The Project Manager – Jack of all trades!

The position titled ‘Project Manager’ is the manna from heaven or the kiss of death depending on whether or not you are the one holding that position. Moreover, since this is usually a temporary (though not necessarily short in duration!) job created and destroyed as needed, no one in the organization is immune from becoming the victim – I mean, being asked to be the Project Manager!

Let us analyze this hapless creature in some detail. First, the Project Manager (PM for short, from now on) holds responsibility for everything under the sun without a clue as to what even one ray (of the sun) is. The PM is expected to rely on a host of subject matter experts (fondly referred to as SME’s) to assist him/her in navigating the project jungle with a bewildering array of trees, I mean activities. These SME’s naturally treat the PM, at best, as a necessary nuisance and show scant respect. Updating the PM is the last thing on the minds of project team members and the clueless PM is often seen chasing and begging them for updates around the water cooler.

The project plan (often pasted together from multiple printouts and other color coded pieces of paper), charts, tables, spreadsheets and other documents act as the companions for the otherwise lonely PM. He/she is constantly grappling with tallying the list of outstanding issues and incomplete activities across multiple spreadsheets knowing fully well no one is ever likely to bother about or agree with any of the lists anyway. The day before the project review meeting is perhaps the worst nightmare for the PM. Depending on what is at stake and who is attending the review, the meeting could be variously referred to as a Checkpoint, Gate, Go-No-Go or other imaginative terms. More often than not, the PM is expected to present at these meetings what the powers-that-be want to hear rather than the project facts as they are. Huge problems may need to be carefully camouflaged or completely hidden while minor problems are highlighted with great fanfare, only to be solved with a flick of the wrist, figuratively speaking.

The complexity of the project management game increases exponentially based on the number of ‘other’ PMs, representing various factions/vendors/customers/ stakeholders, participating in the game. This situation while, on the one hand, ensures the longevity of the profession that produces and nurtures PMs, also vividly exemplifies the utter lack of control the PM experiences in today’s corporate world where just one person is never in charge of any one thing.

Amongst other benefits, the PM offers a one-stop shop for directing blame. While every issue on the project manager’s tracking sheet (a coveted and aggressively guarded asset of any PM) can be analyzed ad infinitum, with various participants having widely varying opinions regarding what worked, what did not and why, the universal judgment, especially from senior management (which would include anyone and everyone above the PM’s pay grade), would be that the PM is to be blamed for not ‘managing’ the project properly – a responsibility the job title amply exemplifies. And, after every project meeting where he/she is blamed for the dozens of items not going well on the project, the PM is forced to work on coming up with corrective actions which in reality sets the scene for more items to be added to the failed list in forthcoming review meetings.

No wonder the species called PMs often choose to give themselves a distinct identity in the form of the Project Management Office. The PMO in the organization serves the important purpose of being a target for everyone else to hate and point fingers at. Long live the clan of PMs!

Advertisements