Evolution of a project manager’s role depends on organizational PM maturity

starThe October 2013 issue of Project Management Journal contains a walkthrough by Peter Morris of his recently published book Reconstructing Project Management.

Within this article, Peter covers the state of existing project management bodies of knowledge and identifies limitations with these models.  He concludes by providing readers with a look forward into what he sees as the future role of the project manager – an evolution from monitoring & control to adding value.

A key difference between his perception of the current state and the future envisioned state is the shift from being inwardly focused (e.g. the Triple Constraint) to “improving sponsor value and on shaping the context in which projects and programs are formed and implemented“.

The assertion is made that projects and, by association, project management will succeed if there is greater ownership taken in establishing the right ecosystem for a particular project’s delivery success as well as ensuring that the right decisions are made to ensure that a project’s outcomes are being successfully realized.

Coincidentally, in this same issue of Project Management Journal, there is a research paper comparing competencies identified in project management bodies of knowledge with those highlighted in job postings in Australia and New Zealand.  The focus of the 762 job postings which were analyzed in the study leans more towards project delivery (e.g. Communication, Technical skill, Stakeholder management, Cost and Time management) than the higher value skills of Leadership, Problem Solving or Commercial Acumen.

There is little doubt in my mind that most project managers aspire to adding greater value, so why is it that so many continue to focus on “on time, on budget”?  While this could have previously been diagnosed as the unfortunate side effect of accidental project management, I believe it is now an outcome of low organizational project management maturity.

In companies which are at a lower level of maturity, project management is often viewed as a necessary evil.  Attempts by project managers to understand or question the rationale behind projects, or to confirm that the right operational steps are being taken to fully realize the benefits of their projects are usually discouraged.

Given this lack of organizational support for projects, project managers spend significant effort on administrative tasks such as chasing team members for status updates or frequently re-negotiating resource commitments with functional managers.  This leaves them little time to focus on higher value activities.

As organizational maturity rises, the volume of such administrative work is reduced as a result of increased support from team members and their functional managers as well as greater commitment from senior management.  This in turn frees up project managers to spend more time working with sponsors and key stakeholders.

It’s easier to reach for the stars when you are standing on top of a mountain instead of staring up from the bottom of a pit.

Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Evolution of a project manager’s role depends on organizational PM maturity

  1. David Turnbull


    First, I would agree that there is a strong viewpoint that PM role is that of a task master and is therefore pure overhead. I’m sure that for many lean operating companies, the practice of bringing in a PM after the important decisions (i.e. project charter) have already been set is simply a desire to minimize “overhead”. Another factor is when management doesn’t really want any addition input on what are already complex decisions, as there is a fear of paralysis by analysis. And there’s always politics.

    Except for politics, it’s possible to break through that by developing a reputation for success, but it can be difficult to do that if you have to start from only handling the execution phases of projects that were poorly positioned from the start. One source of opportunity is to act as the white night that comes in to rescue messed up projects, but it can be tricky to avoid becoming the scapegoat on those as well – something to add to your risk register. If you can develop a positive reputation within an organization, there’s then the problem of making it known and accepted more broadly.


  2. Kiron Bondale

    Thanks for the feedback, David. In lower maturity organizations, a PM’s best avenues of evolution are a track record of success (in spite of the challenges they are handed) and strong relationships with key influencers.



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