What do project managers really do? Do they push their projects and lead their people?

Presentation (Handout), 2007

12 Pages



The working day of project managers has changed. Today's working environments place higher demands on project managers. More is expected in less time, with fewer people and to higher quality standards. Project Managers need to push their teams and themselves harder to achieve the expected results. They need to adopt new or improved working with people competences and associated behaviours to be successful in their endeavours.

I will discuss what project managers typically do, what they need to do in future and how they can achieve the desired results.

1 Introduction

Project Management has been around for a long time. Morris (1994, p.1) considers that ' Managing projects is one of the oldest and most respected accomplishments of mankind. We stand in awe of the pyramids, the architects of ancient sites, the masons and craftsmen of great cathedrals and mosques, of the might and labour behind the Great Wall of China and other wonders of the world'. Gareis (2005) suggests that ' In the project-oriented society projects and programmes are becoming more important not only in profit and non-profit organizations, but also in new areas of application, such as in small communities, associations, schools and even in families'. The changes in working environments and the new business expectations have had a major impact on project managers. According to Gareis and Huemann (2003) project managers are now expected to deliver more in less time, to higher quality standards and with fewer resources. It appears that the working day of projects managers, therefore, has changed in line with these developments.

I will consider in the next Section what the typical working day of a project manager looked like in the past, what it is today and how we can make some assumptions what it could or should look like in future. I will discuss in Section 3 whether project managers push their projects hard enough. I will suggest in Section 4 what managing people competences and behaviours project managers should adopt and the likely effect this could have on their working day, and their effectiveness. I will present the conclusions drawn from the discussions in Section 5.

2 The Working Day of the Project Manager

2.1 The Past

Prior to the 1990s, project management was perhaps not given the importance it deserved. It appears that this was due to the prevailing working practices and environments at that time such as hierarchical ways of working rather than matrix working (Turner,1993; Gareis,1990). It appears that this affected what project managers did during their normal working day and how they managed their projects. It is probably true to say that project managers in those days worked standard working hours such as 9 to 5, depending on which country they worked in. They concentrated more on the tasks than the people they worked with. Much of their time was spent on planning the activities of their projects, setting up project plans and putting together project schedules. The primary focus was on tools and techniques such as CPA and PERT. Project managers directed their people more rather than engage them more in the project through consultation. Management by fear was quite common at that time.

Project managers spent much of their time to interpret the requirements of key stakeholders. This was due to the fact that they were often given insufficient details of what they were expected to deliver, often lacking clarity on whether time, cost or quality was more important. So it was up to the project manager to develop what he thought was expected and then deliver the project accordingly. They probably spent a lot of their time dealing with and managing change requests. These were frequent due to the nature of the working practices such as hierarchical management structures where project managers were simply told ' to get on with it'. The changes in working environments and practices that started during the early 1990s had a major impact on the working day of project managers. I will discuss this in the next Section.

2.2 The Present

Gareis (2005) considers that the perception of projects as temporary organizations dramatically increases the importance of project management. He acknowledges that projects with different objectives (such as contracting projects, offer projects, marketing projects, organizational projects and personnel development projects, etc.) in all branches of industry, in the public sector and in non-profit organizations, could increase an organization's efficiency and chances of survival. In addition to projects of high complexity, small projects and projects of medium complexity increase in importance.

The typical working day of today's project managers changed as a direct result of these developments. Many projects are now truly global projects. Generally, project managers work longer hours and often cross different time zones, meaning very early or very late conference calls or video link-ups. Senior Management expects more flexibility from their project managers.

So what do today's project managers typically do during their working days? Recent research (Fisher, 2006; Huemann, 2002; Blackburn, 2001 and Crawford, 2000) suggests that a shift in focus and emphasis has developed recently. Project managers spend much more of their time on the people side than on tools and techniques. It appears that effective communications is a key activity that can take up to 60% or more of a project manager's time. This includes spending time with the team, suppliers, stakeholders, peers, Senior Management and individuals to communicate, for example, the progress of the project, seek guidance or direction and resolve issues associated with the project. Forms of communication are meetings, presentations, phone calls, E-mails and video/audio conference links. Project managers place high levels of priority on these activities. If communications break down, the project is doomed to fail.

Project managers spend more time on managing processes such as Prince 2, Six Sigma, Primavera and internal project management methodologies. This includes project health checks and audits to ensure that project team members comply with these. Other regular tasks include:

Finance: Prepare the business case, manage Earned Value Analysis, control the budget and liaise closely with the Finance Department

Team Building: Build the project team, coach team members, leading the team and managing people issues

Documentation: Set up the project files, prepare templates, writing of reports, minutes of meetings, prepare the project plan and schedule and manage E-mails

In addition, other daily tasks include making appropriate decisions (sometimes ad hoc), negotiating for project resources, influencing key stakeholders and senior management regarding the direction of the project.

Based on her research on what project managers do, Blackburn (2001) suggests that project managers spend a considerable amount of their time on:


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What do project managers really do? Do they push their projects and lead their people?
Project Management Days '07,Vienna, September 2007
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Dr Eddie Fisher (Author), 2007, What do project managers really do? Do they push their projects and lead their people?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/112185


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