Rethinking project management

What is a “project manager”?

Anybody can be a project manager; it is one of the most ubiquitous job titles on the planet. Whether or not you can get people to pay you to manage their project depends on your track record and your sales pitch.

The boundaries between a “professional” PM and a “vocational” PM are blurred, unless you are certified as a PMP (Project Management Professional) by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

My many long years of experience managing “built environment” projects convinces me that effective PMs in the area of architecture and engineering need deep, broad knowledge in one or more of the various disciplines that design these projects.

Most design professionals have had the experience of working on projects where the PM did not have that level of experience; the typical outcome is that the PM acts as a “post box”, simply receiving documents from some team members and pushing them out to others, under the guise of “managing” the process.

Have design professionals failed to retain the PM role?

Answer: In many cases, yes. And for a variety of reasons:

  • A reluctance to take on the responsibility and potential liability for managing disciplines other than their own;
  • A lack of training in the skills of managing projects;
  • A failure to appropriately market PM skills (compared to others); and
  • The incursions into the territory by others, as noted by Thomas Fisher.

What rethinking is required?

Fortunately, some enterprising firms are leading the way. The key lies in reversing the first three bullet points above: (1) Step up and take responsibility, (2) Train your people to give them the skills they need to take that responsibility safely, and (3) Start marketing that PM capability.

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