Over the last twenty years or so the Project Management discipline has risen obscurity to an integral part of corporate life. If you are reading this from the cubicle farm chances are gaggles of contract project managers are generating countless spreadsheets that dutifully filled out with carefully curated data. This data may or may not be plugged into a vast, unwieldy PMO tool. That data will flow to the various managers and directors who vaguely review the information in status reports. From there it fall into the great bitbucket never to be seen again. Unless a project is heading toward failure, then it will be used to clobber parties who lack the right political protection. That is usually the sad contract project manager who originally created the spreadsheet. Of course the PM is supposed to be part of a project team that should include project coordinators, business analysts, approved budgets, PMO resources etc. Instead, the PM is usually the only management resource assigned to the project. They’ve come in two or three months into the execution phase, there aren’t any requirements, the last PM was fired or left and by the way you have six other projects like this that you are responsible for.
So how did the project management role become the fallguy/girl for the corporate world? If the above statements hold up, how is the project they are assigned to going to be a success? How did the profession get to this point and what can be done to reverse the trend?
Since I have been in the situation mentioned above many times I have some tips on how to survive:
- During interview process ask about the PM environment. Do they have a PMO? Will there be a project coordinator? Can you see the requirements or SOW for the project? Can you speak to the team members on the project, the manager? Was there a previous PM? Ask about why the turnover occurred.
- Most likely this will be a contract PM role you need to know how your firm handles disputes with the client and how they will support you in case the project turns out to be problematic.
- Also since this is probably a contract position, you may not have the opportunity to ask these questions. You will need to have a conversation with the client manager with whom you will be reporting to carefully discuss these issues. Get as much client intel as possible and do not settle for the vague reassurances of the contract company representative.
This environment is usually faced by those PMs whose resume is gobbled up by the large body shop firms. Where they are then folded, spindled and mutilated to fit obscure, outdated client requirements for below market rates. If you are in the upper echelon of the PM work (Booz Allen, Accenture, McKinsey, etc.) you rarely have to face the jumbled mess of mid-tier corporate projects. You are too expensive and your contract to tightly written and managed to leave slack for the FallGuy/Girl PM fate. But that doesn’t mean you are immune to nebulous requirements or client capriciousness. However due to your cost you will have significant resources at your disposal to combat the FallGuy/Girl PM syndrome.
Of course the high failure rate (60 to 70 percent) of IT projects feeds into this trend. When the music stops and millions are on the line, it’s easy to steal a seat from a contract project manager.
Let me know your thoughts about this trend in the comments below.