I get asked this – or a variation of it – a lot. You’d think the answer’s clear but alas it obviously isn’t.
If we were face to face, I’d wheel out a picture of an elephant. You know that one about the blind men touching an elephant? Everyone’s touching the same thing, but at different places, and concludes from what they touch that they know the whole.
Project management and project managers are like that too.
Here are some real life answers from when I’ve posed the question “what is a project manager?”.
CEO – “The person who makes the project happen. The person responsible for it.”
Sponsor 1 – “The person who keeps everything straight, the person who knows where the money is up to, tracks the progress and produces reports”.
Sponsor 2 – “The person who drives the project. The person who is the leader and is accountable.”
Project Manager 1 – “I’m the person who makes sure everything is compliant. The plans are done, the work is tracked, the accounts are up to date, the suppliers are paid and the time recording is correct.”
Project Manager 2 – “I’m in charge of the project. It’s my responsibility to make it happen.”
Project Manager 3 – “I’m a servant, it’s not my project, it’s the project of the sponsor. The sponsor wants an outcome and it’s my job to make sure they get it.”
Project Manager 4 – “I’m the person who makes it possible for everyone else to do what needs to be done to make the project successful. It’s my job to set the course, move the obstacles, support the people and guide to completion. It’s my job to make the sponsor successful.”
From these answers, it’s clear the definition of a PM is in the eye of the beholder.
The trick is to ask yourself, what you believe about getting things done and make sure you hire a PM who fits with your picture.
If you truly believe projects (things that are unique) can be delivered through process and procedure then hire a PM who answers as PM no.1 did.
The worst outcome for everyone is when the sponsor and the PM come at it from different directions.
Because I’m writing this, and it’s OK to have an opinion, I’d add that I have never seen a unique outcome delivered by relying on process and procedure. But I know there are many who persist in the dream and arrive at the precipice of failure baffled and bewildered.
If this hasn’t helped by all means call me and I’ll talk through with you what the best style for you and your project is.