They wear many hats
Depending on a firm's strategy, project managers perform a variety of roles. But just as one hat will not fit all heads, one textbook model doesn't fit every firm. Many parameters influence a company's approach:
- Capability maturity model level
- Team size
- Company budget
- Soft skills
- Organization's depth and breadth of technical expertise
- Firm's project management expertise
- Client relationships.
For most companies, the ideas and preferences of one executive define the job description, which then evolves as the company matures. A random sampling of six companies in the high-tech sector in Ottawa, Canada, reveals six different organizational models to describe the roles of their project managers.
Six Canadian companies discuss how they expect project managers to perform many tasks above and beyond actually managing the project.
DY 4 SYSTEMS INC.
Develops and provides real-time embedded high-performance processing solutions for harsh environment applications.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT FOCUS:
Adapt to the marketplace.
The telecommunications boom of the late 1990s influenced the firm's project management model. There was high competition for skilled engineers, and Dy 4 lost key people. As a result, the remaining highly skilled engineers adopted a dual role of project manager and technical lead to mentor junior engineers who were entering the engineering ranks quickly.
Dy 4 Project Engineering Manager Peter Pfister says the company uses a well-defined three-directional matrix structure:
- Functional managers for resource development
- Engineering/Business managers for development within a vertical market
- A project management group that is assigned by project within the vertical markets.
With the project manager mentoring junior engineers, Dy 4's engineering capabilities have rebounded to the appropriate levels. In addition, project managers are acutely aware of progress at the lowest task level. The ambiguity and misinterpretation of task progress are removed: By simply observing, the project manager knows how a task is progressing without any subjective interpretation.
When highly skilled engineers serve as project managers, some naturally will pay more attention to the engineering and development component and less to the management of the project, exposing the project to risks. At the other end, the project managers' engineering skills could become stale, hampering their ability to accurately monitor project progress. Today, Dy 4 is having project managers concentrate more on management of projects and less on the technical role and mentoring of junior engineers.
Using self-managed contractors, IKON requires minimal management of its third-party contractors, reducing the need for hands-on project management.
IKON OFFICE SOLUTIONS INC.
Provides total business solutions for office, production and outsourcing needs.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT FOCUS:
IKON uses a combination of internal management and outsourced teams to execute projects. The company has a pool of self-managed contractors that are familiar with the development tasks.
Without a team to manage, the project manager concentrates on client relationship and management of third parties. The role of project manager is an even split between management of projects and business development, according to Professional Services Manager Pierre Poirier.
The project manager owns the client relationship, designing and delivering the solution. The project manager must solidify the relationship on the first project and then follow-up when opportunities materialize.
IKON has supported this dual role of project manager and business manager for 10 years. A contributing factor to its success is the outsourcing of development. Using self-managed contractors, IKON requires minimal management of its third-party contractors, reducing the need for hands-on project management.
Develops high-performance data center multiplexers that enable enterprises and carriers to extend business continuance applications and services cost-effectively between data centers and across the metropolitan-area network/wide-area network.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT FOCUS:
Consolidate project responsibility.
Like most startup companies, which excel in respecting and leveraging multiple skills and competencies within a relatively small team, people at two-year-old Akara wear many hats. Karen Walton is program manager for product development and a one-person project team for enterprise resource planning (ERP) software implementation. For an installation project, Walton plays the multiple roles of business manager, developer and trainer, as well as project manager.
Walton's other role as program manager focuses solely on project management—at the program level. The functional manager directs and monitors the engineering team at the task level. Walton interacts with the functional manager and monitors the project from the higher level (Figure 1). Walton usually is removed from direct contact with the project team, although she interacts directly with the team when required. Her primary project management responsibilities are risk management and tracking the work breakdown structure at the highest level. Walton does not contribute technical or marketing content—she has limited common ground of expertise with the engineering team.
This structure allows Walton to be an impartial observer. Because she's out-side the engineering and marketing teams, she is not heavily influenced by either area. However, being the “out-sider,” Walton says it's more challenging to build relationships.
The model fits for Walton and Akara, mainly due to Walton's soft skills. She is outgoing and skilled at interacting with people from all levels. She has been able to build relationships with the project team without a project reporting relationship. And because the staff includes fewer than 100 people, water-cooler discussions happen easily and frequently.
The e-business services company delivers IT projects that focus on the deployment of secure, Internet-enabled solutions and managed services.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT FOCUS:
Successful project delivery.
