Project manager – the invisible hero?

You notice the bad ones, but brilliant project managers are virtually invisible

Our culture admires heroes who rescue people, but dismisses “preventive” thinkers who warn about potential dangers. We put cardiac surgeons on a pedestal for rebuilding our heart, but ignore the primary care physician’s advice on preventing heart disease. Project management, as a profession, is similar to the medical field in this regard.

We’re often more willing to pay the equivalent of the cardiac surgeon—the A-Team, Red Team or SWAT team—for bailing us out after we make a mess than we are to heed the preventative advice and risk assessments of project managers.

When project management goes well, business disruptions don’t occur

I recall a customer survey from a solution implementation performed a few years ago where the customer praised the vendor’s consulting services team for delivering exactly what they promised – on time and on budget. However, the customer lamented the fact that the wrong solution was being implemented.  With some project management oversight, this mistake would have been avoided.

Business leaders often fail to recognize project management as a profession, because they don’t truly understand what we do. Let’s face it, when we project managers do our job well, business disruptions don’t occur. So project managers are caught in a conundrum – the better they do their job, the less visible their job becomes.

When screening for project managers, some companies tend to focus on people with technical backgrounds. But companies should also be looking for people with the fundamental skills to effectively manage a project, as well as the political clout to confront senior managers when tough decisions are called for.

The Project Management Institute has done an outstanding job of establishing project management as a profession, including world-wide credentialing. The institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge establishes best practices for managing projects.

Connecting project management to business goals

But something is missing: the ability to explain the value that PMs provide to senior management in a way that connects to their concerns.

Many companies invest in a team of qualified and experienced project managers, but many others have not seen the light. Purchasing managers – often incentivized to reduce costs despite the long-term impact – sometimes reduce or even eliminate appropriate project management from services contracts.

The correlation between appropriate project management time and project outcome gets lost by the wayside, often because purchase managers don’t have to live with the consequences of their decisions.

We project managers need to take the initiative to educate others about the value of project management. When someone asks what we do that significantly improves the likelihood of project success, we need to be able to articulate how we directly support an organization’s business goals.

I’ve started to do my part by blogging about specific examples of the value of project managers. I encourage other project managers to join me here and on Twitter using the hashtag #ITPMvalue. Let’s tell the world about our best practices and explain the business value we deliver.


Thomas’s mission is to help the CA Technologies team of talented project and program managers…

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