A project manager asked me this week whether I was aware of any studies which could be used to justify the assignment of a “real” project manager to manage a project as opposed to having this function performed by someone else within a team. While I’m sure PMI and other project management associations have researched this thoroughly, I felt this would be a good topic for an article.
In some companies, such justification is not needed on a project by project basis. Organization policies or standards might require that projects exceeding a given estimated total cost or those that are over a certain level of complexity must have a project manager assigned. However even in these companies if perceptions fester that the role isn’t adding value, standards owners may be pressured to raise the thresholds at which project managers are required.
But in those companies where such standards do not exist, the battle might need to be fought at an individual project level. Convincing the funding authorities for these projects that a project manager is needed could be done in a couple of ways.
A fear-based approach might be used. This requires creating a sense of urgency by highlighting data from project failures or by communicating the personal risks to the stakeholder if something were to go wrong as a result of not having a project manager assigned. A decision tree could be used to compare the expected cost outcomes of both sides of the decision. While this might seem to be a reasonable approach, unless you are dealing with a particularly risk averse stakeholder, optimism bias is likely to cause the sponsor to ignore your arguments.
A different approach might focus on promoting the upsides of using a project manager. While this approach will be much harder to justify using financial projections, it doesn’t put the sponsor in the uncomfortable position of having to imagine their pet project failing and the emphasis is on showing the incremental benefits which they might achieve by having a project manager. Increased outcome predictability, improved communications, better focus by other team members on delivery, higher levels of stakeholder and team member engagement are just some examples of the advantages which could be communicated.
Regardless of a company’s level of organizational project management maturity, ensuring that the costs incurred by a project manager are providing some value in return is important otherwise it shouldn’t be a surprise if sponsors push back on the need to assign one.