Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice about how to plan and manage projects. Tom first describes a common problem scenario, based on real-life situations. He then offers a solution, using practical project management practices and techniques.

Sean works for the IT research and development group, and he is not used to running projects. Recently though, he had a proposal approved for a wireless proof of concept project. When I met with him, Sean was questioning his role as a project manager.

The dilemma
“I thought it would be interesting to run this project,” Sean said. “But I have been having second thoughts. After the proposal was accepted, I had to create a project definition and a workplan. I thought that was the extent of the paperwork, but it just keeps on coming.”

“Yes, I’m sure you are responsible for some project administration,” I agreed. “What specific things are you being asked to do?”

“First, my manager asked me to create and circulate a status report every other week,” Sean replied. “Then, when the project was just getting started, I became familiar with a little process called scope change management when one of the department managers wanted our team to develop a custom wireless application for them.”

Sean paused, “Plus, I heard from the vendor that the new wireless software we were going to be testing may be delayed 30 days. My manager wants me to prepare a risk plan for that possibility.”

“Wow!” I exclaimed half-sarcastically. “Looks like you are getting a real taste of project management. Do you think that any of the activities that you mentioned are not necessary?”

“I would like to say they are not,” Sean sighed. “But I guess they are necessary. However, in the past, someone else would have been doing them. I thought this project would be neat because of the new technology involved. But, I don’t have as much time as I hoped to work on the hardware and software.”

“Sean, the activities that you are describing are all part of the responsibility of the project manager,” I said. “Project success is achieved by the timely delivery of your project deliverables, but it is also achieved by successfully planning and managing the associated work effort. In the past, you have always worked on project deliverables. This is the first time you have had a chance to see what else goes on to make a project successful.”

“I’m starting to see what it takes,” Sean agreed slowly. “I’m just not sure I like it.”

Mentor advice
It takes a good team for a project to be successful. Some team members specialize in one type of role, say a database administrator, while other people may perform multiple roles. One of these roles is the project manager. It takes certain skills and a certain ability to be a project manager, and not everyone is able to perform the role successfully.

More importantly, not everyone wants to perform the role. Different people find challenges and rewards in different roles. Some people love to work on the analysis and business requirements. Some are driven toward the design area. Others love the actual construction and testing of the solution. Of course, many people can perform multiple roles, depending on what is needed. Part of the challenge of a successful project team is having people with strengths to cover all the vital roles that are needed.

In Sean’s case, he was interested in the wireless project because of the technology involved. He put together the initial project proposal, and was asked to manage the project when the proposal was approved. However, now that he has seen some of what is involved with the actual management of the project, Sean finds that it doesn’t appeal to him. It may be too early for Sean to make any final conclusions. I think the only way he will know for sure is to complete the project. Sometimes, the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the project is enough to overcome the struggle that occurs while the project is in progress. However, Sean and the R&D department should also be open to the possibility that he does not find the challenges associated with project management to be rewarding. In that case, the company should utilize his talents more in the role of a technical team member on projects in the future.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching project management and life-cycle skills for the IS division. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.

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