Monday, April 27, 2009

Project Managers Specialize in the Project Management Lifecycle

US News builds on a NYT article regarding Tim Geithner's role as Treasury Secretary, which got me thinking about parallels to the project management space. ... Should the project manager who started the project in the front-end load part of the lifecycle be the one to finish it? ...

Normally, I would answer this with a firm yes, unless the project was running off the rails. A project manager should experience the full life cycle of the project and finish what they have started. It serves the person well and provides continuity to the project, the team, and ultimately to the enterprise.

However ... I have collaborated with project managers who are great starters, working in the front-end to understand business challenges, consider alternatives and navigate the politics to create a compelling business case that is sponsored for governance. And, I have also worked with project managers that are stellar finishers, who thrive on organizing and driving a concept to reality. Often, these project managers are not the same person. And, each part of the project lifecycle requires different skills to be successful. ... As this article suggests - that Geithner is not our finisher for various reasons ... Should we cultivate great starters and finishers in the project management discipline? organizing them into starters and finishers or openers and closers. ... Or, should we strive to build end-to-end process and people excellence?

What do you think about project manager specialization in the project lifecycle? ...

... "It's not even that Geithner was the wrong man for the job. He wasn't. He's just the wrong person to finish it. " ...

Via US News and World Report: Tim Geithner Should Go

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At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Jerry Manas said...

Frank, this is an excellent point. It also aligns with the strengths-based approach touted by gurus from Peter Drucker to Marcus Buckingham. I completely agree that in many cases (not all) the best person to start the project is not the best person to drive the execution, and there may yet be a third person needed to act as "the closer."

Provided there are solid processes for handoff management, this is a good way to ensure that each part of the project lifecycle (which often requires skills unique to that phase) has the right person at the helm.

I supposed it's not unlike football (the American kind), which has a separate group of players on the field for offense, defense, and special teams. Collectively, they work together to "win the game."

I think this calls for an initiative to assess the skills and strengths needed to drive each phase of the project lifecycle.

Related to this, I've long said there should be specialists that work in conjunction with the project manager, such as a project coordinator, a customer liaison (care giver), and so on. I'm seeing this more and more in companies. I'm also seeing the early part of projects (from request through business case acceptance) being led by a business-savvy liaison, and then turned over to the project manager.

It's been a long-standing debate as to how early the project manager should be engaged.

I think there's general agreement that there should be some overlap, amd at the least, the project manager should be involved at the beginning of planning. It's fine for someone else to facilitate goal alignment and clear scope, but then the PM should facilitate planning for the definitive budget.

Interesting topic. I'd be curious to see how others feel.

At 11:33 PM, Anonymous Himanshu said...

IMO, the idea is good in theory, but there are many challenges.

1. Project ownership - What happens when the first PM, involved in scoping, drops the ball, and the estimates are incorrect? The PM who is then executing it is left to clean up the mess.

2. Performance / KPIs - PMs in many companies have KPIs around specific projects. If the planning is perfect, but execution is not, and the project fails eventually, would you blame and penalize both PMs for that?

3. Time - In addition, there is an element of time that would be spent on handovers, which quickly adds up if you talk about lots of projects.

4. Cross-skilling - If PMs indeed specialize in certain areas, shouldn't they be actually encouraged to skill up in other areas of Project Management? How would HR advertise for a position that used to specialise in procurement?

If risks around some of these challenges can be mitigated or negotiated, then its a really good idea. But its easier said than done.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Craig Brown said...

The idea is a good one, but should probably be a specialisation for mega projects.

In small, medium and most large projects it is useful for the pm to learn and gather feedback in order to better refine their planning next time.

If you carve out a planning specialisation in project management ou'll end up with a bunch of sales folks who just quote a number to get the project rolling.

You'll then need a new specialisation, the explainer of the schedule/cost blow-out.

Luckily we have that skill in abunance in the profession.

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Frank M said...

Thanks for the comments so far ....

I plan to think this through some more and then post again on this topic. ....

Frank M


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