Project Management guide
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How to Manage Project Managers

Multiple project managers often report up to a single authority, such as a senior project manager, a program manager, project director, another individual or the project management office. Although managing project managers come with its own unique set of challenges, the basic fundamentals for building highly effective teams are the same for managing project managers.

Basics for managing a highly-effective project manager team

  1. Empowerment. Project managers must feel empowered to make the necessary calls on their projects. Provide clear guidelines about their level of authority and accountability. There should be no question about what decisions they can make on their own and what requires additional approval.
  2. Communication. Managing multiple project managers will mean their projects will inevitably intersect. Whether it’s sharing of resources or stumbling upon the same software limitation, projects often have things in common. Open communication can identify risks and help resolve conflicts early, as well as allow PMs to learn from each other’s experiences.
  3. Focusing on performance. You may have the best project manager in the world in charge of a project, and it could still end up failing. Or a project could meet cost, scope, and schedule, but the project manager didn’t follow process, and a large chunk of information is missing from the project. Project managers should be measured on things they have control over and not simply whether a project delivered as expected. Communicate what they are being measured against.
  4. Set a common vision and goal. Project manager goals, strategies, and tasks should be aligned with each other and with the overall business. Inconsistencies will arise across managers and projects if there is no common vision.
  5. Define roles and responsibilities. Project managers may have different responsibilities in different organizations. When you bring a team of people with different backgrounds together, it’s likely they will have different expectations about what falls within their scope. For example, one project manager may assume that creating a test plan is the responsibility of the functional expert, while another PM may assume it’s the responsibility of the project manager. Clearly define roles and responsibilities to ensure everyone is aligned.
  6. Create standard processes. Similar to the last point, people from different backgrounds may have different ways of doing things. However, this presents challenges for stakeholders. If every project manager manages their schedules differently, meeting minutes and reports will be inconsistent, causing confusion and frustration to across the organization.

You may also discover a situation where executives develop a preference for how one PM does something, and end up inadvertently overloading that PM with projects. Suddenly, he or she is drowning under too many projects while you have another resource sitting idle.

Techniques unique to managing project managers

Here are four additional points specific to managing project managers:

  1. Project management. Think of your project managers as the spokes of a wheel. They are off managing separate projects, with separate teams, likely in separate locations. But, projects don’t happen in complete isolation, so your managers still need to be coordinated. This makes it critical for you to become the hub — a central point for management, oversight, and communication.
  2. Program management. If you are managing project managers, it’s likely you are also ultimately responsible for the projects they’re leading, which means you need to be aware of their status at all times. This will help you to know when you need to provide assistance, or nudge a project forward.
  3. Conflict resolution. When referring to a normal team, conflict resolution usually means resolving disagreements or personal disputes. However, when it comes to managing project managers, conflict resolution is something different. In this case, it’s likely resource conflicts you’ll be required to manage. If two different project managers need the same person at the same time, it will fall on you to prioritize where the resource should be used first, clearly communicate your decision and resolve the conflict.
  4. Promoting knowledge sharing. Encouraging communication is not enough when it comes to project management teams. It’s important to have processes and methods for sharing information across the entire team. This includes new developments, unexpected issues, and lessons learned. A central database or hub for this type of information allows others to access it as needed. For example, if a project manager faces an unexpected problem on a current project, she or he can check the system to see if anyone has faced a similar issue on a past project, and how it was resolved.

Further Reading