What Is a Project Manager and What Do They Do?

The project manager’s job is to deliver the project within the various limits that have been negotiated and agreed. But to fully answer the question, let’s look at a day in the life of a project manager. To do this we’ll step through each phase of the project life-cycle: Define – Plan – Implement – Close. By grouping project activities into phases, the project manager can efficiently plan and organise resources for each activity, and also measure achievement of goals and make well-informed decisions on how to move forward and take corrective action when necessary. Paying close attention to these details is the difference between merely doing things well and excelling as a project manager.

DEFINE

In the define phase the project manager’s main tasks are:

  • Setting project goals. What are the high level goals? What must be achieved? What are the critical success factors? Project goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound)
  • Stakeholder Mapping helps to define project goals and involves identifying and analysing stakeholders to ensure their needs will be met. Delays and problems can occur when stakeholders are not adequately identified and understood, so this is a key task.
  • Starting to assemble the project team. Sometimes project managers have autonomy over this, sometimes not. For instance, in a functional organisation the project manager will need to negotiate with department managers to secure project team members.
  • Developing the project charter, which is the formal authorisation for the project to proceed.

PLAN

The next phase is planning. What does the project manager do during this phase? Their main task is to lead the preparation of the project plan. This is the roadmap for how those high level goals identified in the define phase will be achieved. The Plan includes:

  • Developing a work breakdown structure, which identifies each task that is required to complete the project.
  • Preparing a work schedule which takes all the tasks from the work breakdown structure and arranges them in time sequence so project activities can be managed and monitored. A realistic schedule is key to a successful project.
  • Defining resource requirements. All projects cost money, take time and require resources. Cost and resource requirements should be clearly mapped out before project implementation starts. This involves: establishing the project team, confirming that required resources are available and that the scope is achievable within budget. One of the most important roles of project managers is to establish realistic expectations and to balance the constraints of scope, time and cost.
  • Writing a risk management plan to identify, rank and manage risk. A sound risk management plan helps a project to run smoothly. The adverse impacts of project threats are minimised and the opportunities that can occur are captured. Problems can be anticipated and actions to treat them can be reviewed and approved in advance.
  • Preparing a quality plan, which describes how quality will be managed throughout the life-cycle of the project to ensure the quality of the both the project and its deliverables.
  • Writing a Communications Management Plan which builds on the earlier stakeholder mapping and sets out a Plan for engaging and communicating with all stakeholders. It outlines how the right messages will be communicated to the right stakeholders at the right time. It sets out the communication goals, the stakeholder requirements for communication, and the flow of communication activities and schedules.

Planning is the key to a successful project. Often planning is ignored in preference to getting on with the work. However, successful project managers understand the value of a project plan in saving time, money and problems down the line.

IMPLEMENT

The implementation phase is where the project plan is put to work as the project manager monitors, executes and controls its implementation. During this phase the project manager interfaces with management, delegates responsibilities, organises resources and communicates with all stakeholders to ensure timely and successful completion of the project. Interpersonal skills of influencing, negotiating and communicating are vital to resolving these challenges. Responsibilities include:

  • Team management and development
  • Keeping stakeholders informed and managing their expectations
  • Measuring and reporting on performance and progress
  • Monitoring and controlling cost, time and scope
  • Monitoring risk and quality
  • Taking corrective action as required.

CLOSE

The final phase is the closure phase. This is when the project manager delivers the finished project to the owner, acknowledges contributions made and documents the work. Reflecting on lessons learned ensures that this experience is passed on to assist other managers.

How to Gain More Value From Project Management Software by Understanding 5 Purposes of Technology

Introduction
Technology (especially “project management software”) has been and will continue to be an important part of project management discussion and practice. This is justified. The right project management software that is implemented correctly can have significant, positive effects on an organization. However, the wrong software, or software implemented poorly can pull an organization down.

In our experience, we have seen organizations struggle with the proper implementation of the right software. Many times we find this stems from a limited or misunderstood view of the purpose of technology in the first place. For example, organizations may look for a tool that can just “schedule projects”, or they simply do not think through the broader, strategic purpose that the technology should serve. This leads to selecting the wrong technology or not implementing it in a way that provides the most value for the organization.

The purpose of this white paper is to provide a fresh perspective on 5 major purposes of technology (and project management software in particular) in project management.

