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So You Think You Are NOT a Project Manager?

by Doug Boebinger, MS, PMP®

So, one day you accidentally walk past your boss’ office and they call you in for a brief discussion. Yep, you guessed right, you are given another assignment. Your title may not reflect it, but you are now a Project Manager. More people are project managers than realize it (or want to admit it). If you are responsible for completing assignments (projects) by a given deadline while meeting certain budget and quality requirements, then you are a project manager. To a project manager, the principles of project management would be helpful in completing those assignments or projects successfully.

But, you may say, “I’ve been doing projects my entire career! Why do I need to use project management?” Good question! My answer is, “How successfully have you been meeting all of the project requirements and objectives while achieving customer satisfaction in a timely manner within budget?” One survey indicates that 85 percent of all projects fail in meeting one or more of these basic project requirements: *On time *Within budget *On Scope meeting customer satisfaction.


Maybe you were bored one Saturday afternoon and grabbed three tennis balls, convinced you could teach yourself to juggle. Wasn’t as easy as you thought, or maybe it was! Well, a project manager is just that, a juggler. The three primary project requirements which a project manager needs to juggle are those mentioned above and shown in Figure 1 – time, cost and quality.

These requirements depicted in the figure are represented by the three sides of “The Project Management Triangle”. This triangle is used because if one side of the triangle is changed, the overall shape of the triangle changes. This means that, if one of the three requirements of time, cost, and/or quality is modified on a project, the change can potentially effect the other two requirements. The effect could be either positive or negative depending on the change. “Resources” are shown inside of the triangle because they are constrained by the amount of time, the amount of money, and the quality requirements of the project. Project managers need to balance all these factors while maintaining “Customer Satisfaction” which encircles the entire project.

These three elements alone do not encompass all of project management. As stipulated by the Project Management Institute (PMI)® (http://www.pmi.org ), project management is made up of nine knowledge areas as shown in Figure 2. All of these knowledge areas are interrelated and need to be balanced together to provide an integrated project plan which will aid the project manager and project team to execute and control the project to a successful completion.

From the list of knowledge areas, you can see that project management is part “science” and part “art”. There are numerous algorithms in project management that project management software packages perform well. There are also soft skill requirements. A successful project manager needs to have both good soft and hard skills to run a project effectively.


There are several misperceptions as to what project management is and is not. Let me try to refute a few of the following quoted misconceptions:

  • I have Microsoft Project® so I do project management.” – Project management software (and there are many other applications available) is only a tool that a project manager can use to assist him/her in aspects of planning, executing, and controlling a project. Software, by itself, is not project management.
  • “Project management only tracks dates.” – Sadly, that is what some believe. Project management, done properly, is a very proactive set of processes and methodologies which are intended to guide the team through the project. “Actuals” are gathered to help the project manager know what has been accomplished and predict both the short term and long term project direction.
  • “Project management is meant to police the team.” – NO! Those that use project management as a policing tool are doing an injustice to their team and to all of those who are working hard to use it properly. Project management is an aid to the team to determine what is going well and what isn’t so the team can take appropriate actions.
  • “Our product development process is our project management process.” – Many organizations have processes to help them develop their products and services. Project management can make those processes more effective both by process improvement efforts as well as in the execution of the product development process.
  • “Project management is a cure-all.” – Project management is a tool. It makes a good project manager better, but it won’t make a bad project manager good.


Projects fail for two basic reasons; they fail either to:

  1. Plan the Work – project teams only focus on a few aspects of the project, like time and cost, and do not spend the time and effort to think through and plan all aspects of the project.
  2. Work the Plan – project teams ignore the “road map” and just start working on the project. Before they know it, tasks are missed, work is done out of sequence, resources are not available when they are required, the impacts of changes in the project are not understood…I could go on and on.

Obviously, this analysis of project failure is overly simplified. The bottom line is that there are many factors, both inside and outside the project that can cause projects to fail. The question is, “What is the organization doing to help projects to succeed?” Implementing project management processes is a large step in the right direction.


Just as with implementation of any new initiative in an organization, the initiative requires upper management to actively lead the way and requires “the worker bees” to support it. There is no single way to implement project management within an organization. The approach is different based on:

  • Organizational structure (functional, weak matrix, strong matrix, project based)
  • Means the organization uses to earn money (operations, projects, or a mixture of both)
  • Centralized versus decentralized project teams and functional groups
  • Culture of the organization
  • Level of project management knowledge within the organization
  • Role the organization wants the project manager to play
  • To implement successful project management, all relevant factors need to be identified, analyzed, and addressed in a comprehensive implementation plan. And, yes, project management should be used to implement project management.

Some organizations have chosen to go with a Project Management Office (PMO) which centralizes the project managers into a project management functional group under a single person, who may have a title such as “Director of Project Management” or “Vice President of Project Management”. PMO allows the organization to develop a single project management process and methodology to use on all projects. The PMO also allows cross-pollination of best practices.


Just as there are various factors which influence how project management is implemented, there are various factors which need to be taken into consideration when defining the role of the project manager. Probably the one overriding factor is the relative power of the project manager versus the functional manager. Don’t get me wrong, this is not meant to be a power struggle, just an understanding.

If the project team members are solid-line (directly responsible) to the project manager, then the project manager is responsible for the performance of the team. If the project team members are solid-line to the functional manager and dotted-line to the project manager, then the functional manager is responsible for the performance of his/her people on the project. Please do not misinterpret this to mean the project manager is not responsible for the project, he/she is and always will be. In the case where the team members are solid-line to the functional manager, then the project manager needs to work closely with the functional manager to assure the work is being accomplished properly, on time, and on budget.

Also, remember that the word “manager” is in the term “project manager”. The project manager is supposed to manage and lead the project, not necessarily perform the project work. The exception is on small projects where he/she is also responsible for specific project tasks. Some project managers get lured into doing work which should be assigned to the team; this distracts the project manager from the true role of leading the project as well as minimizes the number of projects a project manager can manage at one time.


Project management is a much sought after skill set as well as a swiftly growing career field. The basic concepts and principles of project management should be well understood by:

  • Upper management
  • Functional managers
  • Project managers (obviously)
  • Project team members
  • Supporting organizations

To this end, numerous corporate training courses as well as academic programs are available. For those interested in making project management a career, there are project management academic degree programs at both the bachelor’s as well as master’s level. You can also obtain Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification from PMI®.

With so many companies looking for ways to get more products out the door faster as inexpensively as possible with the highest possible quality, organizations are looking to project management as a key successful factor to make this happen. Is your company meeting the challenge?

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