What is NOT Project Management!

No matter if you are new to project management or a veteran project manager, you must have read numerous articles on “What is Project Management”? But maybe you also need to pause and think: “What is NOT Project Management”. Over the decades this stream has grown, but this has also resulted in diluting its actual meaning and scope. It is now more difficult to find information on what should not be considered as project management. Here is the listing of few roles, which should not be counted as project management. Also just to clarify, all of them are part of project management but not the ONLY thing in this stream

But before looking at all these roles, let’s also take a step back, as why this short-sightedness of PM role happens? If everyone understand the meaning/definition/responsibilities of Project Managers and if everyone is (or most PMs) are aware of PMBOK or other associated guidelines. Well there could be number of reasons for this: 1) Halo effect, where a person becomes a PM because of their proficiency in some other role, they fall back on what they know and have always done when they were project team members, which was not project management. 2) Non-existing PM culture, where only technical things are considered real work and PM work is just reduced to trivial documentation work, which can be done by everyone, 3) Lack of directions for PM, where they are neither made responsible nor held accountable for their projects 4) Fire-fighter working mode, where things get done (and acknowledged) only when they become very urgent.

This list is endless, so feel free to provide your inputs as well, as you go through these roles and ponder why these roles have become predominant as a PM role?

Tasks Coordinator – People understand it as a job, where one needs to do coordination via email, setting up meeting, create status reports etc. If you doubt this statement, then read thro’ the job description of Project Managers jobs and almost 40% of jobs require a “Rockstar Project Manager”, who can help in easing out the load of a CEO. E.g. a snippet of responsibilities for such Job

- Check and answer company emails

- Sending weekly report to current clients

- Creating and emailing invoices

- Scheduling social media posts

- Engaging with site visitors via “live chat”

Sorry, but this is the wrong job description, please ask for a virtual assistant or a coordinator in this case

Email Champions – There are some PM’s, who are very prompt in responding quickly on the emails. You are so sure that this person will always respond back irrespective of the fact that they were in the cc (or FYI) loop OR their response is seldom useful to anyone in the email thread. They believe in getting things done through emails. Alas, things do not get done by emails OR may only be partially done. And an email is not an answer to everything in this world. These PM’s might come back with the statistics that 90% of project manager’s time is spent on communication, But they need to be corrected that this % is not just email communication. It can be in any form e.g. oral, active listening, presentations, meetings etc.. Project managers need to get out from behind the desk. So do not be an “Email PM” as this is definitely not project management

Document Gurus – These are the people who will create project specific documents at every step. They will write all the user stories and task boards as per the standards specified in one of the PM course books. The team meetings or daily stand-up meetings will also happen as scheduled. The meeting notes will also be shared in a timely fashion. But they will only appear during the meetings and then will hibernate. They will not know much about their project beyond these documents. Neither about the project’s progress and nor about its vision. So do not be a “Paper Project Manager”. Don’t fall in to the trap of spending all your time on creating these project documents and neglect your other duties and responsibilities. Spend more time with your people then with these documents. Good project managers need to spend a lot of time with clients, stakeholders, and team members.

Order Taker - If you think your job is to take orders from the customer/senior management and execute them, this is not project management. You need to handle all the risks (internal and external) in your project proactively rather than waiting for someone else to order you to fix them. Project managers need to provide value on a project, including pushing back when the client is asking for things that are not right. If the client raises a request that is out of scope, you also need to invoke the scope change management process. If your reaction to scope change is saying, "Yes sir, we'll do it", instead of going through the scope change management process, you might be asking for future trouble. It is an impossibility to please everyone all the time. If you are trying to please the entire stakeholder community it will drain and deflate you. Always agreeing to things from stakeholders might make them happy for a shorter period, but in the long run, you will see dissatisfied customers and disengaged team members.

Active Developer/Coder - In most cases, the management of a project does not offer spare time to do things like develop software. This is especially true on large and/or complex projects. A project manager can easily focus on a single tree while failing to ignore the forest burning. If you were previously a techie (which I was also), understand it's no longer your role. Leave this to your project team members. If you want to be a developer, stop being a project manager - or pursue it on your own time.

After reading through all the above points, one might ask if these are the roles/responsibilities identified by the market and senior managers. So what’s the harm in fulfilling these roles, after all we should go with the current trends/demands and accordingly adapt to the prevalent needs.

The one-line answer to it is “This is NOT project management”, simple !!

You might have succeeded in sailing your boat in all these above-mentioned roles, but someday your boat will sink. If some complex/aggressive project comes your way, which requires you to take more control OR If one day a more hands-on PM comes and is able to show better results then you OR some organizational changes happen and you get redundant because there are already many other people doing the same work as you.

So how do we ensure that we justify the project management role, and knowingly or unknowingly do not fall back in to these non-pivot roles. The foremost thing to do, and which goes for every other profession as well, is to have proper knowledge of this stream. Learning on the job is still the most cool (or rather hot) thing to do, but do spend some of your time regularly reading project management articles/experiences/new developments. Secondly don’t just read them, but also try to apply them in your project, there might be cases when you will not be able to completely adapt them to your work environment, but this is ok, there will always be some improvisations needed with respect to the environmental factors. Thirdly, also spread the learnings to your peers and senior managers, so they would also be able to see the value and carry your learnings forward to their respective groups. Fourthly, there might be situation (beyond your control), where you do have to comply with the above “not so” project management roles, but in these cases also do not stop your learning. Try to learn the domain and then provide your valuable inputs to the project’s requirements or understand the organization’s ecosystem and help management in taking business decisions impacting yours or other related projects. And last but not least, always “show and tell” your stakeholders about the true value and meaning of project management. They might not agree with you upfront, but if you persistently and consistently show your work along with its associated quantifiable results, you will be surprised to see that your learnings, behaviour or best practices will soon be picked up by your team members, peers and even senior managers!!

But this means that project managers now carry an extra responsibility: to educate, inform and demonstrate the worthiness of project management. This is needed not just because as a PMP, we are bound by the code of professional conduct to “Advance the profession of project management”. But also because if we do not show the true value of project management, sooner or later we will be displaced by a better coordinator, a better documenter or a better e-mailer.

So let’s not cut corners and follow the easy path as taken by the roles mentioned in this article, but instead take a pledge to be a project manager in the true sense, who complies with all the facets of this stream and shows the utmost value and respect to this profession.

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