How to Manage Project Managers
Multiple project managers often report up to a single authority, such as a senior project manager, program manager, project director, or project management office. Although managing project managers comes with a unique set of challenges, the fundamentals for building highly effective teams are the same.
Basics for managing a highly-effective team of project managers
- Empowerment: Project managers must feel empowered to make the necessary calls on their projects. You need to 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.
- Communication: If you are managing multiple project managers, their projects will inevitably intersect. Whether it’s sharing resources or stumbling upon the same software limitation, their projects will often have things in common. Keep lines of communication open to identify risks, help resolve conflicts early, and allow PMs to learn from each other’s experiences.
- Focusing on performance: A project can fail even with the best project manager in the world at the helm. It could meet cost, scope, and schedule, but the project manager didn’t follow the process properly and important information is missing. Project managers should be measured on how well they carry out their responsibilities and not simply whether a project was delivered as expected. You must communicate what they are being measured against.
- Set a common vision and goal: Project managers’ goals, strategies, and tasks should be aligned both with each other and the business. Inconsistencies will arise across managers and projects if there is no common vision.
- Define roles and responsibilities: Project managers may have different responsibilities in different organizations. When you bring a team of people with different backgrounds together, they will likely 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. You must define roles and responsibilities clearly to ensure everyone is aligned.
- Create standard processes: While we can appreciate that different project managers have different ways of doing things, it can present challenges for stakeholders. If every project manager handles their schedules differently, meeting minutes and reports will be inconsistent, causing confusion and frustration across the organization.
You may also discover a situation where executives develop a preference for how one PM does something and inadvertently overload them with projects. Suddenly, they are drowning under too much work while you have other project managers sitting idle.
Techniques unique to managing project managers
Here are four additional points specific to managing project managers:
- Project management: Think of your project managers as the spokes of a wheel. They are 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. It’s critical for you to become the hub — a central point for management, oversight, and communication.
- Program management: If you are managing project managers, you are ultimately responsible for the projects they’re leading. You need to be aware of their status at all times. These updates will help you to know when you need to provide assistance or nudge a project forward.
- Conflict resolution: Conflict resolution usually means resolving disagreements or personal disputes. However, when it comes to overseeing project managers, you may be required to manage resource conflicts. If two different project managers need the same person at the same time, it falls on you to prioritize where they should go first, communicate your decision clearly, and resolve the conflict.
- Promoting knowledge sharing: Encouraging communication is not enough when it comes to project management teams — you must have processes and methods for sharing information across the entire team. Create a central database or hub to share new developments, unexpected issues, or lessons learned for others to access as needed. For example, if a project manager faces an unexpected problem on a current project, they can check the system to see if anyone has faced a similar issue in the past and discover how it was resolved.