It’s probably apparent to rAVe readers that inspiration for columns often comes from things that happen in my work life. I’ll help a client solve a problem and think, “That’s a good idea for a topic. Someone else will probably get something out of reading about it!”
Today’s column sprang from a recent conversation with an old friend who’s a project manager for a big Canadian communications company. We spent a long time talking shop, and that got me reflecting on my observations and experiences working with project managers. I’ve never worked as a project manager myself, but I’ve spent a lot of time around them and have a huge amount of respect for them and what they do. It’s not an easy job, and it’s often a thankless one.
By the way, according to Google, International Project Management Day falls on Thursday, Nov. 4 in 2021, so now seems like an appropriate time to talk about them.
The project management role is essential and goes beyond the obvious job requirements of assigning and scheduling tasks to the team. In the past, I’ve used the analogy of a swan: above the surface, you just see regal bird gliding smoothly across a pond. But what you don’t see, below the water, are their webbed feet furiously paddling. Without all that effort below the surface, they wouldn’t go anywhere.
I’d also assert that project manager is one of those roles that take a certain kind of personality and outlook to excel at it. Training will help anyone be better at their job, but the mindset necessary to really be a great project manager is innate.
My friend concurred, explaining that they don’t see themselves as “one of those scrum agile 6-Sigma type PMs.” They digressed to share some harsh opinions on PMP (Performance Management Professionals, a certification program in case you didn’t know). They went on to explain, “I’m just someone who sees what needs to be done, consults with the experts on how best to do it, and keeps them organized and on track.”
They agreed with my assessment about having an innate, problem-solving mindset, pointing to their love of working on puzzles too. They bring puzzles to work in the form of active process improvement, meaning, “I find ways of fixing dumb gaps in the process chain along the way.”
There are two functions that project managers perform that I personally think are both vital and difficult, and project managers don’t get enough acknowledgment for.
The first is their role of working with the purchasers or inventory managers. There’s more to being a project manager than just submitting a bill of materials to the purchasers to order from vendors. To begin, communication between project managers and purchasers is two-way; it’s ongoing. Project managers need to be looped in on ETAs from vendors (especially these days) and factor those ETAs into the schedule. Even less often acknowledged is the input project managers need to give with regard to vendor selection. It’s the project manager’s job to make sure the project is delivered on time, on budget and meeting specifications. To that end, they absolutely need a say in which vendors are selected.
The other challenging function that project managers don’t get credit for is dealing with engineers. If you’re an engineer, I apologize. I know we all like joking at the expense of engineers, but it comes from a place of love. I promise I’ll write an engineer appreciation post soon.
I like to joke that I’m not an engineer, I’m the antithesis: the nice-guy salesperson with a smile and a handshake. My friend jokes they didn’t’ finish their engineering degree because they decided they’d rather boss engineers around than be one.
My friend concurred with my assessment that being a project manager is an often thankless task, carrying a lot of responsibility and stress. It’s also a hugely rewarding one. Your project manager is someone the rest of your team depends on.
I would hope that you all express your appreciation for them regularly, and not just on International Project Manager Day. But, that’s also a good opportunity to say thank you!