What does a project manager do? (Part 2)

Continuing with my previous post attempting to explain what a project manager does, here’s Part 2.Traffic Cop by Thomas Hawk.

A project manager is like a traffic cop. She stands at a busy intersection with cars coming from all directions, going all directions. Each driver has a different path but they also share a common motivation: to get past that intersection. And the traffic cop is standing in their way.

To maintain some order and keep traffic moving, the traffic cop must do three very important things:

  • Communicate. At every point, she must communicate. To the drivers, to pedestrians, to fellow traffic cops. And not subtly either. She waves her arm repeatedly until a car is through the intersection. She blows her whistle loudly and consistently until the car across the way stops coming. She makes sure the message is clear and repeated.
  • Organize. Before stepping foot in the intersection, she needs to have a plan for how to organize all those cars. Is she going to allow two lines from opposite sides of the intersection to cross at the same time, or is she going to direct one line only, allowing them to go whatever direction they need to? If she walks into that intersection without some idea of how to organize the situation, she might as well not be there.
  • Pilot. Although she’s not the one actually steering the cars, the traffic cop has to guide each driver through the intersection and control their courses. By successfully piloting them through, the goal of a clear intersection is achieved.

So, now we have an answer: A project manager communicates, organizes, and pilots.

It’s still not a complete picture, but if you’re a project manager, would you feel comfortable giving this as a quick answer?

And if you’re not a project manager, does this answer get you any closer to understanding what one does? Or does it still sound like an Initech employee explaining his job to the Bobs?

Photo by Thomas Hawk @


2 Responses to “What does a project manager do? (Part 2)”

  1. 1 JB July 16, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    This is a perfect explanation! Kit always asks what I do at work and I never have the energy to go through everything I do. I love the traffic cop comparison.
    Love the blog! Keep it up! 🙂

  1. 1 What does a project manager do (Part 3)? « pointC Trackback on July 17, 2009 at 7:33 pm

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