This past week I was having a conversation with a colleague on what they should look for in a project manager. Out of curiosity, I did some digging across various organization’s standards at what they describe as the “role of a project manager”, here is what I found.
First I looked in PMI’s PMBOK Guide Version 5 where it states on page 17 “In general, project managers have the responsibility to satisfy the needs: task needs, team needs, and individual needs.” It goes on to state that “The project manager’s role, therefore, becomes increasingly strategic. However, understanding and applying the knowledge, tools, and techniques that are recognized as good practice are not sufficient for effective project management.” I have read this several times and… well… huh?
Let’s replace project manager with that with Airline Pilot. They have to satisfy needs, task needs, team needs, and individual needs also.
“A pilot’s s role, therefore, becomes increasingly strategic. However, understanding and applying the knowledge, tools, and techniques that are recognized as good practice are not sufficient for effective piloting of aircraft.” Do you see my point?
Next, I looked at what Axelos lists for PRINCE2. They state that the Project Manager is the single focus for day-to-day management of a project. This person has the authority to run the project on behalf of the Project Board within the constraints laid down by the Project Board.
Can we say “stating the obvious”? You could ask a third grader what they think a project manager does and they would say “manages projects”.
It seems that the majority of the definitions and descriptions out there including the ones that I just listed are effectively describing storm troopers who simply do what they are told, which is nonsense.
Climbing on my soapbox
I would like to take this opportunity to describe directly, based on my experience of 20+ years managing and directing government, aerospace, IT, financial, and legal projects, leading GPM, and serving as President for the U.S.’s member association of the International Project Management Association (IPMA-USA).
Before I provide what I believe to be a sound description, I want to state that I more or less agree with GAPPS when they state that the challenges in defining the Project Manager role in a way that would be applicable across a wide range of organizations, application areas, and project types are that Project Managers are expected to produce essentially the same results – outputs and outcomes that are acceptable to relevant stakeholders. That does not mean that these challenges make it impossible to give a concrete role definition. I believe that all of these factors should emphasize the importance of a simple and sensible description.
Use the Force or follow orders?
I believe that it is time for project managers to become less like Stormtroopers and more like Jedi. Why? By comparison, a Jedi’s five traits are Reliability, Objectivity, Humility, Patience, Wisdom, all of which are needed to achieve positive results.
Take the classic line from The Empire Strikes Back where Yoda is instructing Luke and says “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” This simply means to commit oneself to something completely, win or lose. This is the kind of project manager that I would hire.
Compare with the scene in The Force Awakens where Captain Phasma addresses Finn when he returned from his first battle, having not fired his blaster.
Captain Phasma: FN-2187, submit your blaster for inspection.
Finn: Yes, Captain.
Captain Phasma: And who gave you permission to remove that helmet?
Finn: I am sorry captain
Captain Phasma: Report to my division at once
A Stormtrooper’s traits are only “don’t stick out” and “shoot when told.” This is an output focused approach that requires little more than the ability to manage tasks. This is not the kind of project manager that I would hire.
So, without further ado, here is my short and sweet 16 word definition.
“The role of the project manager is to ensure successful delivery of the project business case.”
Was that so hard? No.
My rationale for wording it the way I did is based on the fact that the business case provides the vital test of the viability of the project. It is used to gain funding and should be actively maintained throughout the life of the project and be continually updated with current information on costs, risks and benefits, and impacts. If the goal of a project is to realize the business case, then it goes without saying that the role of a project manager is to ensure those benefits can be realized and rely on their skills, ability, and knowledge to do so.
So ask yourself, are you a Stormtrooper or a Jedi?
May the Force be With You!
Related: For a deeper perspective on output vs benefits focus, see Peter Milsom’s excellent post. To get the Jedi’s PM weapon, download our P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management. It’s free!