PM Skills & Best Practices

The 3 Biggest Lies in Project Management

Are you ever in a position when someone is explaining what you do (and maybe they don’t even know you’re a project manager), and they get it SO incredibly wrong? I’ve found myself in this position many times, but I haven’t always spoken up about it. The problem with not speaking up or defending your ground is that just helps further the stereotypes surrounding project management. They may not mean anything malicious by it—it might just be that they’ve worked with crappy PM’s in the past.

In this article, I talk about the 3 biggest lies in project management that I come across the most. Not only do I talk about these 3 biggest lies, but I give some quick tips on how to combat these lies as they arise in your day-to-day lives.

biggest-lies-in-pm

1. Clients Don’t Need Project Management

We’ve all heard a potential client say, “Well, why should I have to pay for project management?”

judge-judy

Clients sometimes look at project management as an unnecessary (yes, you read that right) evil. It’s usually position these opinions as something like:

  • “I shouldn’t have to pay for you to run your business. That cost should be on your side.”
  • “I don’t need your project management—I have my own.”
  • “Oh I think I’ll be able to handle that on my own. It’s not that hard.”

Whether or not you’ve gotten those exact responses, as project managers we know the value that we provide the team, but sometimes it’s hard to communicate it. It’s especially hard when our work isn’t as tangible as delivering a working website or a design prototype—although we do have a lot to do with it.

Project management is one of those nuanced things—if it’s running really well, you may not notice it, but when it’s not there, shit quickly hits the fan. For example, let’s say the client thinks that they can “do it themselves”.  In the beginning of the project, they might get pulled into other things, at which point they just tell themselves, “Oh, the team has this”. Then, when they check in with their team near their first deadline, they’re surprised to realize they’re incredibly far behind. So, they blame the team, save their own ass, and give you a call to ask what it would take to put you on the project to save it (I can hear your “Ugghhh” all the way from here, because we’ve all been there, right?).

I could detail out many reasons why (good) project management is important, but in this post, I’ll jump right into showing you how to combat the pushback right when it comes up so you don’t even have to get to this point.

What You Can Do About It:

When you have a client or a potential client that believes they don’t need project management, use this client email template to illustrate the value of project management:

Hey <client>,

While I want to be conscious of your budget, I feel strongly that your project will not go as well as you think it will without involvement from one of our project managers. While it might seem that I’m just saying that because, well, I’m a project manager, I want to provide you with some things to consider.

  • How will you be interfacing with my team? If you intend to do so directly, I will need to help onboard you to our process so they continue to work efficiently.
  • Do you intend to run the weekly or bi-weekly Scrum ceremonies my team requires to do their best work? If you’re not comfortable with it, I can provide you with some training.
  • Will you be reasonably available for the team throughout each work day to help escalate concerns, problem solve, etc.? I typically have intentional time on my calendar blocked out for helping my team as needed.
  • Will you be able to handle the creation of <insert artifacts needed here – i.e., user stories, timelines/roadmaps, reports needed>?
  • Do you think you’ll be able to respect our work culture to ensure that our team still feels like they work for <insert your company here>? It’s very important to us to protect our work culture here as we put a lot of effort into finding and retaining talent.

While the above isn’t meant as a way to scare you away from it, I just want to make sure that you have all the information you need in order to handle the responsibilities that normally come with project management, as I don’t want the project results or team members to have negative impacts from this decision.

2. PMs Only Care About Timelines & Budgets

tps reports

Hopefully it isn’t the case for you, but occasionally bad PMs taint the water for the rest of us. These PMs are usually only focused on timelines and budgets and don’t put a lot of effort into ensuring the team has the optimal conditions to work. Sometimes this comes into play when you have a new team member join your organization who has previously been burned by a PM or a client who’s worked with PM’s in the past that only see the timeline and budget side of them.

While tracking timelines and budgets is very important, it’s honestly not what I spend most of my time doing. There’s plenty of resource management software out there that can automate a lot of the data analysis and tracking.

Instead, I focus on the more important project management skills, like relationship management, communication, and negotiation. I work on ensuring that my teams have optimal working conditions and ensuring that my clients are seeing us deliver value to them on a regular basis. That puts more focus on results over things that might be out of your control. If your team has optimal working conditions, there’s no doubt that your clients will be happy, as you’ll be delivering the best work possible with the budget and timeline you have.

