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Little Princes?

posted Jun 3, 2013, 11:18 PM by Jerry Dawson

I don’t normally like to write much here when I’m with a client, as it’s often easy to associate my current thinking with the specifics of a client’s program.  But there’s one commonality that crosses all projects: project managers.

As an architect, you get to work very closely with project managers.  I’ve had the fortune to work with some highly competent ones, and the misfortune to work with some absolutely hopeless examples.  Some have made self-promotion into their true project, while others have neglected themselves while trying desperately to make their project a success.

On one project we even figured out the collective noun for project managers: an infestation.  Because that company’s response to a failing project was to throw more PMs at it; a response akin to trying to salvage a sinking ship by throwing ballast at it.

One situation I’ve noticed working in the public sector recently, is that project managers are given ownership of projects in a way that doesn’t happen the same in the commercial world. The business and the executives, who should be the true owners of a project, appear to delegate to the PM. This has led to situations where I as an architect am reporting into a project manager, even though I’m the one primarily defining the workstreams and the deliverables.  

This sometimes leads to conflict between architects and project managers.  We sometimes treat PMs as glorified secretaries (even in those situations where theoretically they’re my manager!). On the other foot, a common putdown PM use is that architects are only concerned with technology, a piece of political invidiousness which misrepresents my work and prevents the necessary communication with the real business owners.

When you get to work with a PM who knows their job (and isn’t trying to do mine and make me do theirs) then it can be a real pleasure. A simplistic way of looking at it is that I’m good at knowing what needs doing and they’re good at getting things done.  The analogy with my earlier career would be the relationship between a director and a producer: when the relationship’s good, great things can get done.  When it’s bad, you get an Alan Smithee film.

And one last swipe. It’s the director who is the primary creative force and the one whose name we remember, but when the Oscar for Best Film is given out, it’s the producer who steps up to claim it. Bloody typical project manager!

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