The Decline of the Project Manager

The Decline of the Project Manager

165262_our_people-600x516CropProject management sounds like a business school course (and it is), but the truth is there are good project managers in all walks of life. They’re the people who organize group ski trips and surprise parties or who plan their garden plots in December and mastermind elaborate school fundraisers. Some people just have the DNA to plan from beginning to end, coordinating all the details and vendors. They enjoy the responsibility and are prepared for either failure or success.

Last year, I spent three months helping a client launch a new revenue product that depended upon signing up users from a particular demographic and involved multiple departments. Everyone did their part, but very little attention was paid to overall product to the point that it launched without any way for users to join. Since no one was thinking about the project as a whole and how it would work for the end user, this piece fell through the cracks and we missed a critical deadline.

At the workplace, “command and control” management is out of style these days, but the benefits of some measure of central coordination are obvious—imagine what would happen to a factory where everyone on the assembly line just added pieces and hoped for the best with no one there to check if the product coming off the line actually worked. Amazingly, that model has become increasingly common among the multifunctional teams in today’s flat organizations. Part of the issue stems from the culture of the Facebook generation, whose members rely too heavily on group consensus and others’ opinions to feel comfortable taking a stand and committing to being responsible for making an idea a reality—whatever the subsequent results. Too often, I see a lot of hands touching projects, but no one taking real ownership.

The other issue with a lack of project management is that when things go well, everyone is willing to take credit, but there’s no final line of defense when something goes wrong. The unfortunate state of our work ethic today is that there just aren’t as many “the buck stops here” people around who thrive on personal accountability. Of course there’s nothing wrong with getting a lot of participation and input, but at some point someone needs to be responsible for the decisions a company makes to be able to learn from experience how to repeat successes and avoid failures.

While it may seem that project managers are few and far between, sometimes you just need to know where to look. They might just be the ones organizing the office basketball pool or summer outing. Companies need to find these people and use them. Or if they can’t give a new project a champion from within, they should consider bringing in someone from outside to focus on the new initiative from beginning to end. Once such a project is complete, the company can usually take over the management with existing resources.

The key to success in launching new projects is often found in good project management. Make sure you know where the buck stops.