Posts Tagged 'project manager'

What does a project manager do? (Part 3)

Continuing with my previous posts (Part 1, Part 2) about what a project manager does, here’s Part 3.

The last post got us to an answer, but it’s still very generic. So let’s add a little more detail.

A project manager communicates, organizes, and pilots:

  • What (the tasks which need to be performed)
  • Who (the persons performing, supporting, or requiring each task)
  • When (the deadlines by which each task needs to be performed)
  • Where (the environment in which the task is being completed and communicated)
  • Why (the relationship of the task to other tasks, the project as a whole, and the overall goal)

What about ‘how’? In my experience, the project manager should never define how someone performs a task. That person is performing that task because (presumably) s/he knows what s/he’s doing. Telling someone how to do their job doesn’t usually go over very well.

So here’s the answer I ultimately came up with: A project manager communicates with team members and stakeholders; organizes tasks, resources, and project details; and pilots the project toward a successful completion.

And one final addition: every project is different, which means every project manager probably defines what s/he does in a different way. So how do you define it?


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 @

What does a project manager do? (Part 1)

Orange Question Mark Button by jhhwildAlthough a lot of what I’ve done professionally is project management, I’ve never actually had the title ‘project manager.’ Perhaps that’s why I’ve never had to explain what one does; there was no prompt for people to ask. Until recently.

Someone asked my husband what I do for a living, and he found it difficult to answer. He knew what I worked on, but he realized he couldn’t explain what I actually did. So he asked me. I started to explain and he started to laugh. He said, “I’m sorry, but it sounds like the guy from Office Space that just goes back and forth between people.” I could see that, so I attempted to clarify by saying that to keep a project moving forward, someone needs to be a central figure to coordinate and communicate with others. That got an even bigger laugh from him as he reminded me of this quote:

“I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can’t you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?”

I laughed and gave up, at least for the moment. But it got me thinking about how to explain what a project manager is, what s/he does. I’ve come up with a couple answers, which I’ll post over the next couple weeks. I hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts, too.

Photo by jjhwild @

Short and Sweet

One of my favorite blogs is Drew’s Marketing Minute,which recently had a post entitled “What’s your defining sentence?” Drew was promoting the idea that each of us should come up with a one-sentence answer defining what we do and making sure we do it in a way that piques someone’s interest. I admit I’m still working on mine.

In the meantime, I’m going to start doing this for each of my projects, and I think it can be a great exercise for any project manager. Think of it as your project’s elevator speech. During a 30-second elevator ride, you probably don’t have the time to describe the entire project, or more importanly, why you’re spending time on it. But by squeezing the what and why in between a capital letter and a period, you can educate and impress all at once!

So what’s the short and sweet description of your project(s)?