These purposes come from lessons learned in the aviation field. The aviation field is similar to project management in the sense that it seeks to create predictable, successful outcomes in an activity with inherent risk. It utilizes technology heavily to fulfill that objective. By studying the role of technology in aviation, we can derive the major and similar purposes that technology should serve in project management. In so doing, we can also boost the strategic use of technology to support our organization’s strategic objectives, needs, and processes.

Purpose 1: Situational Awareness
Some of the most important aviation technologies, such as the ILS (instrument landing system), glass panel displays, and GPS (global positioning system) are focused on situational awareness: letting the pilot know at every moment where the aircraft is headed, how it is oriented, how high it is, where it needs to go, how it is performing, or a number of other pieces of information.

Project management technology is no different. It needs to provide situational awareness of each project’s situation, where they are headed, how they are performing, and how they need to proceed. It also needs to provide awareness of the situation of an organization’s entire project “portfolio.” If you cannot utilize your technology to know the current situation of your projects, you are not utilizing technology effectively.

The “current project situation” may be different depending on your organization and its particular processes and objectives. It may mean the status of the project schedules, the quality of the deliverables, the current degree of risk, the satisfaction of the clients, or the state of the budget or profit numbers.

It may mean how current resource utilization will affect the project, what issues have arisen that would derail the project, or what has slipped through the cracks.

The important thing is to always be aware of the project situation so that you can make intelligent, timely, well-informed decisions.

You can factor this into your project management technology implementation by doing the following:

  • Identify the key information that you need to maintain situational awareness.
  • Ensure that your project management software tool(s) can track and provide this information.
  • Train your staff on providing this information within the tool.

Purpose 2: Decision Making
In aviation, pilots must be able to make quick decisions using accurate data. For example, a pilot needs to know exactly what is wrong with the aircraft to make a good decision on next steps. They need to know how much fuel is remaining to make a decision on weather avoidance.

Similarly, managers need to have accurate data to make decisions in project management. They need to know what is wrong with a project so they can make a good decision on next steps. They need to know resource availability to prioritize efforts and choose directions. In many organizations, this type of information is not readily available, either because the right toolset is not in place or the toolset has not been implemented in a way that supports this strategic purpose.

Over 10 years ago there was a project manager position that was held by the author of this whitepaper. Each week, the project management group would spend hours (literally) compiling long status reports for management. They would need to track down the status of everything and document them, along with a host of other information. Is it good to have this information compiled? Yes. But it sure is a resource-intensive way of doing it that could be substituted with good technology and good process. Was the information effectively and utilized? That was unclear.

Ask yourself, what is the information you need to make good decisions? What problems does your organization routinely face? Do you have real-time insight into those problems? Do you have all of this information readily available at all times? If not, make a pro-active effort to use process and technology to enable your decision making to be much more accurate, informed, and effective.

In order to make decisions, two things have to occur:

  1. The information needed to make decisions must be compiled.
  2. The information needed to make decisions must be readily available.

Project management software technology fits into this broader purpose, but again you need to ensure that:

  1. You know what information you need.
  2. Your project management software technology is capable of compiling the information you need to make decisions.
  3. The information in your project management software technology is always readily available.
  4. Your team is trained on how to correctly compile the right information into the tool so that you can retrieve it to make decisions.

Purpose 3: Automation of Routine Tasks
A recent article in an aviation periodical referred to a certain modern airliner as a 650,000 pound computer. There is a lot of technology in cockpits today and much of it automates routine tasks for pilots. For example, pilots can use automated engine management systems that eliminate the need for the pilots to manage the specific thrust levels, temperatures, and other engine parameters; checklists are automated; alerts (notifications) are automated; and so forth.

This automation does three things:

  • It reduces the risk of human error (i.e. someone makes a mistake while following a boring, routine process).
  • It frees up the resources (aka pilots) for more important things.
  • It allows more tasks to be accomplished in the same amount of time with fewer people (a third pilot is no longer needed).

There are many, many routine tasks performed in project management which take an enormous amount of time. Every organization has routine tasks that it has to do to be operational. Sometimes it is inconceivable how many countless hours are spent on mundane activities. This may only be because it is more comfortable and easy to do things the same way that we are used to doing them. Some that come to mind include the notification of events, the reporting of status, finding out if something is done or not, finding a document, routing incoming requests for work, filling out and disseminating forms, and collecting time.

