The real reason why it’s tough being a project manager

Project management is easier than ever before but being a project manager somehow became tougher. Why is that?

Software automated a lot of the work, but the way project managers use that time and a concrete value they provide became questionable.

In other words, many people still think that project managers don’t do anything except boss people around and waste time. The trouble is, they’re not that far off.

Ask a typical team member what a project manager does and they won’t be able to tell exactly.

They know the textbook definition: a project manager manages projects, coordinates people, communicates objectives, allocates resources, monitors processes, etc. But what does it really mean?

Well, in the eyes of Joe the developer, they don’t do anything. Anything useful, that is.

In the best case scenario, a project manager doesn’t waste other’s time; they just sit quietly in their nice corner, creates to-dos, and don’t bother anyone. The people that actually create things think they would be much more productive without a project manager and their supervision.

Pixar Case Study

This is not anecdotal evidence. The perception of project managers as professional time wasters is well documented. What happened in Pixar is one example.

When their team finished Toy Story, it was a stellar success. But Pixar’s founders had trouble convincing project managers to stay and work on another film.

Why? The project managers described their job as a nightmare. They were constantly disrespected, marginalized, and treated like second-class citizens. When management asked artists and technical staff if that was true, they confirmed it.

The team felt project managers impeded good work by over controlling the process, micromanaging, and throwing sand in the gears. And this came from a team who made one of the most groundbreaking and successful animated movies of the decade.

Not only did the team deliver a product under extreme deadlines and budget, but they made one of the greatest movies of all time AND had to come up with a new workflow (feature length 3D animation was a completely new field and there were no standard workflows the team could rely on).

Of course, Pixar’s management did everything they could to fix the situation. But it took them time to realize there was a problem and since then, they constantly work so it doesn’t happen again.

But most other organizations either don’t have the time to do that or don’t want to admit anything’s wrong. They happily trudge along and focus on the next project, while employees put up with bad management or quit once they’ve had enough — and you can guess what the best workers will do.

To solve this problem, project managers need to know what their real role in a company is and what value they bring.

So, What’s a Project Manager’s Actual Job?

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