Special Demands On The Project Manager

A number of demands are unique to the management of projects, and the success of the PM depends to a large extent on how capably they are handled. These special demands can be categorized under the seven following headings.

Acquiring Adequate Resources

It was noted earlier that the resources initially budgeted for a project are frequently insufficient to the task. In part, this is due to the natural optimism of the project proposers about how much can be accomplished with relatively few resources; but it is also caused by the great uncertainty associated with a project. Many details of resource purchase and usage are deferred until the project manager knows specifically what resources will be required and when. For instance, there is no point in purchasing a centrifuge now if in nine months we will know exactly what type of centrifuge will be most useful.

The good PM knows there are resource trade-offs that need to be taken into consideration. A skilled machinist can make do with unsophisticated machinery to construct needed parts, but a beginning machinist cannot. Subcontracting can make up for an inadequate number of computer programmers, but subcontractors will have to be carefully instructed in the needs of the contractor, which is costly and may cause delays. Crises occur that require special resources not usually provided to the project manager. All these problems produce glitches in the otherwise smooth progress of the project. To deal with these glitches, the PM must scramble, elicit aid, work late, wheedle, threaten, or do whatever seems necessary to keep the project on schedule. On occasion, the additional required resources simply alter the project's cost-benefit ratio to the point that the project is no longer cost-effective. Obviously, the PM attempts to avoid these situations, but some of what happens is beyond the PM's control. This issue will be dealt with in detail in Chapter 13.

The problems of time and budget are aggravated in the presence of a phenomenon that has been long suspected but only recently demonstrated [11, 12], The individual who has the responsibility for performing a task sometimes overestimates the time and cost required to do it. That individual's immediate supervisor often discounts the worker's pessimism but, in so doing, may underestimate the time and cost. Moving up the management hierarchy, each successive level frequently lowers the time and cost estimates again, becoming more optimistic about the ability of those working for them to do with less—or, perhaps, more forgetful about what things were like when they worked at such jobs. The authors have informally observed—and listened to complaints about—such doings in a variety of organizations. We suspect they reflect the superior's natural tendency to provide challenging work for subordinates and the desire to have it completed efficiently. The mere recognition of this phenomenon does not prevent it. Complaints to upper-level managers are usually met with a hearty laugh, a pat on the back, and a verbal comment such as, "1 know you can do it. You're my best project manager, and you can. ..."

Another issue may complicate the problem of resource acquisition for the PM. Project and functional managers alike perceive the availability of resources to be strictly limited and thus a strict "win-lose" proposition. Under these conditions, the "winners" may be those managers who have solid political connections with top management. Often, there are times in the life of any project when success or survival may depend on the PM's "friendship" with a champion high in the parent organization.

Acquiring and Motivating Personnel

A major problem for the PM is the fact that most of the people needed for a project must be "borrowed." With few exceptions, they are borrowed from the functional departments. The PM must negotiate with the functional department managers for the desired personnel, and then, if successful, negotiate with the people themselves to convince them to take on these challenging temporary project assignments.

Most functional managers cooperate when the PM comes seeking good people for the project, but the cooperative spirit has its limits. The PM will be asking for the services of the two types of people most needed and prized by the functional manager: first, individuals with scarce but necessary skills and, second, top producers Both the PM and functional manager are fully aware that the PM does not want a "has-been," a "never-was," or a "never-will-be." Perceptions about the capabilities of individuals may differ, but the PM is usually trying to borrow precisely those people the functional manager would most like to keep.

A second issue may reduce the willingness of the functional manager to cooperate with the PM's quest for quality people. At times, the functional manager may perceive the project as more glamorous than his or her function and hence a potent source of managerial glory. The functional manager may thus be a bit jealous or suspicious of the PM, a person who may have little interest in the routine work of the functional area even if It is the bread and butter of the organization.

On its surface, the task of motivating good people to join the project does not appear to be difficult, because the kind of people who are most desired as members ^

of a project team are those naturally attracted by the challenge and variety inherent in project work. Indeed, it would not be difficult except for the fact that the functional manager is trying to keep the same people that the PM is trying to attract. The subordinate who is being seduced to leave the steady life of the functional area for the glamour of a project can be gently reminded that the functional manager retains control of personnel evaluation, salary, and promotion for those people lent out to projects. (A few exceptions to these general rules will be discussed in Chapter 4.) There may even be comments about how easy it is to lose favor or be forgotten when one is "out of sight."

