A reader writes:
I have been a PM for a while now and I have talked to quite a few people who say they don't have project managers in their companies - companies where I would expect to see a PM. They didn't think it was odd, but I did. Why do some companies forego the PM role?
GOOD QUESTION. I feel like I'm constantly saying to non-PMs that have questions about how to run projects "do you have a project manager on staff?" It's hard for me to fathom why anyone wouldn't have a PM, but there are some fairly solid reasons why some companies don't. Fairly. Like, mostly. Or at least a little bit. Sort of.
1 - The teams are small enough or function well enough that a PM would not really enhance the team. This is usually true when the team has been working together for a long time and all people know what part they play in the creation of whatever they're making. I see this sort of fall apart once the team gets bigger and they add people. That sense of "we just know how to work together" isn't scalable, typically.
2 - Someone on the team is a PM masquerading as something else - a visual designer, an account manager, a developer. I'm not saying they aren't doing that work, I'm just saying...they probably have a PM lurking deep inside themselves. These are the folks who insist on timelines and process and making sure everyone knows what is expected of them. There are plenty of people out there who don't have the PM title who are actually PM-ing projects. They just might not realize it. What can happen, again, is that anyone new who doesn't have that PM instinct may not fulfill the expectations of that role.
3 - They just don't know what a PM does. There are SO MANY PEOPLE out there that don't understand the role, so they don't realize they need it. You'll see this when a team leader says "we know what we're doing, we just don't seem to be able to get things done in the same repeatable way" or "we get the job done, but we don't do it very effectively". They need that PM role to help them keep themselves in order.
4 - They had a bad experience with a PM and have written the role off. This one makes me so sad. And take note, I'm not saying they had a bad PM, I'm saying they had a bad experience with a PM. Trust me, there are bad PMs out there - I've often had to take over for them and you probably have too. But there are far less bad PMs out there than there are bad fits between a PM need and the way a specific PM works. Like, I might be a kickass PM for a team who is fairly autonomous and just needs to be sure they're on time and on budget, because I don't get in their way and I just make sure things are rolling along behind the scenes. But if you put me on a team where no one is very sure where their role ends and another begins, I may seem like I have no idea what I'm doing because I'm not used to being so hands-on. Or maybe I'm a pro at making sure we stay within scope, but what the company really wants is a PM that is going to get things done no matter what the cost. (Yes, they exist. More than you'd think.)
So if they've had a bad PM experience, they may just write off the whole role. You'll hear CEOs say "we had a PM and it just wound up being overhead" or "we tried the PM thing and it drove our team crazy". I think PMs are like therapists (and this is true on many other levels too) - anyone who has had to seek out a therapist can tell you that you may hate the first 4 you find, because you have to find the one that works the way you do. You gotta kiss a lot of frog doctors before you find the prince. Same goes with PMs. Companies can dramatically cut down on this trial and error by being really clear about what they want in a PM and making sure their job description and their explanation of what they need is very clear and direct. By being upfront with the kind of work a PM needs to do, you'll make sure you weed out anyone incompatible and focus on the ones that would really enhance your team.
Because we all know that PMs enhance teams. It's inevitable. Am I biased? Maybe a little but I'm also right, so... there you go. Thanks for writing!!