Qunara executes external projects in which attention to client relationship and commitment to budget and schedule often are more critical than seen on internal projects. The firm uses a textbook model, where the project manager concentrates on managing the project and delivering to the client. The technical teams serve as the subject matter experts.
The project manager interacts with the project team and the client's project manager (Figure 2). The single role of managing a project requires a balance between project administration and project management. This model provides the benefit of a consistent and repeatable process.
Qunara needs flexible project managers that can be effective on a variety of projects with differing technical content. In the services arena and external projects, subject matter changes from project to project. The right mix of technical expertise and project management skills ensure project success.
The project manager must have enough high-level understanding of the technical content to identify mistakes early. A strong technical lead is included in the team, and good communication exists between the technical lead and project manager. “The project manager is the last point of defense and needs to understand everything about the project,” says Luc Ouellet, director of application development and systems integration.
Offers consulting, systems integration, and the management of business and IT functions.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT FOCUS:
Separate contract-related and day-to-day project control.
Reportedly the first IT services company in North America to achieve ISO 9001 certification for its IT project management framework (PMF), CGI's primary focus is large-scale systems integration and outsourcing contracts. The role of project management has been divided in two.
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CGI has found the balance needed to mitigate the risk introduced when splitting task responsibilities. The clear definition of roles and commitment to those roles reduce the chances that jobs will be overlooked.
The project director, who is responsible for client relationship and contract management, can be viewed as the project sponsor. The project manager is responsible for day-to-day activities. Most project teams also have subject matter experts to allow the project manager to concentrate on day-to-day activities, says Project Management Center of Excellence Leader Martin Turgeon.
The evolution of CGI's model started during engagements for Canada's Department of National Defense (DND), where a disciplined project management process is mandatory. CGI continually reviews and improves its PMF, says Jeff Lamirande, director, consulting services.
The division between project director (contract-related activities) and project manager (day-to-day activities) clarifies communication paths and plainly defines an escalation channel for issue management. The client always knows who to go to. The project director and project manager must cooperate and contribute to project delivery. Responsibilities are defined in the project plan at the start of every project.
Similarly, client roles that complement the project director and project manager also are defined. CGI has found the balance needed to mitigate the risk introduced when splitting task responsibilities. The clear definition of roles and commitment to those roles reduce the chances that jobs will be overlooked.
Develops and delivers the next generation of wavelength division multiplexing optical telecommunications components.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT FOCUS:
In the competitive optical market, startup MetroPhotonics pays close attention to risks. Chief Technical Officer Adrian O'Donnell considers technical risks, project scheduling risks, market shifts and competitive changes, down to shipping and delivery of parts. A one-day advantage can make or break competitive advantage. “The project manager must understand technology in order to identify risks in the general marketplace,” O'Donnell says.
This fast-paced environment requires 70 percent technical knowledge vs. 30 percent project management expertise, according to O'Donnell. In comparison, the effort applied to each role is closer to 40 percent for technical contribution and 60 percent for project management. The dual role of technical expert and project manager enables the project manager to be acutely aware of risks and provides an understanding of MetroPhotonics' commercial model, their customers and their competitors.
The dual role of technical expert and project manager enables the project manager to be acutely aware of risks and provides an understanding of MetroPhotonics' commercial model, their customers and their competitors.
In this model, the project manager may become overloaded. If project management takes precedence, the technical role suffers and risk assessments are not updated frequently enough, O'Donnell says. To alleviate the overload, O'Donnell asks all engineers to take personal responsibility for end-to-end development of their products. This shifts some of the project management activities from the project manager to the engineers.
The “Right” Model
Of these six companies, three of the first-generation engineering firms expect project managers to perform multiple roles. In the three services companies, two focus purely on project management, and the last transfers much of the project management responsibilities to third-party developers, allowing the project manager to perform a business management role.
Before defining a model, an organization should assess the project manager's capabilities, the corporate needs and budget, and outside influences. The model that fits your company depends on many factors. For example:
- The IKON model depends on self-management; it will not fit a company with large project teams that the project manager must control.
- The Akara model succeeds due to the project manager's outgoing nature.
- CGI's model relies on project directors to handle specific project delivery responsibilities as a value-added expense. This support usually is not billable to clients. CGI's model of splitting the project management duties would not fit in a company that cannot justify the overhead in the budget. PM
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Claire S.J. Wood, PMP, is an in-the-trenches project manager with more than 10 years experience managing projects in the financial and telecommunications sectors.
PM NETWORK | DECEMBER 2002 | www.pmi.org
DECEMBER 2002 | PM NETWORK