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Read an Excerpt
Neal Whitten's Let's Talk!
More No-Nonsense Advice for Project Success
By Neal Whitten
Management Concepts PressCopyright © 2007 Management Concepts, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The Project Manager
"Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect." — Ralph Waldo Emerson, American author, poet, and philosopher
Q1.1 Can you briefly describe the project manager's job?
A1.1 The project manager (PM) directs the planning and execution of a project and is held personally accountable for the success of the project. The PM is a nurturer of projects.
Primary duties of the project manager
Q1.2 What are the primary duties of a project manager?
A1.2 The project manager:
Is fully accountable for the project
Applies lessons learned from past projects
Ensures that project roles and responsibilities are well defined
Leads the project planning activities
Leads the project tracking and problem-management activities
Promotes project management best practices
Manages daily to the project's top three priorities
Ensures the proper level of client involvement
Encourages and supports escalations
Communicates project status to project stakeholders
Enforces effective change control
Promotes good working relationships
Makes things happen.
This list of the project manager's most significant duties is taken from Neal Whitten's No-Nonsense Advice for Successful Projects,Chapter 14, "Duties of the Effective Project Manager."
Taking on too many "monkeys"
Q1.3 As a project manager, I feel that I probably take on too many tasks that members of my team should be assigned. Any advice on how to deal with this?
A1.3 As a general rule, the project member who has the dependency should be assigned the action item. However, if the problem affects more than one project member, then the project manager should strive to find someone to own and lead the effort and effectively work it to closure. There may be times (albeit infrequently) when it is okay for the PM to take on such a "monkey" — for example, if the problem is urgent, the project member is clearly overloaded, or the PM is the right person to deal with the issue because of his skills, position of influence and power, or availability.
PM as critical path
Q1.4 Why do you say "albeit infrequently" when referring to moments in which a project manager should take on a "monkey"? Wouldn't you agree that it is noble for the project manager to take on some of the work of project members so that they are free to perform other work?
A1.4 No, not in most cases. By doing project members' work for them, you may inadvertently deny them a chance to learn and practice commitment, accountability, and leadership skills. But the biggest downside is that you, as the PM, can become the major critical path on the project. A project plan shows one critical path, the one that is typically referred to, but there can be another critical path that can do greater harm to the execution of a project plan. That critical path is the availability of the PM to help discover potential problems and fix them. A PM who is busy doing others' work cannot perform his or her own duties, which include tracking progress, seeking out potential problems, and being available to help remove or mitigate obstacles for others. The most effective project managers remain relatively available to help other stakeholders be successful within their own domains of responsibility.
Q1.5 Can you give an example of a project manager taking on too much work, becoming a project's critical path, and, therefore, not being available to perform many of his duties?
A1.5 I was asked to mentor a project manager I'll call Vihar for a day. I observed his behavior in meetings and working with others one on one. His project had about a dozen core members. I began the day by watching Vihar run his weekly project tracking meeting. After the meeting, I told him that I counted 50 open action items, 40 of which were assigned to him. I said that it is unusual for a PM to own so many action items; doing so puts the PM at risk of becoming the critical path on the project. I asked why he owned so many action items.
By the end of the day, I understood why. Vihar was easily intimidated, and many project members resisted taking on new action items, even though those action items were in their domains of responsibility. When project members refused to take ownership of action items, he took them on himself. Vihar's behavior limited his availability to manage across the project, which severely handicapped his effectiveness.
As stated earlier, the PM should avoid becoming the project's critical path, but instead should be available to "grease the skids" and help other project members who find themselves as the critical path or have the potential to become so.
PM's accountability for all project members' performance
Q1.6 As a project manager, am I accountable for the performance of the project members who have been assigned to work on my project?
A1.6 Yes, but you are also accountable for the performance of all people who fall within your domain of responsibility — people you need to perform work so that your project and team are successful. Your domain of responsibility includes all responsibilities and commitments that fall within the scope of your assignment. This means that your domain of responsibility does not just include your core project members; it includes anyone on whom you depend, whether it be for only two hours, two hours per week, or full time. Moreover, your domain of responsibility includes the performance of vendors, contractors, client personnel, part-timers, college co-ops or interns, and anyone and everyone who has a role to play in making your project successful.
Q1.7 Are you saying that I am accountable for the performance of certain people, even if I am not their resource manager (boss)?
A1.7 Yes, but only as their performance relates to your project.
Q1.8 But that isn't fair. How can I possibly get them to work well with me if I do not control the direction of their careers or their performance evaluations, salary increases, and job opportunities?
