Project Managers (PMs) are often no more than project coordinators, assigned to collect project plans, track progress, and report project status. Without a strong, empowered PM, projects have a high probability of missing dates, budgets, and business objectives.

Overcoming Barriers to PM Success

Executives prefer to have high confidence in the success of critical projects rather than nagging doubts and fear of failure. However, PMs in many organizations are not given the level of responsibility they need to ensure success. The leading reasons for this are:

 

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  1. Poor commitment to project management. Some organizations do not have a strong organizational commitment to project management, and prefer to give responsibility to line managers who are expected to work together to get it done. This approach typically fails when a high level of project coordination is required. Line managers are typically inexperienced as PMs, or else are not dedicated to managing projects.
    • Solution: The introduction of a strong, empowered project manager who keeps a project on track can be a great way of convincing an organization of the value of project management, as well as setting an appropriate expectation about how PMs should behave.
  2. Battle for resources. Line managers want to control their staff. They obstruct the PM by holding back information.
    • Solution: Assigning a PM who has demonstrated success in projects will help convince line management to trust the PM.
  3. Weak PMs. Individuals assigned to be project managers often do not have the experience, self-confidence, or influencing skills to be effective drivers of project progress.
    • Solution: Assign PMs with proven success to key projects, and those with good potential to simpler projects. Establish a high expectation for their responsibility, and give them full PM responsibility. As they develop their skills, they will be ready to take on accountability for more complex projects.
  4. Problem projects. Some projects have severe inherent risks, and management may be reluctant to entrust these projects to a project manager. They instead hold a senior line manager accountable.
    • Solution: In a high-risk project, the PM must be very competent and be given high accountability and focus. The PM can have a very close reporting responsibility to a senior line manager, but the PM must be allowed to manage the project. Another solution might be to assign an executive sponsor to the project. This would provide the PM with responsibility while partnering them with someone of higher authority to assist with competent decision-making.

Are PMs Empowered to Deliver Successful Projects?

The PM is a key contributor to project success. However, the PM is often subordinate to various line managers. This limits the PM's role to project coordination and record-keeping. In this situation a PM cannot be held accountable for keeping a project on track.

There are several sure signs that a PM is well positioned to deliver successful projects. Look at five aspects of projects for clues: project planning, scope and specification, change management, progress management, project communication, and recognition.

  1. Project planning. A PM takes ownership of the overall project plan. The PM understands the project objectives and key success factors for the project. The PM insists on and is given full visibility to all key project tasks, project dependencies, resourcing, and proposed task completion dates. The PM ensures the alignment of responsibility for project deliverables and task completion dates, negotiating or forcing this alignment as appropriate.
  2. Scope definition. Changes to project scope or even to technology choices can be a major contributor to projects going off track. The PM is involved in the consideration of any material changes before commitments are made, ensuring that the resulting revised plan is viable.
  3. Progress management. A PM takes responsibility for the early detection of late tasks, minimizing surprises resulting from missed dates or unplanned costs, and working with the team to adapt the plan and schedule to minimize the impact of any material problems.
  4. Project communication. A PM must communicate directly and in a timely manner with team members, suppliers, or stakeholders. Everyone impacted by the project's progress must constantly be in tune with the current project state, progress to targets, and variances.
  5. Recognition. If the PM is really held accountable for a project, then the organization gives the PM primary credit for project success. This recognition (often enhanced with a financial incentive) reinforces the significant role of the PM.

Bottom Line

Projects have a much higher probability of success if PMs are given autonomy and take personal responsibility for all aspects of project planning and management. Empower project managers with effective training for managing scope, resourcing, handling problems, and also by fostering commitment to project results.

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