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The Project Manager is the person responsible for making everything work to time, quality and budget.

The Project Manager is not empowered to make decisions, that is a key point to make very clearly at the start, and should be your starting point when setting up a project. Decision-making falls to other Subject Matter Experts or SME’s in the team.

You do not manage the team in the way a Line Manager manages a team; i.e. pay, terms & conditions where the Manager sits above their team in pay, grade, responsibility. Imagine the PM the same grade, pay and status but whose job it is to pull everything together from inside the team.

OK, so this is weird; the PM does not have a rank, and does not directly manage the team. So how on earth does a PM manage the work?

Good question. The PM is empowered to manage the output of the project. Anything the PM needs (within reason) from the team, the PM can ask for. In reality the PM works with the team as individuals or together to agree what is required, when and to what quality.

Isn’t everything the best quality?

Weirdly no. There is a mythical triangle that exists only in PM heads that they use at every opportunity and laugh amongst themselves about. It is the Time – Cost – Quality triangle. Like any triangle, if you push one angle up, the other two decrease. The point of the triangle is that you if you want something done in a shorter time, you have to increase the cost, decrease the quality or both as the angles in a triangle can only ever add up to 180 degrees. So if you want something quick and cheap, chances are you going to be producing the bare minimum no frills. if you want something fancy, it make time more time or money or both. There is no getting away from this law, no matter what the project.

How do you know how long, or how expensive, or to what quality to produce something to?

There is no golden rule here. It comes with experience, and this brings me on to a niche. The best PM’s tend to be those that have a niche, and that normally means they have a background of ‘doing’ the thing before project managing it. The best Engineering PM is likely to be an Engineer who has hung up their Engineering kit but has the knowledge to size up tasks, same with software, or any sector. Understanding what the project requires, and then sizing up the time, resource and estimated cost is something you learn from having done. So a niche in the industry you want to PM in is the ideal starting point.

How do I start a project?

If you are starting from absolute scratch where no-one in the Organisation has done any preparation about the project at all (which is unusual as someone normally has a ‘brilliant idea’ that gets turned in to a project), then the starting place is to ask “what are we trying to achieve?”. It could be more sales, cheaper production, bringing in specialist resources, building a house, anything. But the tasks, the cost and the time are not what you are achieving, they are steps to estimate what it will take to achieve.

OK, so lets say we want to build a house and thats what we agree is what we are trying to achieve, then what?

Then it is over to the PM to do a number of things and PM’s love this bit as they get to meet people and talk a lot to the people who have an interest on how it turns out (the stakeholders), the people paying for the house (finance), and the people who are designing it to the needs and budget of the team. I am skimming of course, and will go in to planning 101 at a later date, but these talks go around and around, adding chunks of information from one place and putting it in front of the next set of people who in turn give you more info until you have a complete agreed plan.

Sounds simple….

It isn’t. There are normally people who want to do the thing, people who don’t want to do the thing, and people who change their mind on a conversation by conversation basis. It is akin to juggling cats (don’t try this at home). But that is why the PM exists; to bring the people together, sort out what the project is, isn’t, what it will cost that someone is willing to finance, to the satisfaction of all. Then the PM puts in to practice the build, test and release stages to hand over that lovely house. One stage I left out is that the PM almost always goes on holiday at release, seems to be a ‘thing’.