Are You an Engaged Project Manager?

(A guest post by Robert Kelly, PMP)

How well do you know the details of your project? If an executive called you up five minutes from now and asked for an update, could you give her one? Regular commenter Robert Kelly weighs in with an opinion piece about the need for project managers to be engaged on their projects…and not be so hands-off they don’t know what’s going on.

A colleague of mine said something the other day that sparked the following post. Let me preface this post with the fact that I have neither participated in nor do I understand the circumstances of this PM’s project. But the story I’m about to relate isn’t the first PM or organization in which I have seen this behavior. Here we go…

Our executive board recently requested that project charts (Powerpoint decks) be provided 48 hours in advance of the actual status meeting. In turn, the PM in question said she would need to build four additional days into her project plan in order to make that happen. My thought…”seriously”?

Kelly’s Contemplation is a project management / leadership blog, that started in May 2010. His blog is a haven of online communication of Robert’s thoughts and ideas on leadership and team management in a high performance capacity. Posted on Mondays, Kelly’s Contemplation includes video presentations (for a laugh) and a mix of the techniques and emotions that make up Project Management. In addition to Kelly’s Contemplation, Robert is an active member of Twitter @rkelly976.

As the project manager, you essentially set the decision checkpoints. If you are an engaged PM, then you should have your thumb on the pulse of your project. American football season is starting up, so bear with me on the following…when it is rains during a game, it is said the offensive player has the advantage. They know ahead of time where they want to run, where the play is going, and how to shift their weight to accommodate the rain and conditions. On the other hand, the defensive player is always one step behind and playing catch up, as they react to the offensive players’ movements. As the PM, you know where the ‘play’ is going and should be able to adjust as needed.

If you spend two days scrambling to get information for the last 2-3 months worth of work, then you are too far removed! Some other reasons might also include:

1. Poor Documentation – Either the templates don’t fit your organization / project and don’t add value, so you don’t use them. Alternatively, you are simply not leveraging your documentation and keeping it current (ouch, sorry).

2. Lack of Ownership – Your project team members have not taken ownership for their respective function and associated deliverables. Therefore, you are scrambling to validate details and securing support for the executive meeting (knowing our organization, I think this is what led to my colleague’s position).

When this has happened to me in the past (distant past and I will not admit after today), it has always seemed to be a perfect storm…I’d slip a little bit, not use cumbersome project templates, and have to rely upon team members’ ‘support’ vs. ownership.

With today’s project management tools, it is very easy for the team to provide updates and feedback, without you as the PM being a micromanager. You may not know the latest spend to the dollar, or the status of every single bug. But as the PM you should be able to provide a near real-time update of your project even if that executive board called you on speaker phone right now. Are you on target for your next milestone? Is the budget within an acceptable range? Have there been any change requests since last meeting? If you need four days to get this sort of information, then you are playing defense.

Robert Kelly, PMPRobert Kelly is an innovative and results driven information technology leader with proven skills in leading and developing high performance teams through vision, goal setting, and strong accountability focused on customer service. Robert has developed his project management and leadership skills over the past 10 years across a number industries at firms such as Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC, and Lenovo. Although he has ‘formalized’ that experience by obtaining his Project Management Professional Certification (PMP), Robert is, and plans to be, a lifelong student of project management and leadership techniques and best practices.

Do you have an article you’d like to submit about the soft side of project management? By all means, please do!

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
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  • Laura Bamberg

    Hi Robert and Geoff – is it possible in this one instance that the pm simply did not WANT to do what was asked, and so pushed back w/ a padded estimate? i know that sounds stupid but we have all seen this behavior at some point in our careers. As project managers here at Steelray, we HAVE to keep on top of everything. We’re the pm and a team member too, so I know what you mean, Robert, about how easy it is to let something slip and have “the perfect storm.” And yes, there are software tools that really help team members communicate quickly and easily to the pm. Good post. Thanks!

    Laura Gideon
    Steelray Software

  • Being engaged as a project manager seems to me to mean having the ability to see all sides of the project, to serve those around you and to see it as your role to act as an interconnect between the stakeholders, responsible owners, teams and customers. If I was in an English Country House a couple of centuries ago then I might have been a butler; an important servant but still a servant… predicting the needs and responding quickly, keeping the processes running and being able to turn my hand to the need as required.

    If we mix the servant leader role with the selflessness in service ‘mission’ of August Turak ( http://www.augustturak.com ) then I think we are quite a long way there…

    The PM quoted seriously should have been on top of the status of the project – were they just an SME with the title of PM?

    More importantly, did they have a good mentor who could help and guide them to use the experience to learn and grow?

    Steve

  • It’s the philosophy of service that is behind the name engagedprojects – getting to the point of being part of the process as a catalyst as much as a producer of outcomes.

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