A1.8 Your job includes creating a work culture and environment that is properly structured, productive, constructive, efficient, and effective and that ultimately sets the project members up for success. This includes ensuring that each project member is fully aware of and committed to your expectations. In my experience, at least 95 percent of your project members will work satisfactorily with you as long as they understand what you expect from them. (By the way, they should also know that you will be providing feedback on their performance to their own resource managers.)
Q1.9 Ninety-five percent seems like an unusually high number, but I'll accept it if you say so. How do I work with the other five percent?
A1.9 Almost all project members want to do the right thing. They want to do their share of project duties, and they want to be on a winning team. Those who do not can be difficult to work with. You initially work with them in the same way you would work with the cooperative 95 percent. Make sure they understand what you expect from them. If they choose not to cooperate, be sure that you have reasonably tried to fix any problems. If that doesn't work, ask their resource managers to help ensure they meet their commitments. If resource managers will not cooperate with you (which is not likely), then continue the escalations up the "food chain" until the issues are resolved.
PM as absolute dictator
Q1.10 As the project manager, I believe that everyone must agree with me and do what I say. Am I correct to expect this?
A1.10 Not entirely. Your team, collectively, likely knows more than you do about many things. Your job is to tap into team members' intellectual capital, and you should welcome ideas that are counter to yours. But once you have settled on what you think is the best course of action, you must do your best to sell your team on it. If project members still disagree with you, you must nevertheless move ahead with what you believe to be the best business decision.
Insufficiently skilled project member
Q1.11 As a project manager, what do I do if a resource manager assigns someone to my project who lacks the required skills to perform satisfactorily?
A1.11 If you know immediately that the person assigned will not perform satisfactorily, then discuss the problem with the resource manager. If the RM does not help resolve the issue, escalate higher.
But if you only suspect that the individual might not perform satisfactorily, meet with him and his RM. Explain your concerns, and ask the RM to assign a buddy or mentor to the person to help him be successful. Most RMs will welcome the idea of having someone work with the person. On the off chance that the RM is not helpful, respectfully tell the RM that if the project begins to suffer because of the project member's weak performance, then you will expect the RM to take swift action to remedy the situation — or you will escalate the issue higher. (Q&A 2.19, Chapter 2, "The Resource Manager," discusses this problem from the RM's perspective.)
Deferring vacation of project member
Q1.12 What if the project manager needs a project member to defer his or her vacation so that the project is delivered to the client on time? Does the project manager have the authority to make this decision?
A1.12 Typically, no. However, the project member's RM does have this authority. The PM has the duty to complete the project on time, within cost, and with the expected quality. If problems arise that might impede the project's success, the PM must clearly identify the problems and creatively work to solve them. If the PM believes deferring a project member's vacation is the correct business decision, then the PM first speaks to the project member. The RM may also participate in this discussion. If the project member and RM will not cooperate, then the issue must be escalated.
Q1.13 What if no one, including the project sponsor, insists that the vacation be deferred? What does the project manager then do?
A1.13 The worst-case scenario is that the project will be completed late. But as long as the correct people were involved in the decision to not defer the vacation — most notably the project sponsor and client — and affected parties are aware of any harm that the project member's absence might cause, then the PM does the best she can under the circumstances.
Q1.14 If the client was not consulted, who has the duty to inform the client that the delivery will be late?
A1.14 If the project sponsor made the final call on whether to allow the project member to take vacation as scheduled, he must talk to the client. However, the client should have been included in the decision process in the first place.
Q1.15 Who is mostly at fault — the project member or the project manager — if the project is delivered late because the project member took vacation as planned?
A1.15 Accountability for the late delivery is shared by the PM, the RM, and the project member. The PM is ultimately accountable for the project and, therefore, the performance of all project members. In most cases, the PM should have anticipated the problem by observing the progress being made on the activities within the project member's domain of responsibility. Moreover, the PM should have identified the project member's vacation in the project plan.
Meanwhile, the RM should have worked closely with her employee to ensure that the employee would fulfill his commitments before leaving for vacation — and created a workaround if the employee failed to do the necessary work. Of course, the project member should have anticipated any potential problems early on and created a plan to mitigate them.
Q1.16 I am a project manager. What if a project member is neglecting my project because her resource manager has directed her to work on another project or assignment?
A1.16 It is common for project members to work on more than one project at a time. As a PM, you are focused on your own project. If your project is suffering, then you must work with the project member to resolve the issue. The project member must work with her boss in resolving the issue. If this doesn't work, approach the project member's boss for help. Unless you are directed by a higher authority (e.g., a boss or project sponsor) to do otherwise, you should behave as if your project is the most important project in the organization and company to protect your domain of responsibility.
