Most of the project managers I have met aren’t sure they are project managers. They don’t need to wonder. They indeed are project managers.This matter comes up often as people consider the prospect of qualifying to take the certification examination for Project Management Professional: “I’ve never been a project manager. I can’t meet the experience requirement.”
Baloney. These are people who have been initiating and carrying out project work, sometimes for years. Sure, no one ever gave them the title “Project Manager,” and the problems they solved and the new things they created were not labeled “Project.”
Yet, the results they achieved – often high-quality results – distinguished them as very competent project managers.
This is not just in the context of the PMP test. It is everywhere in the working world. There are people doing solid-to-superb project management who don’t know they should call it for what it is.
There is an equally prevalent fiction at the other end of the reality: Most of the people who carry the formal title “Project Manager” are not – by my definition – project managers at all.This is not to diminish the professional stature of those folks, or the vital importance of the work they do. It is to clarify just what we’re talking about here, and to specify why it’s important to do so.
Most of those who carry the formal title of project manager supervise construction or technical processes, often quite complex, extensive and expensive ones. Those are not trivial matters at all.
But they’re not projects.
The reason we have project management as a distinct set of management skills and practices is because real projects are much more than complex, extensive and expensive. Their essential character is radically different. They may, in fact, not be big deals at all in terms of size and numbers -- although many are.
These project challenges are different because those who manage them must innovate in an atmosphere of risk, complexity and limitation. Project managers might be seen as crapshooters by those who don’t look closely. But they are not crapshooters.They are skilled professionals. They competently handle ambiguity and uncertainty with confidence while under pressure. They get the thing done quickly, get it done on a budget, and get it done well.
There also is complexity, perhaps, and all the other stuff – but this is most definitely a different kind of ballgame.
So examining the concept of “project manager” is not a simple semantic matter. We depend upon competent management and quality results in unprecedented situations, and we need assurance.
Can this person perform with vigor and imagination in the face of the apparently impossible?
Yes, there are such people. Their heroics are too often taken for granted by more mundane souls, those who wouldn’t dream of setting sail on the dark and stormy waters where the true project managers thrive.
I have at times spotted those special talents, those insights and tendencies, in little kids. They are the ones who can’t leave a challenging game alone, who stick to a problem with fascination and tenacity. They work away after everyone else has dropped it.The caring parent should encourage that kid. You won’t believe how soon she/he will be solving very grownup problems for you. You’ll be super-proud.
The smart boss should identify, recruit and nurture such people, and direct them to the messiest corners of their operations.
Boss, you’ll look very good doing this, and you’ll earn the gratitude of people who will go places in their careers . . . and who won’t forget those they’ve now surpassed who helped them along the way.
They are the true project managers, whatever they’re called, and they unerringly zero in on solutions and success factors.
Be one, if you can.
Making It in Project Management