Disciplinarians, taskmasters, constant checkers, note-takers, sticklers for deadlines – and generally regarded as the resident drill sergeant of any project – a project manager’s role is often questioned. Not just by the resources who are at their exacting, organizational mercy – but by clients who think the role is an unnecessary and expensive addition.
But while project managers don’t directly contribute to the work being produced, they facilitate it every step of the way. And in many ways, effective project management makes the experience more productive, efficient and successful for both parties.
Beyond keeping everyone aligned and accountable on timelines and deliverables, project management creates the pockets of space and boundaries that are vital to fruitful collaboration, mutual respect and trust.
Project management plays a pivotal role in perspective – so no element of the project goes on a detrimental or unnecessary tangent that wastes time, money and resources. While every other player will be invested in their role, the project manager plays a game of chess – inciting the right moves at the right time, and meticulously framing every action against the greater purpose.
Functionally in this aspect, project management is responsible for the strategic framework the entire project operates within, and being accountable for its viability, promised delivery and its feedback into the client’s business aspirations. Most importantly, a project manager plays out all the variables and potential risks – mitigating them as much as possible, proactively.
Anticipating the problems is crucial – because it requires adaptive responses that cause minimal disruption but maximum impact in correcting the course.
Project managers are a rare breed that doesn’t lead from the front, but from beside you. If you’re a client, they offer confidence and counsel, helping you to understand when to be involved and when to step back. If you’re a resource, a project manager innately understands your challenges, and actively creates an environment in which you can thrive without stress.
And with great authority and insight, comes even greater responsibility – for their knowledge and intervention in every element of a project, the project manager is ultimately responsible for its every outcome, its every success and failure across platforms and mediums. Often singularly, and especially when there’s more to be done.
When a project is being discussed in theory, it is the task of the project manager to be the bridge that takes it into a practical space. That means taking ideas and mapping out their transformation into reality, gathering the right resources, assembling the right team and being the guide from idealistic thoughts to actual process.
Adaptability and clarity is vital for any project manager – because they are on the front line of any crisis, keeping the objectives in focus and ensuring every stakeholder feels secure. At any given point, project management acts as both the compass and the Northern Star – for their unparalleled vantage of the project, and for their expertise in choosing in how to break up a large scale undertaking into digestible tasks that won’t deter or overwhelm those involved.
Managing expectations creates the foundation of a successful project – it ensures that over-ambition, ambiguity and the feeling of ‘more money than it was worth’ doesn’t permeate through. It’s a psychological precedent that a project manager needs to set across all stakeholders – negotiating achievable deadlines, celebrating milestones, and fostering collaboration.
An effective project manager will orient every action on a clear process and realistic schedule.
Being ‘exemplary’, ‘exceptional’ or at the ‘highest standard’ are relative to the speaker. A project manager needs to be able to interpret those expressions into tangible goals – and then make sure they are met at every point.
With the pressure of completion on from the start, a project manager rallies the support of the stakeholders – so that if an unforeseen circumstance were to arise, it would be received with more understanding and favor, based on a history of good work and trust in the person assuring them of it.
Dedicated project management will test the output at every stage, and articulate them in gated phases that are optimized for being clear milestones and targets, so teams can examine and improve throughout.
Pure optimism is inadvisable when so many real-world hindrances exist – project management’s role ensures that no one gets caught up in ideal outcomes, but edges towards realistic results. And that requires being upfront and honest, and critically assessing every potential risk and the shields that will prevent them from affecting the work.
The quality of the risk becomes real in its quantity. Therefore, project managers are required to assign monetary values, the costs of contingency – constantly walking the line between being over-cautious and risking the confidence of the client, and being firmly pragmatic without dulling the motivation of the team.
A project’s lifecycle may seem arduously long when you’re in it – but it is just a brief burst of energy that alters the course of everything after it. And for that powerful, impactful moment with far-reaching repercussions, project management needs to study and plan every facet in play. Reactivity is the kiss of death – so proactivity is vital. Project managers can never allow a project to go into survival mode – when fragmentation and frustration reign.
Proper planning defines roles, streamlines every task and operates on checks and balances, so nothing goes out of scope. Without order and guidance, a high-intensity project can swiftly fall apart – resulting in too many directions, too little leadership, wastage and attrition. And that sinking feeling of failure despite best intentions.
This also allows for transparency across the board – and makes sure no one is blindsided or left out of the loop.
Project managers must be all-rounders, having some subject matter expertise of every discipline that comes together for a project. This is so that they can make informed decisions and have intelligent conversations with every player – and have a comprehensive perspective when tackling any issue.
Without subject matter expertise, things become unstable. Creatives will dismiss the limitations of technology, and developers will resist the complexity required to bring certain creativities to life. But a good project manager, will allow the team to persevere and preserve – respecting and reaching out, rather than becoming defensive, insular and insecure in their share of voice.
No matter how successful the outcome of the project, there will always be inherent issues that punctuated its course. An effective project manager will special care in understanding their roots, and consciously weed them out the next time.
It’s easy to become entrenched in a mode or style of working, but project management can play an important role in breaking detrimental, inefficient habits. Pointing out solutions that counter the complacency of ‘but this is how we’ve always done it’
Further, they can create learnings and documentation – so the future is more resilient, insightful and aware of failings in the past.
Project managers are ultimately the guardians of all the things companies consider ‘background noise’ – until the deft dealing of a difficult situation with documentation, tracking, transparency and strategic thinking quietens an argument, and allows for time to be spent more productively in collaboration and course-correction.
The discipline bears the brunt of everyone’s expectations, from clients to creatives to suppliers – and it’s time to acknowledge that project management is not dispensable. Not as long as people of diverse interests and roles have to come together to achieve a common goal.
Equal parts cheerleader, mentor, confidante and commander – a project manager is the eventual fall-back and the ultimate push-through every project thrives on.