What is a Project Manager?

There are lots of definitions of a project available – of which my favourite conventional one is the Project Management Institute’s:

‘It’s a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result.’

At the start of How to Manage a Great Project, I decline to define projects, preferring instead to list typical features of a project, but then relent at the end of the book in the short ‘Learn the Lingo’ chapter, describing a project as:

‘a co-ordinated set of tasks, which together create a defined new product, process or service, within a constrained time or resource budget.’

So many organisations are now using project management to manage repeating tasks, that I think the ‘unique’ component has far less importance in the definition than it once did. Of course, we must also acknowledge the undesirable reality of many projects, so I also offer this tongue-in-cheek definition:

‘Project management is a race to complete a poorly defined thing by an artificial deadline, by co-ordinating a disparate bunch of people each of whom has their own agenda, prejudices and ideas about how to manage the chaos of a complex, novel and urgent endeavour, for which they will never be properly thanked.’

Sound familiar? It’s the same as the others above, only a bit different. Actually I offer seven desirable traits of good project management, before going on to define what is rarely defined elsewhere: a project manager.

My first definition, is by way of a cartoon, in which the plates represent the streams of work we need to keep on target and the balls represent the relationships we need to manage.

A Project Manager

My next definition is a little more complimentary describing a project manager as a doer, an organiser, and a succeeder.

The three corners of a project manager's personality and skill set

Now, between you and me, I did spend a while trying to be even more sophisticated, before I realised two things:

  1. I am not that good at being sophisticated
  2. How to Manage a Great Project is not the right book for that level of sophistication (phew)

I spent a while looking for evidence of patterns among the Big Five personality factors that characterised successful project managers.  I reached some weak conclusions only. So, if you are a project manager, I would welcome you completing the following poll, in the hope I can gather some data for a future blog.

Tick all of the statements that your friends and colleagues would say apply to you most of the time. I know that they all apply at some time, so please try to avoid ticking all of them.

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