Posted on August 22, 2014 · Posted in Agile, Communication, Management

An analysis of why project managers tend to look like a modern day version of a dictator, and what can be done to change that.

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Are project managers 2014 versions of Adolf Hitler? (Photo courtesy of Ibbarkingmad via Pinterest)

The thought of a project manager could probably elicit images of your old aunt Jane who never got married, babysat you when you were 12, and spanked you every time you misbehaved. For people in the corporate world, it’s usually that angry colleague who breathes down your neck to deliver more with fewer resources.

Because of that, project managers are normally not everybody’s favorite person in the office.

With the typical employee, having a misconception about project management is inevitable — especially when they are about the spend yet another 48 hour shift in the office to meet mythical deadlines set by their project manager, who they think is fast asleep next to his lovely wife at home.

Many team members think like this: the project manager doesn’t really do anything but expedite orders like chef Gordon Ramsay in Hell’s Kitchen would.

The Role of a Project Manager

Despite what most people think, project management is not an easy feat. To help team members gain a better understanding of their project managers, let’s take a step back to the root of it all. What really is the role of a project manager?

An effective project manager is the person who has the overall authority and responsibility for the initiation, planning, design, execution, monitoring, controlling and closure of a project. Most team members tend to focus only on the authority part, but the truth is a project manager also has every responsibility related to the project, and sometimes need to exercise that authority to get things done.

One could compare a project manager’s role as similar to a conductor in an orchestra. He or she needs to coordinate between multidisciplinary teams, as well as external stakeholders. A good example of this is when an agency has a software project is in place. The agency’s project manager has to build a relationship with the client, and also work with teams of designers and programmers at the same time.

This follows that project managers are the ones responsible for making decisions both large and small, in such a way that risk is controlled and uncertainty minimized. Every decision taken by the project manager should be taken in such a way that it directly benefits the project.

Because of these, the goal of a project manager is to ensure the successful completion of a project on time, within budget and with sufficient levels of quality.

The Challenges of a Project Manager

The problem begins when the various parties involved in the project start to have issues. Programmers are having trouble fixing bugs on the code, the lead designer suddenly goes AWOL, and the client becomes irate with the results midway through.

At this point, a lot of decision-making, and stress, fall on the project manager’s shoulder. He could also be starting to panic, asking the following questions:

Does he need to assign another senior programmer to help with the debugging? Is it possible to have another designer on board? But these would entail additional costs and the company could lose some revenue by doing that. Most importantly, can he request an extension on the initial deadline set with the client?

This is just one of the challenges project managers face and because the responsibility of project completion is with the project manager, he is also the one who ends up nudging the team and remind them of what needs to be done and when it needs to be done, albeit sometimes too strongly depending on individual personalities and communication skills.

The Misconception about Project Managers

Many team members get turned off by this, especially when they start to think that project managers are bossing around. But what they tend to forget is that when things start to get tough, it is always the project managers who have the bear the brunt of the client’s ire. And when this happens, panic sets in, direct action is taken, and any negative aspects of a project manager will be amplified.

One of the biggest misconceptions about project managers is that they are evil dictators. Once stress and panic kick in, they tend push team members to their limits, and they start to feel like slaves, and the project manager, a heartless slave-driver. Eventually, though, the project gets delivered, and sometimes the team feels as the project was completed not because of the project manager, but in spite of him or her.

On the other end of the spectrum, a project manager who is doing their job well and everything falls into place, get the misconception that they seem to have it easy. It doesn’t matter that the relaxed attitude is a conscious effort to protect the team from seeing the enormous pressure they are under. So, if a project manager seems to have it easy, remember that perceptions can be deceiving.

Defeating the Misconception about Project Management

Every project manager wants to be able to balance team management and client relationships in the best way possible, and agile management is an excellent methodology to consider.

Agile is a combination of the best software development practices over the years and great project management. Because projects change constantly all throughout the development phase, agile gives customers the capability to finalize requirements before they can test-drive the prototypes, overhead and long delays often cripple the project. While it may be best for a software project, agile management can also be applied in various business processes outside information technology.

Try agile in your next project. Your team members might still mutter under their breaths when you give them tight deadlines, but this methodology will surely help them see you in a new light as you let them work in the most open and humane conditions.

Final Thoughts

While different methodologies can help, these are just tools. A good project manager mustn’t let the pressures and stresses of the project overpower him, and this is the best way to defeat the misconception about project managers being no different from dictators.

Also, project managers has the responsibility of protecting his team from outside problems, while building relationships with other teams to ensure his team has everything it needs. A good project manager makes people believe in working late when they have to, but doesn’t let it become a habit. A good project manager nurses a project: comforting, cajoling and coaching where necessary.

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