The project manager’s role is often misunderstood. They do a lot of heads-down paperwork. When they do talk, they are asking questions rather than adding valuable information to the discussion.
Some people think it is an easy profession. This is based on many myths of project management. Here, I will discuss five of the most common ones.
1) PMs are so busy planning, nothing gets done
In my early years as a software developer, I saw very little need for structure. Project managers were thorns in my side. They interrupted me to ask for my status. “I’d probably be done by now if you hadn’t kept asking me how far along I was!”
“You want to know my percentage complete? I really won’t know until I’m 100% complete.” I thought I would be a lot more productive if I didn’t have to provide estimates for my work, status updates on a daily or more frequent basis, and explanations for why things took longer than expected.
It took me a few years to learn that what I was working on was just a small cog in the big set of gears of a project. The project manager needed accurate estimates to see how it all fit together and needed to know as soon as possible when any task was going off track. I didn’t realize how my tasks were intertwined with other dependent tasks. I had no concept how my delays had a ripple effect on the entire project.
2) All they do is create meaningless documents that nobody reads
On one of my first projects I was given a project charter. I don’t remember my exact words, but it was something like, “What’s a project charter?”
A fellow cynic told me it was some bullshit document the project manager had to create to check an item off of a list. From that point on, I didn’t read project charters.
I felt the same way about the RACI matrix. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. It is a matrix that PMs develop to show the interaction of each person for each deliverable. I considered it a throwaway document that was never referenced.
Then I realized that when I went to the project manager for questions on the project, that she would refer to the project charter to show me the answer. I would ask who she wanted me to send a deliverable to. She would pull up the RACI matrix to show me who should be consulted and who should be informed.
There was a turning point in my career when I realized that these documents – and others – that the PM produced, had valuable information, not just for the PM, but for all stakeholders.
While it’s true that many people don’t read these documents, they often provide valuable information.
For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management
3) A good team doesn’t need a project manager
Some executives believe that if you put a team of qualified people together, they will just get their work done and won’t need anyone to babysit them.
Good project management is much more than babysitting the project. Project managers work with the team to make sure that tasks are sequenced logically and most efficiently. When a task takes longer than expected or new tasks need to be performed, the project manager determines the impact, re-plans the project to implement the change, and develops a new sequence.
While the project team works on their tasks, the project manager looks ahead and identifies the risk of anything happening in the future. She develops risk mitigation strategies to either avoid the risk, or to be able to deal with the risk should it become an issue.
A project manager monitors progress and helps to remove obstacles to ensure that the team remains productive. She collects the critical status information and reports it to her management to keep them informed and allow them to make strategic decisions for the rest of the organization.
A good project manager makes the qualified team more productive.
4) All you need is a checklist
Many project managers live by the project plan. A detailed project plan lists every task that needs to be completed for a project. It identifies who is responsible for each task.
The project team may think that all the PM is concerned about is marking tasks off as complete. For some PMs, that is the case.
Even the best project managers need to manage task completion status. But they are responsible for understanding what the status means. If something is behind, what are the issues causing the delay? Has the root cause been identified and addressed to avoid it from occurring again? How do we adjust the plan to accommodate for a delay or for any other change?
Once the PM understands the cause of the change in the plan, she is also responsible for communicating it to all appropriate stakeholders, including other project managers whose projects intersect in some way with her own project. Executives need to know the impact as well as the business users who need to plan on when the project will be completed.
Managing and checking tasks off of a list is part of a project manager’s job. But it is only done to facilitate understanding of where the project stands and to communicate that status to the necessary people.
5) All they do is waste time scheduling meetings
There are few people that I’ve met in the business world that thought we had too few meetings. But we can’t eliminate meetings altogether. Meetings are a necessary evil in the business world. Their purpose is to share information. Sometimes it is distributed outward like a project manager reporting status to a group of executives. Sometimes it consists of a group of people contributing information to each other and making a collective decision.
One of the project manager’s responsibilities is to facilitate communication throughout the team. A skilled PM knows when to distribute information via email or face to face, and when it is appropriate to call a meeting.
Some project managers misuse the meeting, which fuels the complaint of wasteful meetings. Some schedule them too often. Some let them go too long. But there are times when meetings must be held. Efficient meeting management is a skill.
What myths have you had to overcome as a project manager?
If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.
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