What You Can Do About It:

Here are some tips to ensure you’re delivering more value than just budget reports and timelines.

1. Ask for project feedback frequently, both from your team and your client.

This can be done as part of a sprint retrospective, or it can be done outside of that. It doesn’t really matter as long as you’re asking for it regularly.

Then, use this feedback to find weak spots in your project. Funnel your time to those weak spots before anything else. By reinforcing those weak points by changing process, or having conversations, you’ll instantly prove your value to your team and your client.

2. Provide input on the work you’re doing!

I’ve witnessed so many PMs that think their opinion doesn’t matter or it’s not their place to provide that input. You are smart. While you may not know how to code, or maybe don’t know a thing about design, that doesn’t mean that questions you raise about the ‘why’ behind something won’t move the project in a more positive direction.

Don’t just be a note taker during meetings. Provide value by asking questions like, “Maybe I’m missing something, but why are we doing ‘x’? I only ask because it’s going to better help me with planning this project.” Learn the types of questions you should—and shouldn’t—be asking your developers in order to get the right information for making strategic decisions.

3. Build relationships with your team and your client.

This may be a given, but often times PMs don’t put in the extra effort to get to know their team and their clients personally. This might look like having a 1-on-1 coffee with each team member, getting drinks with the team after hours, or starting every meeting with a little banter.

This helps solidify your relationship with the team and the client on a more personal level. You don’t have to air your dirty laundry or reveal anything too personal, but just by them knowing a little bit about you (I.e., hobbies, kids, spouses), they begin to realize you have a lot more to offer than just providing timeline and budget reports.

3. PMs Aren’t Honest With Me

can i be honest here

This can be a problem on either side of the equation (internal team or client). Some complaints I’ve heard over the years:

  • My PM isn’t telling me all the info that they know because they’re trying to “protect” me, but it influences my work heavily.Internal Team
  • My PM waits until a problem has become so big before telling me that I end up looking really bad to my boss.Client
  • We can’t tell the client this because they’ll be mad!Internal Team
  • PMs protect their asses over everyone else.Client & Internal Team

While the above may ring true to some teams, it’s often another case of a bad PM tainting the water for us all. There is absolutely no reason to retain critical project information from anyone. Yes, you will have conversations that upset team members and your clients. But, speaking from experience, having those tough conversations up front saves you SO many headaches down the road. Not only that, but you build an immense amount of trust with your team and your client when you don’t intentionally hide information from them.

Now, sometimes there IS sensitive information that you might need to hold on to for a period of time. It could be that something went awry on your project and your client hasn’t yet been notified. If this is the case, the only reason you should be holding off on the information is because you’re getting all of the facts and a plan of action in place/created before you communicate to the client and/or team. What it should not be is you finding a way to brush this under the rug and sugar coat the situation. While it may help temporarily, you’ll find that down the road, the project ends up in a much worse place than it would have been if you were just honest and had that tough conversation.

Summary: What Did We Learn?

you gone learn today

There are many misconceptions about project management, but these 3 are the ones hear the most. These stereotypes exist for a reason, and it’s up to us (good) PMs to set the bar high. You’ll notice that the theme here is to provide and always show our value. To always show our value, remember to do the following:

  • Educate clients so they’ll understand the reasons why project management is important, even if they have already bought into it. Setting clear expectations up front with regards to your role and the tasks you do to add value to the project.
  • Find ways to contribute beyond just giving updates on reports. You are more than just a paper pusher. You should always look for ways to share your ideas and opinions with your teams and clients.
  • Always be honest with your team and your clients and don’t withhold critical information. While sometimes you may need to temporarily withhold information so you can gather all the facts to come up with a tentative plan, don’t hold onto the information just because you think your client or your team may get upset with you. That will happen at some point, but they’ll thank you for it in the long run.

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka is a Product Manager at Crema, working with funded startup and enterprise clients to prototype, test, and build their web and mobile applications. When he's not in the office, he can often be found hitting up some hiking trails with his husband and two dogs, working on his new house or figuring out plans for a fun vacation.

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