If you were like me, you have been on some projects over time where somehow it was not even apparent who the manager of the project was. Sometimes, there is no project manager. At other times, there is a technical lead. At other times, there is someone who calls themselves the project manager but they are not really a project manager at all. How can these situations be handled professionally?
Let’s take a look at each one of these situations. In my experience, the solutions are pretty similar.
1. There is no project manager – Many times, depending upon the organization, projects simply land. They emerge out of ideas of many people and somehow have a team but no official leader. This may sound strange but I have experienced exactly this. What do you do if you are one of these team members? I say assume the role of project manager. You do not necessarily need to declare it. You simply need to do it. Somewhere along the line, somebody is going to want to see project plan; somebody is going to want to monitor progress; and others are going to want someone to lead them in showing, somehow, we are planning to get this project done.
2. There is simply a technical lead – Many projects, I have seen this mostly in technical organizations, have an appointed technical lead. However, they are necessarily given this title. In addition, no one else is given the title of project manager. The project is simply declared to be a project and someone is put in charge without really knowing that what has really happened is a technical lead has been appointed. If you are involved in any way in a project like this, even if it is one of several projects, for you once again, go ahead and assume the lead. The fact of the matter is a technical lead is more often than not going to be focused on technical issues. They may get involved in the schedule and selecting and assigning team members. There are many project management functions that they will typically not even think about. Take it upon yourself to put together a project plan or a project charter. Depending upon the size of the project, expand this into an appropriate plan. Work closely with the technical lead, sponsor, project sponsor, and others on the project, assuming that the role your playing is not otherwise being filled by someone. If you are choosing the appropriate level of detail and rigor in doing the project planning, it is likely that it will not only be accepted by others but it will be welcomed.
3. There is someone who claims to be the project manager but they are not really managing the project – I have experienced this situation where someone either sells the project internally and thereby "owns" the project or they have certain relationships or motives for wanting to be in a management role related to the project. The problem is that their interest does not span anywhere close to the whole realm of responsibilities that need to be undertaken by a project manager. In this case also, I suggeest that you play the role of project manager as you see fit. Work with this person who claims to be the project manager and work with everyone else on the team to simply make sure that all "i’s" are dotted and "t’s" are crossed as appropriate for a particular project.
When you take on responsibility, you are rewarded in a number of ways. First, you are rewarded as a valuable person simply because you’re willing to take on responsibility. You are also considered to be valuable because you demonstrate skills that are otherwise obviously missing. Not only are they missing on the implementation team but, in the cases I have outlined, they are also missing in the minds of the sponsors of the projects and these people will greatly appreciate your stepping up to the plane. Finallly, you will develop a reputation for delivering quality professional work and as a leader in your organization.
John Reiling, PMP
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