A manager stands where he sits; the leader sits where he stands
Definition re-defined. PMI describes the project manager as the person designated to lead the project team, with the ultimate accountability for ensuring that the project delivers on its objectives. The reader is invited to ponder what this means on a daily basis. We once again face a definition that lacks definition. For one thing, to be “assigned” is utterly different than to be “mandated”. Nowhere is the matter of “authority” explicit. To “lead” in this naked manner presupposes a plan already in place. Who comes up with this plan? To “lead” is not the same as to “manage” or to “orchestrate”. To “lead the team” says nothing about the mechanics and mechanisms that are required, the training they imply, and the skill-sets they demand. The “team” explicitly excludes all other parties privy to the project, such as the vendors, the regulators, and the external stakeholders. As for the “objectives”, they are nebulous. They are assumed to quantify, implicitly, the goal sought. This is a giant quantum leap of faith that may not survive scrutiny. One cannot quantity or measure metrically the performance of the team as posited in this definition. Finally, the “project” is equivocal. Is this the project in the owner’s sense, or the project associated with a specific scope of work assigned to the team?
Consider instead the following definition of a project manager:
The project manager is the person granted overall authority to realize the mandate defined by the owner in accordance with the governing performance assessment metrics.
The mandate will be the asset, in the case of the asset owner, or a specific scope of work awarded to a vendor by the asset owner. The owner, correspondingly, is either for the asset, or of the vendor entity. The performance assessment metrics provide the quantifiable metrics by which the execution of the work is to be measured. We can now “deploy” this definition to the daily life of the project manager. We start from the triad definition of project management introduced in an earlier article. The project manager is three people into one: organization manager, business manager and relationship manager.
Organizational manager. The project manager oversees the plans, strategies, sequencing, resources and deployment of the standard operating environment. The bulk of the work occurs at the start of the project, when planning decisions are developed and mapped. The project manager orchestrates this development across the delegated functional groups for each plan. Uniformity, consistency and completeness guide the implementation of the work. Once the project is launched, the project manager switches to an oversight role split between information fluidity and anticipation of risks. The former targets the seamless transactions of information generated by all functional groups and vendors. The latter requires constant vigilance to head-off any potential derailment. It is the more critical of the two. When a potential threat is identified, the project manager must assess immediately its ramifications; provide advance warnings to the various parties potentially exposed to the deviation; quantify that impact and formally notify the holder of the purse’s strings of the consequence of the deviation; finally, develop and implement the mitigation strategy that was approved a priori by the purse holder. The key operating word here is anticipate. True project management acts before a problem materializes. Reporting on it after the fact, when costs and schedule delays have been irremediably incurred, isn’t project management: it is journalism.
Business manager. In this capacity, the buck literally stops at the project manager’s desk. The role is straightforward: deliver on budget and on schedule (OBaS). Job 1 is to master the contract. The project manager “owns” the implementation of the contract and the subsequent compliance to it. She must understand its nuts and bolts, especially the terms and conditions, performance assessment metrics, and conflict resolution mechanisms. Job 2 is to be the final arbiter of all contracts awarded to vendor pursuant to the mandate’s requirements. This implies, inter alia, the selection of the right type of contract for the specific stage of development of the asset. Job 3 is to get paid for the work done by the team, in accordance with the terms of the contract, while Job 4 is to pay for the work done by others. In fifth place is the obligation to verify that changes to the baseline mandate, approved in accordance with the pertinent contract, are incorporated into the new baseline, such that they are paid for on a timely basis. Finally, the project manager must implement and operate a monitoring system able to capture, in real time, the entirety of the performance assessment metrics identified in the contract.
Relationship manager. As team leader, the project manager is required to deal with the human equation. Issues of personnel selection, deployment, training, termination and conflicts fall under the direct purview of the project manager, who is ultimately accountable for the performance of the team. She must remain vigilant about nascent relationship problems from within and without; assist the direct supervisors in their resolution; or step in to sort things out (a role that is of the exclusive preserve of the project manager, in matters of external relationships). Training is an integral part of the project manager’s strategic outlook. Development of the team is part and parcel of this duty. The project manager must not be content with letting the work unfold according to plan: she must also utilize that work as opportunity to assess, in real time, the outcome of a particular piece of work (whether good or bad), by setting ad hoc debriefing sessions involving all individuals involved in that work. These sessions are inspired by the experience of the naval, air and army services of the US Armed Forces in broad-scale training of troops. Learning by experience is the best, most efficient method of imparting knowledge to people and teams alike.
In keeping with the principle of learning by experience, the project manager and her team will gain great insights into the actual efficacy of the hierarchy by implementing recurrent reverse performance assessments of the team’s chiefs. These assessments are provided, anonymously or not, by all direct reports of a given chief, on the latter’s performance. The exercise is meritorious only if the questions are honest and the answers used as inputs to that chief’s performance review by his own chief and the project manager. Finally, it falls upon the project manager to set the expectations, the lines in the sand, the consequences and the decision framework (perform or justify, explored in Chapter 16) that will govern the work of everyone and the relationships that will ensue. Once they are enunciated, they are not up for debate or negotiation. She must roll them out and live by them from then on. Failure to do so will rupture any sheen of confidence that others held for the leader at the outset.
Further insights can be gleaned from chapter 3 of Investment-Centric Project Management, available on Amazon.com.