Unless the PM can hire outsiders with proven ability, it is not easy to gather competent people; but having gathered them, they must be motivated to work. Because the functional manager controls pay and promotion, the PM cannot promise much beyond the challenge of the work itself. Fortunately, as Herzberg has argued [21], that is often sufficient jalso see 38|. Many of the project personnel are professionals and experts in their respective specialties. Given this, and the voluntary nature of their commitment to the project, there is the assumption that they must be managed "delicately."

It has long been assumed that in order to ensure creativity, professionals require minimal supervision, maximum freedom, and little control. As a matter of fact, William Souder has shown |44] that the output of R & D laboratories is actually not correlated with the level of freedom in the lab. This finding is significant. The most likely explanation is that individual scientists have unique requirements for freedom and control. Some want considerable direction in their work, whereas others find that a lack of freedom inhibits creativity. Those who need freedom thus tend to work in organizations where they are allowed considerable latitude, and those who desire direction gravitate to organizations that provide it.

Motivation problems are often less severe for routine, repeated projects such as those in construction, or for projects carried out as the sole activity of an organization (even if it is part of a larger organization). In such cases, the PM probably has considerable de facto influence over salary and promotion. Frequently, the cadre of these projects see themselves as engaged in similar projects for the long term. If the project is perceived as temporary, risky, and important, about all the PM can offer people is the chance to work on a challenging, high-visibility assignment, to be "needed," and to operate in a supportive climate. For most, this is sufficient incentive to join the project.

A story has it that when asked "How do you motivate astronauts?" a representative of NASA responded, "We don't motivate them, but, boy, are we careful about whom we select." The issue of motivating people to join and work creatively for a project is closely related to the kind of people who are invited to join. The most effective team members have some common characteristics. A list of the most important of these follows, but only the first is typically considered during the usual selection process.

1. High-quality technical skills Team members must be able to solve most of the technical problems of a project without recourse to outside assistance. Although the major technical problems faced by a project are generally solved by the functional departments, the exact way in which such solutions are ap-

plied invariably requires some adaptation, in addition, a great many minor technical difficulties occur, always at inconvenient times, and need to be handled rapidly. In such cases, project schedules will suffer if these difficulties must be referred back to the functional departments where they will have to stand in line for a solution along with (or behind) the department's own problems.

2. Political sensitivity It is obvious that the PM requires political skills of a high order. Although it is less obvious, senior project members also need to be politically skilled and sensitive to organizational politics. As we have noted several times, project success is dependent on support from senior management in the parent organization. This support depends on the preservation of a delicate balance of power between projects and functional units, and between the projects themselves. The balance can be upset by individuals who are politically inept.

3. Strong problem orientation Research conducted by Juri Pill |36| has shown that the chances for successful completion of a multidisciplinary project are greatly increased if project team members are problem-oriented rather than discipline-oriented. Pill indicates that problem-oriented people tend to learn and adopt whatever problem-solving techniques appear helpful, but discipline-oriented individuals tend to view the problem through the eyes of their discipline, ignoring aspects of the problem that do not lie in the narrow confines of their educational expertise. This is, of course, consistent with our insistence earlier in this chapter that the PM should adopt a systems approach to project management.

4. Strong goal orientation Projects do not provide a comfortable work environment for individuals whose focus is on activity rather than on results. Work flow is rarely even, and for the professionals a 60-hour week is common, as are periods when there seems to be little to do. "Clock watchers" will not be successful team members.

5. High self-esteem As we noted above, a prime law for projects (and one that applies equally well to the entire organization) is never surprise the boss. Projects can rapidly get into deep trouble if team members hide their failures, or even a significant risk of failure, from the PM. Individuals on the team should have sufficient self-esteem that they are not threatened-by acknowledgement of their own errors, or by pointing out possible problems caused by the work of others. Egos must be strong enough that all can freely share credit and blame. We trust that the PM is aware that "shooting the messenger who brings bad news" will immediately stop the flow of any negative information from below—though negative surprises from above will probably be more frequent.

Dealing with Obstacles

One characteristic of any project is its uniqueness, and this characteristic means that the PM will have to face and overcome a series of crises. From the beginning ot the project to its termination, crises appear without warning. The better the planning, the fewer the crises, but no amount of planning can take account of the myriad of changes that can and do occur in the project's environment. The successful PM is a fire fighter by avocation.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment