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What Do Project Managers Actually Do?

What Do Project Managers Actually Do?
By Jolyon Hallows

I am often asked what project managers do. Sometimes, I’ve even been asked that by members of my own project team. It’s not easy to describe: My mother, when I patiently explained to her my job, replied, “That’s nice, dear.”

So what is it we do? At the highest level, we apply a set of tools and techniques to move an organization toward a goal. That goal could be to develop a new product or service, to create more effective ways of operating internally, or simply to fix some problem that has become an irritant or exploit some opportunity that has arisen. The organization hands the goal over to a project manager who then does whatever is necessary to achieve it. We are, in effect, goal achievers, turning organizational goals into reality. In doing so, we (mostly) follow proven processes and standard steps, which we modify for each particular goal or project. Read the Complete Article

What Is the Reason That Projects Fail?

What Is the Reason That Projects Fail?
By Jolyon Hallows

Stories of spectacular failures abound. A project that was budgeted at ten million dollars is finally killed when it passes a hundred million. A system that was due at the end of July is delivered at the end of September-two years later. Why do these and less extreme but equally frustrating failures haunt projects?

The most commonly cited culprit is bad estimating. It is the conventional wisdom that technical people cannot estimate the cost of lunch, even given a menu. But this is a myth. Of course, there are poor estimators, but even if the entire estimate were off by a hundred percent, the total cost would do no more than double. This is not desirable, but neither is it comparable to the celebrated overruns-the ones that we speak of in hushed tones, thankful that we were not involved.

In fact, most experienced people can estimate reasonably well, and, in the sweep of a large project, the optimism of some estimators usually balances the pessimism of others. Read the Complete Article

The Project Management Context

The Project Management Context
By Jolyon Hallows

Project management is management, but these five characteristics make it unique.

1. Responsibility Without Authority

Completing a project requires resources: people, equipment, and support services. But, with rare exceptions, those who manage projects do not command resources. You cannot arbitrarily assign staff to your projects, purchase equipment as you require it, hire people, or place your needs at the top of the corporate priority list. You cannot even promote or demote staff. Those prerogatives belong to supervisors and line managers.

2. The Source of Power

Despite the lack of authority, you have considerable power if you are prepared to exercise it. You are the only one able to make the project deliver value; without you, the project is in extreme jeopardy. If you face a project with extreme or risky conditions, you have the right, and the obligation, to say, “This project cannot succeed under these conditions, and until they change, I will not continue.” In most reasonable organizations, such a blunt statement serves as a shock treatment indicating that there is a problem with the project. Read the Complete Article

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