What does a project manager do every day?
This is a question I’ve been asked many times in my career. It may seem obvious. The definition of project manager is someone who manages a project. Is a project manager seated in an office? Or is he out on the site, reviewing a plan, and completing tasks? Maybe all of these, and more.
The Four Ares was a helpful aide memoire that I used when I worked at DMR Consulting. These were four questions that summarized what project managers should be focusing on. Are they being done well? Are they getting them done? Are we gaining the benefit?
The first (Are we doing the right thing?) is the first. The first of these (Are we doing the right things?) examines how well stakeholder requirements were set up, agreed upon, and translated via the Work Breakdown Structure, (WBS), into the project plan. It is an important step in a project’s beginning, but it must be done correctly.
When a project is in full swing, it’s not a good idea to have doubts about the requirements. There is always change control once the plan has been frozen, but that’s not something you want.
My experience shows that most stakeholders don’t like change control and will try to get around it by trying to squeeze more things into the plan, stretch your budget, or compress the timelines. It’s almost as if they see you as a magician.
Here’s a thought. The project manager is a magician! We do seem to pull things out of the hat quite often!
The second of the Ares is “Are they doing them well?” Quality is the most important aspect. Earned Value and other factors play a role in this. Are the resources and budget being used efficiently and effectively to manage the plan?
This is where project managers can make significant cost and time savings. This is where the magic happens!
It requires time and attention, as well as careful analysis. Don’t trust in luck. Even for projects with non-descript deliverables, there should be a quality plan. Stakeholders will be able to communicate regularly to ensure that they are satisfied with the quality of the project.
The third Are (Are they getting them done?) This is about the status of progress. While it is essential to monitor progress against a project plan, it is only one step in a process that will include the next Are (Are you gaining the benefit?). These links will take you to the previous Are (Are they doing them well?) ).
This holistic view is necessary to avoid a tick-in the-box process that simply records progress. Even though a task is completed successfully, it does not necessarily mean that the final result will meet stakeholder expectations.
It would be quite surprising if it did not, which is why expectation management must be an ongoing activity. However, benefits are a controversial topic in project management. How many project managers believe they must manage benefits?
Isn’t it their job to hand over the final deliverables? Benefits can only be seen once the project is completed, when users start using the deliverables every day.
There is a expectation that benefits will be managed within a programme environment. This is because the programme has many projects and it remains until the strategy is fulfilled.
Only when benefits can be shown, is a programme strategy complete. Project managers must be content to provide the ability to achieve the benefits described in the Project Business Case. This can only be achieved through good quality and stakeholder management.
Given the four Ares, there are plenty of tasks for project managers to complete every day. These are all interconnected with processes like risk and issue management, resource management, and project governance. Perhaps a project manager should be a magician!