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Project Managers: The Enemy Within?

~ By Harvey Kandola

Enemy button on a computer keyboard

They huddle in a corner, hunched over the Gantt chart you just handed out, muttering darkly. Only the occasional, quick glance in your direction betrays that you are the subject of their reproach. You sigh and for a moment are tempted to bat for your corner, but in the end you realise that it's best to ignore them. A quick drink after work and they'll come round. Instead, you scan through the list of change requests, outstanding issues, bug fixes and the financial summary and prepare yourself for your next meeting. This one ought not to be so bad, the client might not like what you have to say either, but at least they don't see you as the enemy within.

Who would be a project manager? There are times when it is akin to being a referee at a particularly fractious soccer match. You have to keep both sides apart while making sure that they play the same game and abide by the rules that they want to wilfully ignore. Sometimes it feels as if only you realise the fundamental difference; this is not a game, and if one side loses then nobody wins!

Classic portrayal of the gap between requirements and delivery
Figure 1: The classic portrayal of the gap between requirements and delivery

We've all seen the cartoon about the difference between what the customer wanted and what they got and we all know who has to manage the gap. What the team on both sides of the requirements/delivery divide should acknowledge is that this situation does not exist only as a comic creation, it exists as inevitable outcome of the fact that requirements evolve from abstract needs but software developers can only build still life. If this was honestly stated by all parties right from the outset then the first question that would be asked is who is going to make sure that we all walk away from this with a satisfactory outcome in the bag? The notion of the project manager as the client's mole or the supplier's secret salesperson would evaporate.

One of the most irritating debates would also get put to bed; namely why the client should pay for project management. The client should pay because the project manager serves the project, not the client nor his or her direct employer, who only employs project managers because they have long experience and understand the necessity of project management. A project manager is a necessary part of the cost of delivery.

Fortunately we live in a world where the value of a good project manager can be proved beyond doubt, provided he or she tracks everything related to the "infamous gap;" issues, changing requirements, moving time lines etc., and stays on top of it. Our project manager can walk into a meeting with the client or delivery team, and the data at their command rams home their value to either side. Wait a minute, either side? Maybe project managers are the enemy within after all.


Harvey Kandola is a technologist and certified PRINCE2 project manager, currently leading CounterSoft, makers of Gemini Project Management software. He can be reached at sales@countersoft.com


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