Project Management Perspectives: Isn’t it ironic?

Feb 17, 2011

By Christine Brack, PMP A few weeks ago, I was talking to a client about his firm’s project management practices, its managers, and systems, and… eventually we began discussing the challenges and frustrations he was having on many levels. He was hoping a little dose of project management training for the team would resolve these issues once and for all. The things he shared were not unlike the situations I’ve seen in many other firms I’ve worked with and the solutions he was looking for were not altogether out of his reach. What he didn’t realize was the lesson in irony available at his disposal. He had lectured and insisted and demanded compliance to the firm’s project management procedures. Some adhered and others did not. Age was not a defining factor in the equation, either— everyone was a potential violator. Bringing in a consultant as a third-party, neutral spokesperson on the topic of best practices was surely going to get them to convert. Or would it? Everyone likes a little humor so, rather than yelling at his teams, I suggested he pose these ironies, make appropriate adjustments, and have an honest conversation with the group. Scope creep and job creep. Isn’t it ironic that project managers will give away all sorts of free work to a client that’s clearly not in the scope but balk if the firm expects something not explicitly detailed in their job description? Putting in eight, 12 or 20 additional (and unpaid) hours as a favor to the client always seems more acceptable and less outrageous a request than doing a little marketing or helping clean up the detail library. And sometimes when they do chip in to help the firm, they want an immediate promotion to principal. Position descriptions— especially for project managers— are never finite. Just like scopes, there’s going to be creep, and being a project manager means accepting all sorts of written and unwritten responsibilities. Paid overtime, expenses and A/R collections. Isn’t it ironic that project managers will run like greased lightning into accounting if overtime or expenses are missing from a paycheck but protest about calling a client about a past due invoice? This is where that job description comes in handy. Very few project manager role descriptions have this listed as a required task! The average collection period for the industry is 74 days. It’s tough to keep payroll going if cash flow is lagging so far behind. The project manager has the best relationship with the client. He should follow up— immediately— not 74 days later. Try, “Accounting has brought it to my attention that this invoice is still unpaid. Did we not provide something or not live up to your expectations? I really want to make it right. What can I do?” Technology versus forms. Isn’t it ironic that project managers want the firm to spend thousands of dollars on bleeding-edge technology, gadgets, toys, and the newest software, but reject the streamlined forms developed by the project management committee? This particular client implemented a simple spreadsheet to estimate budgets more realistically. The managers who refuse to use it like working with the old-fashioned, back of the envelope method that is highly inaccurate. They claim the spreadsheet is too difficult to use and they are too attached to their old tools to learn anything new. If that’s the case, maybe they should return to the abacus, pencil, and tracing paper. Project profitability is no laughing matter when competition is fierce. The difference between the two possible budgets should be more than enough evidence to validate the importance of using this spreadsheet. There is no negotiating allowed on this one. Design versus management. Isn’t it ironic that project managers want to be in the role of project manager but don’t like or want to do any of the actual management stuff? No doubt that architects and engineers like practicing their craft. That’s what they went to school for; that’s their passion. But projects need control mechanisms, they have administrative details, and they need someone to keep it on course. Projects don’t run on autopilot while the manager enjoys designing and hopes the RFIs, e-mails, and stakeholder issues magically go away. Even while a project manager may lend expertise or execute large portions of the design work, there are management duties to tend to. Sure those aren’t the most exciting moments of the job but they are part of the role. Understand that a project manager has a split personality of designer and manager—and both are essential. For the most part, project managers cannot have it both ways, but hollering won’t convince anyone of the contrary. Sometimes presenting the irony of the situation helps both sides come to a mutual agreement to reach something better.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.