Why Being Just a Task Manager is Bad Project Management

You started your job as a Project Manager at your new company. You are so excited! Fresh new faces, exciting projects, and opportunities abound to move up within the organization. You’ve put your past life behind and abandoned all the problems, challenges, and issues from your last company. Gone are the days of the task manager of your department always throwing obstacles in your way just to watch you trip and fall. You are actually looking forward to digging into the problems, challenges, and issues your new position will be presenting. You can’t wait to figure out the politics, learn who does what within the company, and start making an impact. Fast forward a couple of months…

You can’t seem to get anything out of the marketing department. The new guy they hired to manage the IT group is driving you crazy with his propensity to shoot from the hip and never even considers following the task management software program you implemented. Everything seems to take twice as long as it should to get done and sometimes you feel as if your hands are tied. The strategic direction of the company changes on a weekly basis, and what is the deal with the VP of Sales who is always throwing you under the bus? Sure, you wanted change…but hopefully, it was going to be for the better. You feel as if you’ve just gone from one evil task manager to the next.

We’ve all heard the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The opposite of that is true as well. “It if IS broke, FIX IT”. Unfortunately, some project managers take the position that it’s not their job to fix the problems of the company but rather just continue to force work through the old system in the hopes of it getting better some day. They choose to live with a broken process and dysfunctional people and systems rather than take a little time out of their schedule to make things better. Below are three reasons why some may feel this way and why this line of thinking is flawed:

#1. I’m Just a Project Manager and that’s Not My Job

Talk about making your blood boil. Some project managers feel as if their job is to sit behind the computer and forward emails to those on their project with their nominal value-add statement of “FYI”. That brings no value! They would rather sit there and wallow in the misery of systems and processes that are broken rather than do something about it.If it is negatively impacting or affecting you in a bad way, then it IS your job. If it gets in the way of you and your team getting something done, or causes delays and cost overruns on your project, or introduces disappointment to your clients…then it IS your job. If deliverable after deliverable is falling behind on your task management software then it is up to you to do something about it! Never get caught in the trap of just thinking you are a task manager and you don’t have ownership of the process.

#2. I Don’t Have the Necessary Influence

This is another self-defeatist attitude that should be removed from our vocabulary as project managers. This feeling of inadequacy may be a result of the “I’m just a Project Manager” mentality and is a career-killer. Being a great project manager is nothing but Influence! Rarely will you have people that report directly to you within a matrixed organization. Rather, you will need to get your work done through other people in other departments managed by other managers. How? By influence. At the very least, you should be able to influence your actions and maybe the person next to you. That’s all it takes to get a movement started.

Talk about what’s broken. Discuss what prevents things from moving forward. Ask yourself and those immediately around you what you can do to improve the process and the situation. Make some minor adjustments and start talking up the positive results. Get more people involved and make an even bigger impact. Track metrics such as the amount of time saved, or an increase in ROI, or the ability to reduce rework and get those numbers out to everyone. In no time, you’ll have people paying attention and jumping on board to improve the process.

#3. Why Bother? It Won’t Make a Difference Anyway

If you start going down this slippery slope, you need to check yourself fast! Your effectiveness as a project manager will quickly become marginalized. It means you’ve given up. You have a couple of choices at this point:

Go somewhere else – Be careful with this one. If you find yourself in a similar situation, attitude, and low level of effectiveness time and again…then the problem are you. You may be what is broken and not necessarily the places you work.

Change your attitude – You can spend the next couple of days being miserable and feeling helpless, but, next Monday morning wake up and come in with a new attitude. Make such a drastic shift that your coworkers won’t recognize you. Realize that improving processes and systems that are broken IS your job, you have the necessary influence to get it done, and it WILL make a difference.

This is how easy it would be to start to make things better. Find a simple process that is broken. Get all the people in the room that are involved in that process, are recipients of what the process delivers or provide input into that process. Ask everyone to talk about it from beginning to end. Put it up on the white board and document who does what and when do they do it. Document how long something takes. Identify how long a deliverable sits somewhere idly before it is picked up by the next group to be worked on. Document this in whatever form of project and task management software you use to get a visual representation of what the current process looks like.

Then, identify those areas that are troublesome. You’ll come up with problems such as people not knowing when something was done, things taking too long in one department, double work being done on a deliverable, inadequate quality which will lend itself to rework and other “aha” moments  Finally, ask everyone what the new process should look like. Let everyone state their opinion. The process may be totally revamped or just tweaked a bit. Regardless, everyone has provided their input and has ownership of the new process, and thus, some level of accountability.

Put a simple flowchart or swim lane diagram together and implement the new process. Once implemented, you will start seeing how much time is saved. Communicate this out to the team, communicate this to the functional managers and most importantly start going up the executive chain about what the team has done and the cost savings/revenue generating / time reducing results that have been realized. Following the above steps will move you from being just a task manager to taking your project management career to the next level.

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