Project managers are an indispensable component of any project that is successful. They are the cog that sets all other cogs into motion and propels movement. It would be difficult to imagine the legendary National Football League or National Basketball Association championship teams achieving greatness without a competent and inspired coach guiding them through difficult moments and reminding them of the end goal. Project managers are the head coaches of projects. Effective guidance and inspiration are what make a project manager, just like a head coach, successful.
Identifying the roles of a project manager is critical to ensuring that the functions are executed at the highest level. Project teams are composed of highly intelligent and capable individuals who possess diverse skill sets. With so many talented individuals working together toward a common goal, it seems pertinent to outline what the specific roles of the team leader should be.
Identifying these roles will reduce ambiguity amongst the team and help to provide and ideal operating structure.
The roles of a project manager are wide and varied but they can be boiled down to ten essential responsibilities. These roles are reflective of the varied skill set that a project manager must possess. They range from strategic to operational. If these responsibilities are executed to their fullest extent, a successful project is much more likely.
Facilitating the project plan and creating a roadmap to success is perhaps the single most important responsibility of a project manager. The project plan affects every single action that the project team takes going forward. Establishing a thorough and thoughtful plan from the outset can head off potential problems
During project planning, the goal, scope, and resources available are strategized. The project manager conceptualizes the goal and creates an action plan to see its fruition. This plan outlines key milestones, timelines, expected resources, and potential risks. A successful project manager can anticipate these unknown factors and create a plan that will take them into account.
In the end, the project plan is a roadmap for the entire team and the crafting of a successful plan falls solely on the shoulders of the project manager.
While the project manager is responsible for the formulation of the plan, there is an entire team that is responsible for the tasks involved in seeing it through to completion.
The project manager is responsible for inspiring and motivating the project team to perform at the highest level possible. One way a manager can do this is to remove roadblocks to success. Project teams can be overwhelmed with data, processes, and bureaucracy. A good project manager will prioritize their team and distill the essential information their team needs to avoid muddying the waters. The creates a straight forward, concise, and focused message about the goals and processes the team is working toward.
A project manager can also motivate the team by focusing on the goal and the end result. Milestone achievement should be celebrated and recognized as a significant step toward the larger effort.
Considerable time and resource was devoted to crafting the project plan and one of the roles of the project manager is to ensure that the plan is implemented as intended. Adherence to the project plan prevents scope creep – the inevitable desire to grow the project beyond the originally agreed upon parameter. Scope creep will dilute the team’s resources and damage the quality of the end product.
Communication is critical to implementation. When overseeing the plan, the project manager must keep open lines of communication between all individuals working. They are responsible for facilitating a constant flow of information which will consist of upcoming deadlines, setbacks that will impact the team’s progress, how processes in progress can be improved, the celebration of well-executed tasks, and any changes to scope that may arise.
Quality management is a focus area for project managers as well. Just as important as meeting the deadlines for tasks is that the tasks are done with a high level of quality and integrity. It is the project manager’s responsibility to monitor quality and coach the team by reinforcing processes that yield quality and improving those that do not.
Project managers can be deficient in some areas if they excel in others. Communication, however, is not one of those areas where deficiencies can exist. Effective communication is at the heart of every aspect of what a project manager does.
One of the primary considerations for a client is whether the project can be delivered on time. Timeline management goes hand in hand with the implementation of the project plan and the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the project manager. For this reason, meeting milestone deadlines and, ultimately, the project deadline, is of paramount importance. A successful project manager is able to set realistic deadlines and effectively communicate their importance to the team. Creating schedules, defining priorities, and projecting the length of time a task will take are all essential skills for timeline management.
Staying within the budget parameters is also of importance to the client. A good project manager is ever mindful of the agreed upon budget and takes every step necessary to not exceed it. Frequently referencing and reconciling the budget keeps this task front of mind. Clients can deal with a variety of setbacks in the lifespan of a project but going well over budget is one that could ultimately define a project as a failure.
Keeping track of the project team’s progress is a responsibility that has two components. The first is to take stock of what tasks and milestones have been achieved and reconciling them against the project plan. This step must include a comparison to the timeline since progress is not simply achieving the milestones but reaching them on schedule.
