The Everyday Project Manager that doesn't need to be

Ryan Erickson
Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

Most people who venture into the world of project management do so from the standpoint of it being a toolbox they’ll use sometimes. This, of course, does not apply to those whose job is within a PMO or as a full-time PM. While the part-time PM is normally the standard, more and more positions are becoming reliant on the tradecraft to manage everyday activities.

My immediate thought to this was great! People are using those leadership skills to manage their teams and work. However, that was not the actual issue. It turns out that many managers and senior leaders are looking to their qualified/certified project managers to manage everyday activities as they would a project. This is an expectation that can only lead to failure by both parties.

I began digging into this, dare I say, “phenomenon,” as I was curious to know if there was any validity to it. After all, it was an off-the-cuff comment that got me thinking about it. Sure enough, some who’ve been trained in the ways of a project manager (akin to a Jedi Master, some would say) are finding their skills now becoming a prerequisite as a manager. The issue with this surfaces when senior leaders look upon their Manager Project Manager as always on.

As a senior manager, I’ve fallen into the trap of unintentionally exploiting a team member’s abilities to the point of creating a hardship. When we overuse someone’s skill set, be it in the office, battlefield, or even a hobby, that skill ceases to become a skill and instead becomes normality. It may seem like it would be expected to become the norm, but specific to an actual Project Manager, being “always on” while also being a manager is burnout waiting to happen.

Here’s a non-PM example to clarify my point. Suppose I’ve identified someone whose day-to-day job is as an accountant, and they’re also a great self-taught graphic designer. If they become my go-to person for any graphic design issues/opportunities —  every day —  it begins to diminish their worth as an accountant. They’ve become the department’s accountant/graphic designer, often getting credit for their design prowess and overshadowing their accountant worth, not to mention the stress it’s going to put upon them as they try to finish their standard workload. All while still getting paid as just an accountant.

Place this into the realm of the manager who’s expected to manage their daily activities and tasks as a standalone project manager would. I’d love to have this happening as a manager of such an individual. However, I also know better as a project manager myself.

Talking with a dedicated PM friend, she was totally against this kind of expectation; I agree. However, the first discussion I had on this laid out what was happening, and at first blush, I didn’t see the issue myself.

The daily job requires them to maintain a fleet of larger box/flatbed trucks, vans, pickup trucks, and cars, 25 in all. Within, they manage the maintenance team, a substantial inventory (that needs to be re-inventoried), simple shop upgrades (new tools), and moving some work areas to a new building. So yep, this job requires a project manager for sure.

Yet, it doesn’t for everything. While getting more detailed in the activities, we concluded that the skill set of organization would indeed benefit the manager doing this job- one that often comes from being a project manager. Aside from that, however, there were only two other activities areas where a project manager might help: the move to a new space and the required deep-maintenance cycle of the vehicles (for planning the work, parts, and labor).

However, the manager is being asked to run all tasks as a project and have a plan on how it will all be accomplished with a daily Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). If this were their only job, it would be easy. It’s not, though. They’re also a manager dealing with divisional budgets, schedules for both people and vehicle use, ordering, and other managerial duties—all in a fixed eight hours per day, five days per week. Inserting my opinion into this- this is not a practical use of a project manager’s talents.

This is not an article on how this person needs to manage their manager (I’ve got one started on that, though); this is a reminder to the senior managers on what they can/should expect of their management team.

I'd have to remind the senior team of proper expectations regarding the vehicle fleet manager who was hired because they’re a project manager. Yes, you’ve chosen to hire them because a certification or skill set matches what you think your team needs. However, unless you understand how they work, I feel that it’s unreasonable to have them plan everyday activities as they would as a project manager.

For the managers of project managers, I’d recommend you watch a great course by Chris Croft called The Top 10 Project Management Mistakes — and how to Avoid Them. It has a great opening section dedicated to the manager of PMs.

When it comes to hiring a project manager as a manager, I ask that you look at what the job entails. I’d further encourage you to seek guidance from a project manager if you’re unsure if the job you’re looking to advertise needs a project manager, or at the very least, figure out what portions of the job may require one. The last thing you want to do is hire someone with a sense of unrealistic expectations of how they should do their job.

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An Agilistic Practitioner of Project & Program Management with proven military & civilian records of success; PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSM | Let's solve problems, together.

Kalaheo, HI

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