We thought long and hard about how to write this blog post and could not settle on the best way to do it. Sometimes we’ll be a bit provocative on purpose and we thrust that you will get the point.

PM – What does the “M” stands for exactly?

We thought long and hard about how to write this blog post and could not settle on the best way to do it. Sometimes we’ll be a bit provocative on purpose and we thrust that you will get the point.

For the past 20 years, we have managed all sorts of projects in various industries and for us, one of the reasons why projects fail to deliver on their promises has to do with project management and the project manager himself or herself. Of course it’s not the only reason and we are not saying it is the most significant reason, but as project managers, we can make a significant difference in the success of a project and our opinion is that many don’t. We don’t think they do it on purpose but nevertheless, it hurts the project and the enterprise that requires it.

In our 20+ years, we have yet to encounter a project that went sour because the project manager did not know how to create a gantt chart or a project budget. Neither have we encountered a project that was flailing because the project manager could not calculate the various project management ratios that are taught or did not know how to perform a project status report. While all of the above are useful, by themselves, they don’t really help unless you are prepared to do something about the insights they provide you. And that is precisely where we see project managers failing at their task, duty and their opportunity to positively influence projects.

Are you a “project monitor” or a “project manager”

We have over simplified this on purpose but we think it illustrates our point well. Remember we are not suggesting project managers are the only source of success or failure of projects and not even the most important one. But we think that the level of success of a project is correlated to the level of commitment of the project manager and to his ability to make things happen and do what it takes. 

In our experience, many focus on reporting status and for the most part try to avoid the tough conversations and the confrontations that always arise during projects. They are very good at calculating ratios, updating their schedule, tracking the financials and can always tell you where things are at “off the top of their head” (which reassures people that they are in control) but they fail at doing what makes a real difference which is making things happen! 

An oversimplified and dramatized illustration of what we mean.

In this case, the project manager is not really managing anything. He or she is reporting and exposing the status of the project to the executive and the project team – like a dashboard or like a monitor would do hence our expression “Project Monitor”. There are many reasons for this some of which are not under the control of the project manager himself. The point is that unless you act and cause things to move, the project will be impacted. 

The project manager does the same as the project monitor with the significant difference that he or she causes things to happen. Whether it be by organizing meetings to get people to talk about the elephant in the room (first he or she has to identify it!), provoking uncomfortable discussions in order to resolve a contentious issue or challenging the status quo the project manager has an important role to play in the success of a project.

Not every organization will allow for that and will be appreciative of that. Some organizations like project monitors and encourage the behaviour. They will say that they like “different opinions” but in reality – not really! Unfortunately, there is not much to be done in this case. Luckily, in most cases, organisations see the benefits and encourage people that make things happen. Combined with some emotional intelligence skills, project managers can be extremely effective and can make a significant difference in the success of a project.

What kind of PM are you?

While we understand it is not always possible to force things to happen (and in some cases it’s actually better not to force them!) too often we see project managers not even trying. Over the years, project management has been commoditized and often people don’t appreciate how important a good project manager is and how big of a difference he or she can make. We encourage project managers to take the red pill and make things happen!