4.4 What does a project manager do?
What follows is a broad description of the major areas a project manager is concerned with, and the knowledge, skills and tools a project manager will need.
Project management is quite different from line (so-called ‘system’) management. As noted earlier, projects are designed to change something: the manager must be able to cope with the risk inherent in managing such changes. People working on the project may come from other areas; indeed, they may be contractors or subcontractors or employees of member firms in a consortium.
Estimating and planning
The project manager, or someone under his or her direction, has to collect information about what exactly needs to be done and how it is to be organised; how much it will cost and how long it will take; and then look at the interdependencies of various tasks, skills and other resources. The results are a project plan and a project budget.
Assembling a team
A project team can make or break a project. Often the project manager has little say in who works on the project: the team will be assembled from people with the right skills (if they are available) who are not assigned to work of a higher priority than the project. Even if the project manager has a free choice, the pool of people from whom he or she can select is limited. A project manager’s skill lies in assembling a group of people and making them into a team – motivating them, managing conflict among them and ensuring good communication.
Following the definition of a stakeholder, which was given in Section 2, we should note that the project manager is responsible for managing the relationships with the stakeholders (of which the team is a subset). Thus, communication is an essential skill for a project manager to negotiate with and influence stakeholders.
Reporting and liaising
The project manager is the spokesperson for the project. It is his or her job to liaise with senior management, clients, regulatory bodies and everyone who contributes to the project.
Putting tools in place
A number of tools exist to help manage and control projects, and to undertake estimating and reporting. Specific tools also exist for specific types of projects: in the case of software projects tools range from appropriate hardware and operating system software, through language compilers and test harnesses to computer-aided software engineering (CASE) tools. The manager has to see that the appropriate tools for the job are available or obtained.
Managing and coordinating work
Once the project work begins, the project manager’s job is to manage the work that is done and to coordinate the efforts of different team members and different bodies within the organisation in order to achieve the project’s objectives.
Few, if any, projects end exactly as they were initially planned. Problems arise that require changes to plans: these may be short-term (for example, delaying a particular task because a necessary material or resource is not available at the right time) or long-term. The users or clients may change their requirements as they learn more about the product they will be receiving at the end of the project. The regulatory, legislative or financial climate in which the project operates may change during the execution of the project. Unless someone – normally the project manager – institutes a formal way of noting, estimating and carrying out approved changes (change control) the project can deteriorate into chaos. In a more formal project setting, the responsibility for approving or rejecting changes is given to a group of stakeholders known as a change control board.