Top 5 Issues for the Project Manager
May 26, 2011 Leave a comment
Being a project manager is not without its problems. Like any profession, there are great rewards coupled with numerous headaches. The number and frequency of both varies depending on a number of factors, such as the complexity of the project, its team members, the culture of the company and even the capabilities of the project manager.
Many things can add to the stress that the project manager has to contend with on a day-to-day basis. Some of these items might just be part in parcel with the job, while others can be mitigated or even eliminated simply with experience and the right set of tools and mindset. But from the standpoint of the ‘main’ issues that a project manager has to contend with, they can be itemized as follows:
1. Sharing Resources
In many situations, a project manager is utilizing resources that are ‘loaned’ to them from other projects or from functional managers responsible for specific deliverables. In any sense, the resource itself may be part of the project, but depending on how the organization is structured, the resource does not necessarily answer to the project manager. As such, what commonly occurs is that the project manager must request resources and then contend with situations where the resource may only be working ‘part time’ on their project. In those cases, it makes assigning tasks to the resource more difficult since the project manager has to be cognizant of what other tasks the resource may be required to perform on other projects or as dictated by their functional manager. This can turn into little tug-of-wars between managers as all are vying for the resources time. Recognizing this situation up front should become part of the risk assessment the project manager performs. Additionally, adjustments should be made to the schedule and fall-back options be drafted in case the resource’s time on the project cannot be completely guaranteed.
2. Dealing with Dependencies
In many situations, a project may be dependent on the success of other projects within the organization. Conversely, other projects may also be dependent on the current project. Whatever the case, the project manager must be fully aware of what these dependencies are and they should be itemized in the main project plan. Additionally, the project manager will need to monitor the progress of the dependent projects and have action plans in place should issues arise with one of them. Keeping tabs on their schedules and milestones and aggregating that information into the broader project timeline will make the dependencies more obvious and easier to monitor.
3. Virtual Teams and Global Geographies
With our new world, the internet, various communication advancements and the rise of other industrial powers has led to a very diverse and dispersed global village. While in the past, cohabited teams were the norm, nowadays, teams are often disparately located, even spanning countries and cultures. This new resource dispersion has added additional complexity to the project manager’s day-to-day duties. They now have to be aware of timezones, language and cultural barriers, differences in legal constraints and a myriad of other factors that come with dispersed teams. What is paramount is that the project manager have an effective communication plan in place. Ensuring that the dispersed team still has an effective medium with which to engage in dialog is extremely important to the success of the project. Whether it be video conferencing, email, wikis, et cetera, a communication plan needs to define the communication methods at the onset of the project. That way, the team members will know where they need to go in order to have discussions with their fellow team. An added benefit is to also always make the location and timezone specifics of each team member evident to the rest of the team. Have that information visible and up-to-date so that team members become familiar with who is located where.
4. Effective Tool Usage
Whether it be a good content management system, version control (for source code and documents), the usage of Microsoft Project, et cetera, knowing which tools to use and how to use them is a must for the project manager. Tools are meant to make ones job easier. But good working knowledge of the tool will make that much more evident to the project manager. Remember that as a project manager, you will have enough problems to contend with daily. The last thing you need is to have to contend with either a clumsy tool that makes your job harder or unfamiliarity with a tool that adds to your daily duties. So it is not only important to have the right tool, it is also extremely important to know how to use it. If you are new to a role and a specific tool is in place that you have not used before, take the time up front to become familiar with it. That will let you know right away if the tool is adequate and also give you the necessary heads-up on how to use it.
5. Dealing with Management Expectations
Like anyone that watched Star Trek, managers are often akin to the captain of a starship. They expect miracles. But as is often the case, reality rears its ugly head. In many cases, it is up to the project manager to explain to management what is feasible and what is not. A feasibility study is an excellent way to give a good synopsis of whether or not the expectations of management can be matched in the real world. (For more information on feasibility studies, please read the post: The Feasibility Study – Key Factors) In any sense, the project manager is often the vanguard in dealing with realistic and unrealistic expectations. And while it is not always easy, it is sometimes necessary to say those dreaded words: ‘I’m sorry, but that can’t be done’.