The second step is to communicate these findings to project stakeholders. The client and project leadership need to be informed about where the project stands. One very important reason to keep stakeholders informed is so that they can potentially supplement the resources available to the project manager if the project is running behind schedule. This can only happen with proactive and honest communication.
The management of stakeholder involvement and expectations can make or break a project. At the heart of managing stakeholders is understanding who they are and what drives them to be a part of the project. Stakeholders need frequent and proactive communication. Additionally, stakeholders should be consulted on the outset of the project and continuing through to completion. These individuals can typically provide useful information and ideas.
Every project, no matter the size, will encounter unexpected bumps in the road. These pitfalls will occur no matter how detailed and thought out the project plan is or how many team members are scrutinizing even the smallest details of the implementation. What is most frustrating is that these hiccups can occur at the most inopportune time.
The real test of an effective project manager is how she handles these hurdles and keeps the team moving toward the end goal. Minimizing the impact of unforeseen risk is a skill that is developed through experience. Projects are often dependent upon countless external factors that the manager doesn’t have direct control over. These factors could be external vendors, weather, sudden changes to budgets, team conflict, or technology failures. The project manger’s success often hinges on how she makes adjustments to these external changes by controlling the aspects of the project that are within the realm of control.
It is no accident that being good in a crisis or being able to deliver in a pinch are highly desirable qualities in a manager. Anyone involved in a project in their career has seen the bottom nearly fall out after an unforeseen challenge. A steady hand that can calmly circumvent that problem is invaluable.
Customer satisfaction is really the ultimate end goal of any project. The stated goal of a project plan really serves to please the client and enhance their organization. The three best ways to ensure customer satisfaction during the lifespan of a project is to deliver the agreed upon goal by the agreed upon time, reduce any uncertainty during the course of the project implementation, and to involve the client in the process as must as possible. A client will feel most valued when their concerns and priorities are heard and implemented into a successful plan. In this scenario, the project manager is the primary mode of communication.
Once the project goal has been completed, the project manager still has a few tasks remaining. An experienced project manager will take the post implementation responsibilities very seriously. Reports and checklists should be prepared to take stock that everything in the project plan was completed. This is advantageous for both the client and the project team. The client deserves to know what happened and on what timeline. The reports and checklists aide project managers as an instructive tool. Best practices, short-comings, and areas to improve can be derived from these documents.
How a project manager is like a conductor
A great metaphor that describes a project manager is as an orchestra conductor. Both of the roles are leadership positions within endeavors that are comprised of a team that has various skill sets working toward a larger goal. The conductor is seeking to lead her orchestra in performing a piece of music for which she has printed and available for reference. It is essential that the orchestra is focused and that every musician plays their cues in the correct sequence and in harmony with the other musicians. It isn’t necessary for the conductor to be able to play all of the instruments in the orchestra but she does need to be aware of how they interact with the overall sound. A tremendous amount of time and planning goes into preparing the orchestra through rehearsal.
In this analogy, the printed music can be used as a project plan. Specific cues and dramatic points in the piece represent project milestones. Just as conductor does not need to know how to play the violin, oboe, piano, and flute, a project manager doesn’t need to be a subject area expert in the field of everyone on the team. What is critical, though, is that the project manager facilitates the work of their team just as the conductor facilitates the performance of the orchestra.
Project managers are in every industry
Nearly every industry imaginable has the need for a good project manager. Energy, government, manufacturing, non-profits, medicine, real estate, publishing, education, and marketing are just a handful of examples of industries that use project managers every single day. As organizations and businesses seek to innovate, become more efficient, and remain relevant in their respective landscapes, projects will be initiated to achieve these aims. Project managers are an essential component to ensuring that the client is able to meet the goal of these improvement processes.
A project manager role in sum
Not every team member is fit to be a project manager. Likewise, as discussed in the conductor metaphor above, not every project manager is skilled in every area of the individual team members they are working with. Project managers possess a diverse skillset that ranges from looking at the big picture goal to understanding the impact of even the smallest deadlines on the project. Project managers are organized, level-headed, detail-oriented, excellent communicators, and are able to adapt to changes quickly.
Project managers must be able to relate to the frontline and entry-level staff working on the most mundane tasks all the way up to the highest level stakeholder who has zero interest in the day to day intricacies of the project. If a project manager is able to master these roles, their project will likely be a success.
June 25, 2020