The right project management software technology can automate the routine things that your organization does. This has similar benefits for project management:

  • It reduces the risk of human error in your processes.
  • It frees up resources to do more important things (such as billable work or taking work off someone else’s plate).
  • It makes it easier to perform the process (less skill is needed to perform it).
  • It allows more tasks to be accomplished in the same amount of time with fewer people.

If you implement or use technology without having this broader purpose in mind, you will not be using your technology effectively. In fact, you may be simply swapping one tool out for another without a net benefit.

What are ways that technology in project management can automate routine tasks?

  • Taking status inputs (such as a team member entering percent complete) and automatically rolling that up into project-level status.
  • Automatically notifying key personnel when an issue has arisen.
  • Centralizing all information so that there is one place to find it.
  • Automatically routing incoming requests so that the right person can see and respond to it.
  • Collecting time reported information and automatically generating reports on actual time usage.
  • Automatically aggregating all project plans and schedules into useful resource utilization views and reports.
  • Automatically creating new projects from templates that follow a pre-defined path and eliminate the need to re-create that path.
  • Automating the generation of proposals and other templated documents.

What this looks like for your organization will be different because you have different strategic objectives, different processes, and different activities that eat up a lot of your staff’s time.

The point is to understand the purpose of technology so that you can use it strategically to accomplish a specific purpose.

As with other purposes, you need to take pro-active action to fulfill this purpose by ensuring:

  • You know which tasks are routine and time-intensive in your organization.
  • Your project management software tool(s) can automate those routine tasks.
  • Your project management software tools(s) are setup correctly to automate those routine tasks.

Purpose 4: Support for Standardized Processes
Standardized processes are a huge part of the aviation world and a big reason why it has had success at creating predictable, successful outcomes in a risky environment. In aviation, technology supports the standardized process environment. Technology is not implemented because it would be cool or neat. It is strategically implemented to support the standardized processes. For example, part of the takeoff checks process is to confirm that the correct runway is programmed into the flight management computer. Well, in many systems, the correct runway is displayed right where the pilot needs to see it to complete this standard process. It is also standard procedure that when an aircraft is descending in clouds towards a runway that they cannot proceed below a certain altitude unless the runway environment is in sight. Technology supports this process by displaying the minimum altitude and alerting the pilots if they go below it.

Technology in project management tends to be separated from the purpose of supporting standardized processes. We may have a process, but we may also be looking for a “scheduling tool.” In other words, we look at them differently, but the two go hand in hand. One of the primary purposes of technology must be to support the standardized processes of an organization. Why is a standardized process important? Because you cannot have a predictable (ordered) outcome if you have a random process. The process must be standardized and ordered.

Technology should help us implement, maintain, and improve standardized processes across the organization. Examples include online checklists and templates, exception reporting of items outside the process (aka alerts), and workflow automation that follows a particular process. These types of things support the strategic process and the overall goal of implementing strategic objectives.

Your project management software tool(s) should fulfill this fundamental purpose as well. You also need to take the following pro-active steps:

  • Ensure that your processes are documented correctly.
  • Ensure that your project management software tool(s) support your processes.
  • Ensure that your team understands how to manage the process in the tool.
  • Ensure that your team is trained on executing the process within the tool.

Purpose 5: Insight into Trends, Problems, and Performance
In aviation, there are systems and even organizations in place to mine data and identify trends and potential future risks. Is there a trend of certain mistakes that pilots are making that need to be addressed via training? Is there an unusual spike in maintenance anomalies for a certain aircraft?

This is often the furthest thing from the mind of a project manager. We are so busy with the day to day that we cannot (or will not) take the time to look at things like trends and potential problems. However, that is part of our job. Problems and risks are always lurking and will strike when we least expect it.

This is where technology comes in to play. As in aviation, technology can make it easier to do this. The right technology will help us run reports, look at data exceptions, and provide similar views into our project management environments.

There are two points here worth mentioning:

  • When you choose technology, you should keep this purpose in mind. How easy is it to mine for various types of data?
  • We should be experts at quickly drilling into data and extracting useful information.

Conclusion
Organizations continue to struggle with either poor project management software tools or project management software tools that are not implemented correctly. The purpose of this paper was to help organizations understand the broader purposes of technology in project management by looking at lessons from the aviation field. By doing so, organizations can expand their perspective and pro-actively implement these purposes in their own project management environments, thus creating a toolset that increasingly supports the strategic objectives, needs, and processes of the organization.

