What Does a Project Manager Do?
You’re a project manager and you know what you do. You know how challenging and demanding this career choice can be at times. But, what do you say when someone asks you “what does a project manager do?” They’re not being mean, but rather inquisitive about exactly what is included in a project manager job description.
It’s actually a very good question as I’ve wondered that myself. If the people we work with are professionals in their chosen field, isn’t it enough to let their yes mean yes and just deliver a finished, quality product on the date they established? Why do they need someone following up on them constantly (aka baby-sitting) asking for status and if they are on track?
We’ll leave that type of work for the less experienced project managers. Experience will tell you that there is an incalculable value that a professional project manager will bring to any organization. If you do your job well, you will soon find that your project management skills will be hand-picked by stakeholders and team members to manage their projects.
Why is this? It means that you have provided a good answer to the question about what does a project manager do. The following are 4 value-add services you can provide as a project manager and make a huge difference to your team:
1. Minimize Interruptions
There is nothing more that team members on your project appreciate and value than the ability to do their work uninterrupted. Today’s technology-driven jobs require focus and deliberate attention. This flies in direct contrast to today’s interruption-driven work environment. People are stopping by their desk to ask questions, get a copy of the latest project dashboard, clarify their understanding about a particular topic or aspect of the project, or looking to brainstorm on upcoming work.
It is often your best resources who are plagued with the most interruptions. This is because they are your best resources. They are professional, knowledgeable, and have answers to most questions. They are not afraid to think creatively and are good to bounce ideas off of. But, the fact that they are also your best resources means that they are most likely expensive and their expertise is needed on the project at hand.
What can a project manager do to help such a person on their team? Minimize interruptions for them. You can do this by making sure they have blocks of uninterrupted time to get their jobs done. It is nothing less than amazing what a person that knows what they are doing can get done in remarkably short bursts of time.
Serve as their gatekeeper. Have people filter questions and requests for information through you. They will understand the reason why and most likely work with this arrangement. Perhaps you set up a certain time each day that this resource is available. This technique is called the “office hours” approach. People knew that between 2:00-3:00 in the afternoon this person would be available for any and all questions and would stop by at that time. The reality is that most questions do not need to be answered ‘that second’ but rather it is more a matter of convenience than anything else.
Minimizing interruptions also includes limiting the amount of unnecessary meetings that your team members are invited to attend. People will send out blanket meeting invites that include everyone in the company. The unfortunate reality is that only a small percentage of those in attendance actually need to be there and provide input. It’s no problem for team members to attend meetings, just make sure they are relevant and necessary.
2. Clear the Way
It’s hard to make any measurable progress if you have to walk on the path and clear the path at the same time. It’s even more frustrating for the people on your project team if they have to figure out what needs to be done, work through project politics, or make sure they have the necessary resources available to them to do their job. Morale will quickly wane and productivity diminish.
Another answer to the question about what does a project manager do is that they clear the way for those on their team to follow. A good project manager will make sure there is a clear path to follow, that there are very few open issues or risks that will slow things down. They will make sure there are no politics or indecision seeping through to the project team that could introduce confusion or hesitancy to team members.
Take a look at people’s desks and you’ll see why this is such an important and critical answer to the question about what does a project manager do. There are books and papers stacked everywhere. Post-it notes are plastered around them like wallpaper and there are carcasses of old equipment that is either broken or no longer used sprawled on their bookshelves.
While they may not admit it, they do like it when you come in with your neatly organized binder of project documentation. Sure, they may scoff a little bit, but deep inside they wish they had your skills of organization. As long as you are the project manager they can benefit by extension of this quality that you bring to the table.
This is another important aspect about project managers roles. People receive direction from so many people on their job today. They will receive it from their boss, someone from another department, their bosses’ boss, a customer request, or a favor that a peer or colleague asked them to do. The next thing you know this person is overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time to get it done. So they just stop and nothing gets done!
This is another area where you can provide much value as a project manager. Help them to prioritize what needs to be done first. But where do you start? Below is a line of questioning you can use that can help prioritize what is on their plate:
Will it bring in revenue? This is the first question you need to ask in a business environment. If they have projects that are backed up that upon completion the company will get paid for…work on those activities first.
Will it quiet noise? There may not necessarily be revenue attached to a particular activity but rather a lot of noise. There could be complaints from a customer, or somebody in another department is waiting on something to be finished. This noise comes up every time at the status meetings and is painful to listen to week after week. If finishing this activity will make that noise go away…then do that next.
What’s left? This is the rest of the list. If it won’t bring in money or quiet noise, then put it at the bottom of the list. Once you’ve been paid and it is quiet you can now work on anything else that may still be considered important. That’s a key point too. There are many things in this category that the passage of time will no longer render important.
What does a project manager duties include? Plenty. But, if you keep the four value-add activities as part of everything you do as a project manager you will find that others will have the answer to what YOU do as a project manager.
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