Random Acts of IT Project Management

Project Management for Information Technology

“Hands On” Project Management

Posted by iammarchhare on 26 June 2009

We’ve all seen the ads: “Wanted: Hands-on Project Manager”.  I’ve even seen one that read something to the effect of, “This is not just an admin position.”  And, let’s face facts, shall we?  Some PM positions are basically bureaucratic paper-pusher positions.  So, the sentiment is understandable.  I also believe that most PMs are not like that.

That being the case, why does an ad like the above scream, “Run for your life!  Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger!”?

I truly believe it comes back to different interpretations of “hands on”.  Like I discussed in the post “Why the Role of Project Manager is Different”, “I consider myself pretty ‘hands on’ because I run the project.  I question people’s timesheets.  I ask them why things are taking so long.  I interfere and get them help if needed.  I do EVM calculations whether you ask for them or not (because it helps me do my job).  Do you want me to code?  Then you are not looking for a PM.”

Ron Ponce over at Project Manager Planet puts it in perspective in his 29 May 2009 post “’Just Tell Me What to Do!’ – The Case for Active Project Management”.   He rightly points out that you can publish a Gantt chart of tasks that is a thing of beauty, but developers still might not know what to work on next.  He writes:

“I just want to be told what to do and when,” says Kevin Kinsella, IT Regional Manger based in San Francisco. “The best project managers that I have worked with have been able to keep the project on track by telling me and the team when things were due or what may need my immediate attention.”

Kevin is not alone in his view about what distinguishes a successful project manager from the rest. Successful project managers are able to provide their teams and management with a proactive and hands-on style of managing and communicating that ensures their overall projects will succeed. What I call active project management or APM.

APM as a consistent style is elusive for many project managers because they generally don’t see themselves as passive; even though their team does. In many cases, that disconnect between the project manager and the team is not realized until after the project is completed―and then it’s too late.

That, to me, is being “hands on”.  PMs who code are not “hands on”.  They are distracted.  Unless the project is small, the distraction may cost the project.

One of the leadership principles that I learned early on in the Army that doing grunt work eventually distracts from what you really are getting paid to do: Lead others to accomplish the mission.  Being in charge (I mean, really in charge, not just be handed a title) means you have to be fully engaged on multiple items at the same time.  This was before “multitasking” became a mainstream word.  You are already multitasking, so why take on additional unneeded distractions?

Notice, I said “unneeded”.  In order to meet the deadline, you may have to get down with everyone else and shovel some dirt.  You may have to sacrifice some in your oversight in order to get the main mission accomplished.  However, you do so at the risk of not being in position to observe other activities going on.  Those other activities may or may not come back to bite you.

Those are the trade-offs.  Knowing what trade-offs to make is part of good management skills.  You weigh the risks.  The more project tasks you take on, the fewer management tasks you are doing.

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One Response to ““Hands On” Project Management”

  1. […] by iammarchhare on 24 July 2009 I have posted before about “’Hands On’ Project Management”.  This fits in real well with this […]

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