Things to Ask When Interviewing a Project Manager – Overview

So you’re about to start a major project. And you’ve decided that you can’t get this done without a project manager. Maybe there’s too much risk with the project or maybe the project involves too many items to provide control. For whatever reasons, you’ve decided that you need to use a project manager — a PM — to manage the project. There’s just one minor problem.

You don’t have one.

So you need to go out and hire one. Cool. There’s only one problem. You’ve heard the term. You’ve got a rough idea of what one does. But interviewing? How are you going to come up with a list of questions to ask?

Not to worry, in this article, I’m going to guide you in the things to ask when interviewing a project manager. I’m not going to give you the exact questions. I’ll leave that for later articles. However, I’ll guide you along to some of the questions you should ask.

The questions you need to ask fall into six categories.

1. What do you really want?

You didn’t realize that you would have to answer the first set of questions, did you? The sad truth is that most hiring managers don’t really understand what they’re looking for when they hire a PM. I’ve seen ads for Project Directors which asked for current hands-on programming skills. When was the last time you saw any VP level or C level executive with current skills in their discipline. That’s not what they do.

You need to start by asking yourself what level of person you are trying to hire. Are you looking for a lead hand — meaning a working supervisor? Or are you looking for a senior manager who will co-ordinate the work of multiple managers and their teams? Or a senior executive who will co-ordinate and advise other senior executives?

Once you’ve answered that question, then and only then can you begin to answer the tools and skills questions. What skills are really needed? What skills can be developed on the job? What skills are someone else’s problem? What project management tools will the new person need? As you go through the list always ask yourself two questions. First, “Do I really need this?” Is there an alternative or can the project manager learn it after arrival? Remember the more senior the project manager the faster they will be able to learn. Second, always ask, “Would I expect someone of this level to have these skills if I wasn’t hiring a project manager?” Hiring a VP of Finance or any senior manager based on their ability to do the bookkeeper’s job isn’t very smart.

2. What are you offering?

Once you’ve decided on what you really need you should have an idea of what a person of that level will want. In salary, working conditions and other conditions. What would you do if you were hiring a regular manager at that level?

Pay is only part of the equation. But it’s one part that’s frequently done wrong. Don’t forget that the calculation of pay rate for an hourly employee is different from the calculation of fair pay for a contractor or consultant.

3. Qualifications

Once you’ve determined the type of person you need to hire you can decide what qualifications really matter. After all, if you’re hiring a lead hand asking for a PMP is somewhat overkill. Don’t forget that qualifications like the Project Management Professional (PMP) designation often have experience requirements. Asking for a PMP with less than five years of experience will eliminate 100% of the honest people in the world. And asking for a certification in a programming language from a VP level manager is just plain silly.

4. Tools

There are three sets of tools that a project manager may need to bring. Focusing on the wrong tools is as bad as focusing on the wrong qualifications.

The first are the tools that a PM uses to be a project manager. Things like work breakdown structures, risk management, and communications management. If you have an area of concern for the project, (e.g. it’s very risky or it involves delicate relations with stakeholders), you are going to have to ask a direct question about that area. Any qualified project manager will have experience in that area so it may not show in the resume. And the extent of their experience definitely will not show.

The second are the tools that a project manager uses to perform their tasks efficiently. Tools like MS Project or MS Word. Again, these are standard tools so they may not show on the resume.

Finally, are those tools which are unique to the project in question. For example, if you are installing Quickbooks you may be tempted to ask for experience in Quickbooks. Be careful with these tools. Depending on the level of project manager that question may reject the candidate with the best skills for the job. Generally, knowledge about these tools is needed in the people working for the PM. That’s why the title is project manager.

5. Processes, standards and fitting in

Do you have your own project management process or do you expect the project manager to bring and apply theirs? Many project management consultants are used to quickly assessing your methodology and then supplementing it where their own process is stronger. Others simply adopt yours. Either can be acceptable but you need to ensure that your candidate is capable of fitting into your organization.

6. Skills

The most important questions relate to the soft skills that a project manager brings to the table. And unfortunately, they don’t reliably show up on a resume. Your initial decision regarding the level of project manager you need will determine the level of soft skills you need. Asking a lead hand or first level supervisor to have CEO level presentation skills is not likely to result in a successful search. Equally asking a C-level project manager to have the detailed oriented nature of a programmer will also not lead to a successful search.