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Breadth of Communication

Breadth of Communication

As is the case with any manager, most of the PM’s time is spent communicating with the many groups interested in the project. Running a project requires constant selling, reselling, and explaining the project to outsiders, top management, functional departments, clients, and a number of other such parties -at-interest to the project, as well as to members of the project team itself. The PM is the projects’ liaison with the outside world, but the manager must also be available for problem solving in the lab, for crises in the field, for threatening or cajoling subcontractors and for reducing interpersonal conflict between project team members. And all these demands may occur within the span of one day, a typical day, cynics would say.

To some extent, every manager must deal with these special demands, but for a PM such demands are far more frequent and critical. As if this were not enough, there are also certain fundamental issues that the manager must understand and deal with so that the demands noted can be handled successfully. First, the PM must know why the project exists; that is, the PM must fully understand the projects intent. The PM must have a clear definition of how success or failure is to be determined. When making trade-offs, it is easy to get off the track and strive to meet goals that were really never intended by top management.

Second, any PM with extensive experience has managed projects that failed. As is true in every area of business we know, competent managers are rarely ruined by a single failure, but repeated failure is usually interpreted as a sign of incompetence. On occasion a PM is asked to take over an ongoing project that appears to be heading for failure. Whether or not the PM will be able to decline such a doubtful honour depends on a great many things unique to each situation, such as the PM’s relationship with the program manager, the degree of organizational desperation about the project, the PM’s seniority and track record in dealing with projects like the one in question, and other matters, not excluding the PM’s ability to be engaged elsewhere when the “opportunity” arises. Managing successful projects is difficult enough that the PM is, in general, well advised not to volunteer for undertakings with a high probability of failure.

Third, it is critical to have the support of top management. If support is weak, the future of the project is clouded with uncertainty. If the support is not broadly based in top management, some areas in the firm may not be willing to help the project manager when help is needed. Suppose, for example, that the marketing vice-president is not fully is support of the basic project concept. Even after all the engineering and manufacturing work has been completed, sales may not go all out to push the product. In such a case, only the chief executive officer can force the issue, and it is very risky for a PM to seek the CEO’s assistance to override a lukewarm vice-president. If the VP acquiesces and the product fails, the project manager looks like a fool. If the CEO does not force the issue, the VP has won and the project manager may be out of a job. As noted earlier, political sensitivity and acumen are mandatory attributes for the project manager. The job description for a PM should include the “construction and maintenance of alliances with the leaders of functional areas”.

Fourth, the PM should build and maintain a solid information network. It is critical to know what is happening both inside the project and outside it. The PM must be aware of customer complaints and department head criticism, who is favourably inclined toward the project, when vendors are planning to change prices, or if a strike is looming in a supplier industry. Inadequate information can blind the PM to incipient crises just as excessive information can desensitize the PM to early warnings of trouble.

Finally, the PM must be flexible in as many ways, with as many people, and about as many activities as possible throughout the entire life of the project. The PM’s primary mode of operation is to trade off resources and criteria accomplishment against one another. Every decision the PM makes limits the scope of future decisions, but failure to decide can stop the project in its tracks. Even here, we have a trade-off. In the end, regardless of the pressures, the PM needs the support of the non-involved middle and upper management.