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.