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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.

3. Project Transience

Teams, not managers, execute projects. Hence one of your major tasks is team building. This is also true of line management, but while departments endure, projects are temporary. You must apply team-building skills to a group of people who may have no commitment to the project or to you, and who will shortly move on to another assignment. You do not have the luxury of allowing a team to evolve. You must actively construct one.

4. You Get What You Get

Some theorists emphasize the importance of selecting a good project team, not simply by finding the right skills, but even by ensuring that personalities mesh. However, companies do not have large, idle pools of technical expertise waiting to be chosen as if for a sandlot baseball game. The problem you will face is not choosing the right people, but getting people who are even remotely qualified. Your job is not to select a project team, but to build one from the people who are available.

5. Specialized Tools and Techniques

Project management has its own set of tools and techniques. It is not easy to learn these concepts or to understand how to apply them, particularly since few companies implement them consistently.

Furthermore, since managing projects is management, it requires the same tools and techniques used by all good managers. Whether you manage a project or a department, you need to know how to listen, frame outcomes, manage meetings, gather information, build teams, communicate, and manage your time. However, project managers seldom receive management training, nor are they selected, as line managers are, because of any promising management aptitudes or behaviors.

These five characteristics mean that managing projects requires, if anything, more management skill than most line management. Managing projects is a distinct discipline requiring its own aptitudes, standards, and training. Anything less will ensure that projects continue to suffer overruns, delays, and the increased antipathy of users and corporate management who are weary of regarding project plans with suspicion.

Jolyon Hallows is a project manager, author of two books on managing projects, an instructor in a university diploma program in project management, and has personally trained over a thousand project managers worldwide. Jolyon offers his project management training, including a complete curriculum of courses, through his company, Westwind Consulting Services Inc.

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