A Good Project Manager Is Worth Their Weight In Gold

Patty Wolfe

I have been working in the education consultancy field for the past 20 years, in which most of my time has been spent as a traditional project manager. As I have gained experience through my work at Unicon, I grew from managing small project efforts to large client initiatives that included cross-department, multi-vendor projects with high stakes. I’m a project manager at heart and I keep a spreadsheet for everything.

My husband of 25+ years, on the other hand, is in sales. We often talk about some of the challenges that traditional organizations have between the sales and operations teams. The struggle is real. Sales is hard at work identifying leads, crafting deals with clients, and making the sale. The operations teams are evaluating the opportunities and putting rubber stamps on the deliverables and confirming - yes, we actually provide that type of service. If everything was just straightforward and fit into the same box, both our lives would be easier.

On the way to dinner a couple of weeks ago, we were catching up on the day and work activity. He mentioned he had to negotiate on project management scope/hours to advance the discussion with the added comment - “Project management always pads their estimates anyway.” As you might imagine, that struck a nerve. Needless to say, he wasn’t able to get a word in until we got to the restaurant and I had said all my peace on the subject. His last comment to me was, “Wow, you should write an article about that. I’ll forward it to my clients.” so here it goes.

Long gone are the days when the project manager’s responsibilities could be limited to organizing meetings, taking action items, and persistently nagging the team for status. Project managers have the responsibility to look at the project and its deliverables holistically, and plan strategically on how to get the work done based on customer commitments, deadlines, and resource availability. This typically involves managing deliverables and dependencies across organizations, balancing this with how deliverables align with overall timelines and release dates, and defining risk mitigation plans and contingencies. All while figuring out how to get a cross-section of not only your organization but also the client organization to meet their commitments in the ever-tightening labor market. This involves great finesse, patience, open and honest communication, as well as exceptional planning and organizational skills.

If technology projects were easy to do and easy to deliver on, statistics wouldn’t show extremely high failure rates. Based on an article from Forbes, an astounding 90% of projects fail to deliver any measurable ROI.

These projects are hard. If I only had to rely on myself, the hours would be minimal. However, since I am dependent on other people who have competing priorities, this is where some of the challenge comes in, and creates a ripple effect. I need Team One to complete their work before Team Two. My team can’t get started until Team Two finishes. Team One is now delayed because of a priority one customer crisis. This delay now conflicts with other customer commitments for Team Two which now compounds the issue for my team and the commitments we have made to our stakeholders. This also assumes work is done correctly and to specifications the first time.

Sometimes, we try to make partial progress on a project and get teams started on the work that is considered “known.” Theoretically, this is great. Let’s figure out how best to move the ball forward in whatever capacity we can, and we often do. But this comes with its own set of risks. We have to make assumptions and, well - when the real work comes in, some of those assumptions will play out and others will not, which can put the overall timeline in jeopardy and over budget.

On the surface, projects may appear “easy.” And that’s not always a wrong perception. If everything goes according to plan, the hours are likely to be minimal. More often than not, there is a wrinkle or two - or ten - that we have to deal with and account for. A good project manager does significant pre-work before the project starts to ensure everything is in alignment. They have regular meetings with the stakeholders and provide complete transparency on the timeline, deliverables, and impediments, and they work tirelessly to mitigate risks. Careful planning and pre-work give the actual execution of the project a greater chance for success. This nice article from the Digital Project Manager article “Why Is Project Management So Important To An Organization?” says it best. Without it, what holds the team and client together? And without it, who is left to navigate through the ups and downs, clashes, and catastrophes of projects? If your technical projects are going smoothly, there is a kick-butt project manager behind the scene, making it look that way.

If you find yourself wondering how to get started or what next steps to take in projects for your own organization, please reach out to us here at Unicon. Let us help lighten the load of your efforts, and bring your idea to life!

Patty Wolfe

Patty Wolfe

Patty Wolfe is the Senior Director, Applications, Integration, & Data for Unicon Inc, a leading provider of education technology consulting and digital services. Patty has over 17 years of project management and consulting experience, managing all aspects of client relationships including strategic planning and implementation, project delivery, client satisfaction, and P&L. Since joining Unicon in 2001, she has worked with companies such as Scholastic, John Wiley and Sons, and Pearson Education to deliver a diverse portfolio of projects including sophisticated online learning applications, simulations, and progressive assessments that deliver an individualized learning experience. She holds a Project Management Professional (PMP) and Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI), and a ScrumMaster® certification from the Scrum Alliance organization.
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