Project Managers get no respect!

no-tharpo.jpg“My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.”
Rodney Dangerfield

Just like dear departed Rodney Dangerfield, project managers get no respect!

The Harvard Business Review has a website, where you can find decades of great business articles from the magazine. Subscribers can go to their website, and see 107 articles about project management. If that sounds like a lot, realize that if you enter “execution,” you will get 1,180 results. Ouch!

Kevin Rollins of Dell said in a 2005 interview:

“Why can’t everybody be Wal-Mart or JetBlue or Samsung or whatever the best company in their industry is? Because it takes more than strategy. It takes years of consistent execution for a company to achieve sustainable competitive advantage. So while Dell does have a superior business model, the key to our success is years and years of DNA development within our teams that is not replicable outside the company. Other companies just can’t execute as well as we do.”

What is execution? It’s getting projects done! And executing consistently requires excellent project management. The greatest ideas won’t come to anything without project managers to accomplish them.

Most of us have worked for companies where the leaders act like they only have to tell everyone what the strategy is: that execution is everyone else’s job. When their great vision was not realized, executives get frustrated, because they think they’re being ignored. However, the reason strategy was not executed was more complicated. Without determining a connection to execution, the strategy is just words on paper: not anything that can guide my decisions as an employee. Employees need to understand organizational strategy, understand the key initiatives chosen to achieve it, and select the correct performance measures. If this happens, employees can see how their work contributes to results, and make decisions in line with strategy.

Portfolio management is the bridge between project management and organizational strategy. Strategies cannot be implemented without good portfolio management, and neither can be implemented without excellent project management. When managers use their strategic objectives as the basis for determining which projects are selected and given priority, the end result is that only those projects that move them towards their long-term goals will be undertaken.

Organizations can’t accomplish their great strategic goals without our help — we literally make their dreams reality! Yet project management isn’t seen as an express train to the executive suite — people still look at us as just tactical workers. We can help raise our own visibility, and the perception of project management within our company, by working to understand the bigger picture. Why is this project we’ve just been assigned to an important one for our company? What’s the overall objective we’re trying to achieve, and why? You need to know how the project fits into the overall goals of the firm, in order to make others in the firm recognize the importance of your work.

Project management might not get a lot of respect now, but you can change that — at least for yourself! Make sure folks in your company know that you’re not just the ant in the anthill who gets things done, but someone who wants to help their company achieve a vision, and that they can’t do that without you! Manage your projects to the best of your ability, and make sure you understand (and can speak to) the bigger picture. Don’t be like Rodney!

“I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.”
Rodney Dangerfield

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4 thoughts on “Project Managers get no respect!”

  1. So let’s start a list of ways that a PM can give people that “big picture guy/gal” impression.

    Many times even those managing a portfolio or PMO don’t take the time to tie projects to strategic goals at all. If they do, its almost never done with enough detail to make the result feel tangible. So one way that PMs could redefine themselves would be to think through and document specific ties to strategic goals – including success measures that make it clear that they’re not just working their way through a list someone handed them. Answer the question, “What if my project wasn’t being delivered – how would that impact the business?” If the answer is that there is no impact, think about a career move. If the impact is clear, you’re the only one of your peers with these ties defined AND you are successful – suddenly you’re the smartest guy in the office!

  2. I think “Good” project managers are critical to the success of any company. However, companies frequently hire “time keepers” for this role, with a PMI certification (I am not sure what this certification does for the individual). Typically many of these individuals do not have in-depth understanding of the project they are managing. When creating an online web product, the project manager needs to understand, how the different pieces fit together; product management, UE, UI, Design, software architecture, software development, QA, Ops etc. and have enough understanding of each area to facilitate progress when things are not moving in the right direction. Often many of these project managers actually end up wasting valuable time of the rather busy stressed out individual contributors by not offering or facilitating solutions and instead demanding task completion.

    I ran a group of high revenue generating channels for a Fortune 100 company and Monday mornings was my project meeting with all the project managers. I think I completely frustrated the PMO office by frequently asking change of some projects managers assigned to my projects. Fortunately, my channels were making money for the company so they always obliged. The project managers who I replaced were the ones who did not have a good grasp of the project and understanding of how the wheels worked in each area and were not adding any value. The good ones were great and I loved and respected them.

    It is very important for a project manager to understand the workings of the project in depth, not only in relation to the business and the over-all goal but also as to how each functional component contributes to this success. It is often this lack of understanding of the details of the project that contributes to “lack of respect”

    GOOD project managers are very valuable and ALWAYS get respect. It is the incompetent ones who don’t. It is the duty of the PMO office to ensure that the project manager put on a project get enough education (not just PMO methodology and theories) about the workings of the project before being assigned to it.

    I always made sure good project managers are put on my projects and believe me I have always greatly respected and valued them. Without them I couldn’t have accomplished much.

  3. Interesting comments! One physical manifestation of how highly regarded a project manager is — how likely are they to be promoted out of the job? I have seen a lot of frustration from PM’s who love their jobs, but who would like to move on to bigger and better. But I don’t personally know any executives who moved up from project management — most are told they need line management jobs in order to be promoted.

  4. Well, I don’t think product managers or software engineers move directly to Executive management positions unless they have line management jobs. In the PMO office the EVP got to an executive management position through project management.

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