, or could be, leveraged on a project. The engineers, as well as the stakeholders, must trust the PM’s understanding of the issues. Without sufficient depth of understanding of the technologies, methodologies, and trends used in the industry and on the project, the PM can quickly just become just an information relay. At the end of the day, the PM must own the entire result. Technical depth is requisite to this ownership.

The Ability to Move a Room:  The PM, as the person ultimately accountable for the success of the project, must have a well-refined ability to achieve consensus on key decisions and motivate a team to succeed. Do we use package A or package B?  Should we build on framework Y or framework Z? The PM must be adept at quickly getting the entire team to support the best solution and move forward. No matter the planning and forethought that went into the project, problems will arise. To quote the poet Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft aglay.” The PM needs to take charge when things go wrong, pulling the right members of the team together, adjusting plans, and recommitting the entire group to success. Additionally, the PM needs to be able to navigate tough decisions with customers, stakeholders, project team members, and vendors to make sure they are all committed to the solution and to the commitments.

Must Eat Raw Meat for Breakfast:  Okay, not literally. But the PM must not be afraid of tough conversations. He or she must be able address issues in a direct, professional manner with people throughout the organization – from the executive sponsor to the junior engineer. Fear of having a tough conversation kills communication, momentum, and trust. The PM must have an “I own it” attitude. Obviously there is a lot more required to be successful as a PM. But these three attributes are critical to lead a project and own the results, rather than just manage a project.

I'd I’d love to know your thoughts.



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