PM Reality Check
PM may help us build a career, a house, or a software application, but it will not help us understand the opposite sex or the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, comprehend the meaning of life or gravitational waves, or even find those damn keys we misplaced last night in our drunken stupor. Yes, there are limits to what PM can accomplish, particularly if we attempt to apply overly-complicated methodologies to our projects, when most of our time and energy will be exhausted grappling with bureaucratic overheads that quickly kill off our enthusiasm and creativity. In my training role I call this the NZQA effect.
PMs must be willing to deal with frequent interruptions since project problems, requests, and other imperatives never wait for us to become unbusy. So, often we need to drop whatever we are doing and refocus our attention. PMs who hide behind “do not disturb” or even ruder signs run the risk of having trivial and easily addressed issues escalate into unrecoverable crises where the only constant is stress. Between urgent text messages, e-mails, phone calls, meetings, and people dropping in, PMs don’t usually have a lot of uninterrupted time. Sometimes we may even need to schedule work that demands our full concentration before the normal workday begins, or do it after everyone has left for the day.
Another reality is that due to limited organisational resources our project comes at the expense of other initiatives to thus ensure that there are always some colleagues resentful that our project has the green light and theirs doesn’t. Let’s face it, the PM role isn’t easy. We have to stay on top of a hundred details, all while attempting to motivate a group of overworked people, who have other things to do, to deliver on tough deadlines. It’s a juggling act that has spawned many horror stories and seen the demise of many projects and their hapless PMs. Truly, PM is a stressful profession, with its well-documented failure rates and steady doses of deadlines, uncertainty, conflict, unrealistic expectations, and accountability without authority.
But it’s not all bad news. One saving grace is that us PMs are always learning, meeting all sorts of interesting people, never having a dull moment, and our achievements are usually recognised. Because we solve a problem, create something new, or something better, our perceived value to our organisation is highly rated, and often moreso than the efforts of our hard-working line management colleagues.
Also, PM is now a recognised pathway to CEO positions. We PMs may have a lot of responsibilities, face all sorts of pressures, and have to work with a wide variety of determined stakeholders. Plus, we have to deliver promised results within a defined set of financial projections to ensure our customers are ridiculously pleased. PMs constantly interact with IT, engineering, sales, HR, marketing, and even finance people. PMs are CEOs of their own domain. Thus, we face many of the same issues as does a CEO but on a smaller scale and of course with much less salary and authority. Our best future CEOs are at present PMs and if we are a CEO interviewing people for a PM position, I suggest we pretend we are interviewing for a CEO role of a smaller organisation. However, us PMs may have a tougher leadership role since the fellow employees we depend on, our borrowed resources, don’t usually report to us. Thus, we need to put extra effort in building relationships that support effective collaboration.