NZIM The Rise and Rise of the Project Manager

A new mammal is rapidly evolving to fill the gap left by the middle management dinosaurs. It’s the project manager. Unlike its predecessor, the project manager is more agile and adaptable – living by its wits rather than its weight.
Rodney Turner, editor of the International Journal of Project Management, predicts that project managers will eventually sweep aside functional line managers. Hardly surprising. After all, managers manage projects.
A project can be described as “temporary endeavour undertaken to create unique product, service or result” (PMBOK®Guide). Given this broad definition, projects come in many shapes and sizes. They may be individual or team efforts. And they are no longer confined to engineering feats. Climbing mountain, building boat, undertaking research task, organising sporting event, arranging hui, shifting house, determining policy and mapping process are all projects.
We are all project managers regardless of formal title. But until recently our efforts weren’t necessarily recognised as project work. Now projects are the way of the world. Computers and automation have eliminated many repetitive jobs, freeing us to focus on building new things – new products, new services, new processes and improved organisations.

Shifting the balance
The work balance was formerly in favour of maintaining the status quo. Now it is tipping in favour of progress or project work. Today’s organisations, public and private, can’t survive by focusing exclusively on maintenance work, historically the basis for most job descriptions. Since job descriptions dictate recruiting, training and performance measurement, no time was left over for project work.
Some organisations solve the work balance problem by outsourcing routine work, freeing resources to pursue projects that achieve business goals.
Re-engineering was designed as panacea to restructure organisations to facilitate their core process (invariably cross-functional) but departmental vertical empires remain, albeit diminished in size. Large payrolls, which once reflected the status, power and success of organisations, are now liability.

Redirecting project energy
Understanding modern project management begins with understanding the changing workplace environment. Perhaps the most significant change has been the importance now given to caring for customers.
Previously most project energy was directed towards satisfying the triple constraints of time, budget, and specifications. Some argue that the third constraint – specifications – reflected customers’ needs and sufficiently recognised the importance of customers. In practice, specifications are often developed by ‘experts’ who don’t understand the customers’ business and who add features and functions to build their personal peer esteem. Feature creep seldom adds customer value.
Today’s management environment demands more of project managers than just mastery of tools and techniques. preoccupation with science diverts attention from managing and satisfying stakeholders, motivating project team members, and acquiring political skills.
Another characteristic of the new project management environment is an increasing interest in all the benefits project ultimately generates. Has the new policy (developed and launched as project) produced benefits that justify its original investment? Traditionally, the project ends immediately after handover to the owner. But this is too soon to see if customers are satisfied. The project may have been success in terms of the triple constraints, but the benefits are yet to materialise.
Conversely, the project may have been declared failure because of schedule slippage, cost overruns, or deliverables that don’t conform precisely to specifications. Yet well after project completion, the predicted benefits may be achieved or exceeded, along with extra unexpected benefits, articulated by positive feedback from users. This eventual outcome is cold comfort to ‘failed’ project managers who perhaps had minimal input to the time and cost estimates against which their performance was evaluated.
However, the worst failure is now generally an unhappy customer – promised benefits not delivered. In these circumstances, the ideal project manager should:
thoroughly understand the project goal and constraints, and know exactly what constitutes project success from the customer’s perspective;
develop culture where all stakeholders are willing to communicate the good, the bad and the ugly in timely manner;
pre-empt problems, yet cope with conflict, ambiguity, setbacks and disappointments, which are inevitable for discipline whose guiding principles are governed by Murphy’s Law;
possess political savvy, and influencing and negotiating skills, since large part of project life is spent trying to acquire essential resources.
Given the new project management environment, the new quadruple constraints for project management success might be the ability to:
work with project stakeholders as early as practicable to set realistic expectations about the cost, schedule and quality equilibrium;
obtain management support to acquire the required resources in timely manner and remove organisational obstacles to project success;
manage stakeholders’ expectations throughout the project life cycle, and if the equilibrium changes, ensure everyone understands and accepts the new priorities;
produce promised deliverables within budget and on time, while doing everything practicable to ensure that benefits will be realised (ie, keeping in mind the business case that justified the project’s selection).
The second ‘new constraint’ is risk management. Projects are susceptible to risk because each is in some measure unique and the past is an imperfect guide to the future. Risk management helps manage uncertainty and now demands more of project manager’s attention. If bad weather is unavoidable, the project manager should always have an umbrella handy.
Organisations serious about projects will make project management career position, not just an add-on to their employees’ routine responsibilities. Full-time project managers run all aspects of their projects, using standard methodology, throughout the project’s life cycle.
The best performers are skilled in determining and specifying project requirements, meeting customer needs, and managing change. They embrace ongoing formal training.
Project management should be recognised as an important career option, otherwise organisations will continue or revert to the ‘accidental project manager’ approach – proven recipe for failure. project manager career path means two things: projects are much better managed; competent project managers are retained.
Project managers need at least three dimensions of competency, including the ability to:
apply the discipline of project management exemplified by variety of proven tools and techniques;
exhibit leadership skills required to create positive and productive project team, and navigate the political realities of their organisation’s environment;
possess technical or industry knowledge specific to the project.
The need for the first two competencies has produced an international range of project management certificate, diploma and degree programmes based on common set of standards.

A new paper in the NZIM Certificate in Management
New Zealand is now catching up. Over the past year the Open Polytechnic has been researching and designing new course for the NZIM Certificate in Management. The course, worth 10 credits at Level Four, looks at the management of small projects involving up to 10 or 15 people, and takes students through the processes of creating proposal, planning, implementing and evaluating.
Students must submit feasible working plan for small project, and take the role of an accountable leader of small project team for up to six months.
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