Q1.17 What if the project member's boss says that my project is a lower priority?
A1.17 If the project member's boss is not your boss or a boss within your immediate management chain, continue to escalate until the issue is resolved. If you lose the escalations, then consider reevaluating the project schedules so that they remain realistic and achievable.
Skill development of project members
Q1.18 As a project manager, am I responsible for developing the skills of the project members assigned to my project?
A1.18 Your project members' resource managers are responsible for ensuring that their employees have the basic skills to perform their jobs. But it is your responsibility to ensure that your project members are adequately trained to perform tasks specific to your project — such as project planning, status reporting, the escalation process, and project communications.
Even though resource managers must make sure their employees get proper and timely job training, you must stay abreast of project members' training to be sure that it will help them fulfill their project duties.
PMs writing performance reviews
Q1.19 As a project manager, should I write performance reviews for the project members that have been assigned to work on my project?
A1.19 No, not if you mean actually writing the performance review. Resource managers have that responsibility and should be trained in fair administration of the performance evaluation process.
Q1.20 What should I do if a resource manager requests my feedback on his employee's performance?
A1.20 You should take the time to accommodate the request, provided your delivery is verbal, not written. The RM should consider your response and apply it appropriately to fairly evaluate the employee's performance based on her job level. The higher the employee's job level, the more she is expected to achieve for the business.
By the way, you should want to work with RMs in developing your project members. This symbiotic relationship can help improve your project members' performance while they are assigned to your project.
Q1.21 But how can a resource manager fairly review his employee's performance when I, as the project manager, might know more about the performance of the employee than the resource manager?
A1.21 When an RM assigns an employee to your project, that RM must continue to work as closely as is appropriate with the employee. In order for the RM to assist the employee in meeting project commitments, as well as continue to help the employee develop her potential, the RM must meet regularly with the employee. These meetings are typically held weekly, but the frequency can vary depending on the skill level of the employee. Even so, the PM will be familiar with aspects of the employee's performance that the RM may not or could not be. Therefore, the RM is expected to gather performance feedback from various sources, including you as the PM.
Q1.22 Why are you opposed to project managers actually writing the project member's performance review?
A1.22 A Here are two of the more important reasons:
The PM's primary role is the nurturing of projects; the RM's primary role is the nurturing of people. The time the PM spends in conducting performance reviews is time not spent nurturing the project.
PMs typically do not receive adequate training in appropriately evaluating employee performance.
Excerpted from Neal Whitten's Let's Talk! by Neal Whitten. Copyright © 2007 Management Concepts, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Management Concepts Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART ONE: PROJECT STAKEHOLDERS,
Chapter 1: The Project Manager,
Chapter 2: The Boss/Resource Manager,
Chapter 3: The Project Sponsor,
Chapter 4: The Business Analyst,
Chapter 5: The Project Analyst,
Chapter 6: The Client,
Chapter 7: Contractors,
Chapter 8: Vendors,
PART TWO: THE PEOPLE SIDE,
Chapter 9: Accountability, Dependencies, and Commitments,
Chapter 10: Leadership Styles, Attributes, and Behaviors,
Chapter 11: Sharing Power,
Chapter 12: Interpersonal Communications,
Chapter 13: Resolving Conflict through Escalations,
Chapter 14: Meetings,
Chapter 15: Celebrations,
Chapter 16: Overtime Work,
Chapter 17: Mentoring,
Chapter 18: Ethics and Integrity,
Chapter 19: Telecommuting/Working from Home,
Chapter 20: Awards and Recognition,
Chapter 21: Personal Development, Job, and Career,
Chapter 22: Promoting Change in Your Organization,
Chapter 23: Mergers and Acquisitions,
PART THREE: THE PROJECT SIDE,
Chapter 24: The Project Management Institute (PMI) and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide),
Chapter 25: Methodologies and Processes,
Chapter 26: Project Management Organization (PMO),
Chapter 27: Project Culture,
Chapter 28: Project Plans, Schedules, and Budgets,
Chapter 29: Project Tracking,
Chapter 30: Scope Change Control,
Chapter 31: Quality,
Chapter 32: Post-Project Reviews,
Chapter 33: Surveys of Client Satisfaction,
PART FOUR: INTRODUCING THESE TOPICS AND DISCUSSIONS IN YOUR ORGANIZATION,
PART FIVE CLOSING THOUGHTS,