Being out actively talking to people about PM possibilities, I have heard this question posed to me a lot recently: “In your opinion, what does a Project Manager actually do?”
It’s a fair question and it is so broad that based on who you are talking to and what industry you are approaching, you can tailor the answer to each particular case if need be. But ultimately, I think it is asked to see if you understand the value that a PM would bring to an organization. After all, in the true Project Management environment, the PM is not doing the actual day to day work. They aren’t writing the lines of code necessary to get the job done, or in another industry, aren’t doing the direct production work. So, it is a fair question and one that everyone wants to make sure that you as the PM understand the role and value you would be bringing to the table.
The other reason it is being asked is that a PM is being brought on to manage the very basis of Project Management, whether that be in a Waterfall or Agile environment. The person asking the question may or may not know the terminology of “the Triple Constraint,” “the Enhanced Triple Constraints,” or “the Iron Triangle.”
However, you can bet on the fact that they know they are looking to the PM to manage complicated projects with competing factors with multiple stakeholders and to deal with unforeseen complications. Hence they need someone to deal with the project scope, time and cost and to deliver it with the highest quality possible and to take into account all factors of positive or negative risks. That control is what the PM brings to the organization. The leading of the team in the best way possible to wrangle these often competing factors is the true value a PM brings.
And how exactly does the PM do this in the face of such complexity, often on multiple projects? There are general “rules” to follow and most good companies will have those established methodologies in place. It is a matter of learning the methodology of each company based on your past PM experience (whether is is Waterfall or Agile). But the true reason the PM is the essential linchpin is that he or she is able to manage all of these competing constraints with the most valuable and basic tool: communication.
According to the PMBOK a PM spends 90% of their time communicating with stakeholders, vendors, management, their team etc. The other part of the their time is spent documenting that, noticing trends, finding issues and working internally to resolve them. Effective communication is a skill that is essential for the PM. Sometimes you can’t learn this “soft skill” and the best PMs may have this and organizational acumen without direct knowledge of the industry they are working in when they first start out in a new position. Those factors can be learned easily. But the basis of Project Management often times cannot be. Personally, I think you have to be wired that way to be a very good PM.
So in summation to the answer I give to that vital question is just that. The PM is the main contributor, linchpin, conductor (etc.) that effectively manages these competing factors and they do it by effectively communicating and managing the myriad of stakeholders involved in a project.
Of course, it sounds pretty simple when you put it that way. But of course in the middle of a project that you are managing it really is what counts and is often a challenge to pull off. But if you know your goals and priorities and can effectively communicate them, then you have what you need to get the job done.
I love that question actually. It shows that the person asking it wants to be sure you understand what your essential function will be and they acknowledge it is essential for the successful completion of projects.