Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Should the Project Manager Play Multiple Roles on the Project?

One of the many comments I receive from executives is the multifaceted role of the Project Manager (PM) in the organization. I have heard many times that a person should not be JUST a PM, he/she must bring some other role, or in their minds, some other value to the organization. This is not to say that these executives don’t believe project management is an important function, they just believe it’s not the only function a person has. So invariably, the PM is asked to be the Business Analyst (BA) or the Subject Matter Expert (SME). I can speak from experience that working as both the PM and the BA has not been successful for me. As a matter of fact, objectivity is lost on the project because the PM cannot really evaluate the BA’s work. Similarly, the PM cannot be objective if he/she also serves as the SME. So, do costs go up because a division of labor is implied? Is a project better served by having a PM that has no other roles? Can executives defend the costs of a PM?

Should there be a division of labor?
In the end, that is the question one must ask. Unfortunately, my answer to this question is vague: it depends. If an organization is a start-up company, the answer may be that a person has multiple roles, including some PM functions.  Does that make that person a PM? I believe that it makes him/her responsible for the PM duties. The person may not see himself/herself as a PM, but the role has been placed on him/her. Is that a perfect position? Not really because the person is conducting activity that may not be his/her main specialty. Now, in a smaller organization, especially if it is a start-up, the mixture of tasks becomes necessary. The problem arises when someone is made the PM by default.  This has happened in IT often and until recently, the reason why many IT projects failed.
Can the PM be effective in dual roles?
The answer to this question can be yes, especially if the resource has done this before and is accustomed to performing dual roles and tasks. The problem arises when a resource really sees him/herself as a BA or SME more than a PM. When that happens, the PM’s tasks suffer because the resource wants to spend his/her time on the tasks that he/she believes are more important. Again, in smaller organizations like start-ups, this is not even a question. Being effective in dual or even multiple roles is a necessity. However, let’s assume that this organization is neither small nor a start-up. Giving a resource PM duties along with the resources duties of a BA, SME, or even a development manager is usually not a good idea. These roles are not the same and even conflict at times. When that happens, chaos exists and that is not good for anyone in the organization.
Are multiple roles common only in small organizations?
No, I have seen PMs playing multiple roles in both large and small organizations. I have seen successful projects delivered where the PM’s role is given to a resource that is responsible for other tasks. However, the risk of project failure is higher if the PM’s role is given to a person who does not want the role or who cannot function as a PM for any reason. It is my opinion that if an organization can do so, they should assign a PM to a project deliverable that only has PM responsibility.
Most times the role of a PM or comes down to cost and if senior executives can defend a sole PM role. If not, the PM should be prepared to work in a dual capacity.
I am open to discussion at any time on these blogs or anything else related to project management you would like to explore. If you would like to comment about this blog, please do so by posting on this blog or by responding in an email at Benny A. Recine. You may inspire a blog article. I look forward to your comments.