Sorry, but I Still Don't Get What You Do

The idea for this post came from two different sources. One of those sources (let's call them Person A) is a good friend from when I was still a project manager in the making. (Early warning signs: my friends referred to me as "the glue" keeping our high school crew together. And, I wouldn't let anyone touch my day planner.) The other is the person who hired me for my first, official PM gig (Person B).

I recently sent out a note congratulating my team on the successful conclusion of a long-running project. The client was retiring, and the work was ending--so I took a moment to look back on our accomplishments. Person B responded to suggest a future blog topic: what are the roles that a PM fulfills for their project team? I smiled and filed the idea. When I revived the idea a few weeks later, I smiled again when I thought of Person A's typical response when I describe my job: "sorry, but I still don't get what you do." Hopefully, this post sheds some light on the common roles that project managers perform:

  • Glue Stick / Connector: I mentioned that my friends think of me as the glue. Project managers attract and unite disparate people and ideas to generate an original creation. They seamlessly facilitate the connections and camaraderie that make the end product possible and themselves are an integral component of delivery. Simply put, PMs are the ones who find the right people and bring them together in pursuit of a shared goal. They also bring their experience across multiple projects to identify best practices for delivering an optimal product or service.

  • Coach: It's not enough to unite the team. Coaches refine the game. They establish performance metrics to help the team measure success, work with the team to practice their skills as a collective and as individuals, and continually keep tabs on how things are going (without interfering too much in operations.) If you had a team without a coach, the players would have a harder time coming together to work effectively. If you had a project without a manager, similar chaos would ensue.

  • Storyteller / Historian: As the storyteller, the PM continually reminds the team about the project's purpose--from the big picture vision for the engagement to client concerns and preferences. They put the humanity into the project so the team understands the "why" and the "who" behind the work. Related to the storyteller role, the project manager is also the historian. They keep track of project milestones and capture the journey to show team members and clients how far they have come. That includes capturing lessons learned.