Project Planning, Schedule & Control–Chapter 3: The Role of the Project Manager

This blog post is part of a series that summarizes the 5th edition of the classic project manager’s handbook Project Planning, Scheduling & Control by James L. Lewis, Ph.D., the founder of the Lewis Institute, Inc.    I wanted to go through the book and take notes for my own use, but also in the hope that my summary would be of interest to both those already in the project management field or those who want to enter that field.

1.   Introduction

The problem of teaching project management is that it is something that is learned by doing (Dr. Lewis calls it a “performance art”), and is more right-brained in nature.   A traditional MBA program teaches tools for analyzing data and planning, both of which are left-brained activities.

Dr. Lewis emphasizes as he did in the first chapter that project management requires people skills.   One of the core activities of a project manager is dealing with politics.   If you hate dealing with politics and conflict, then you should not be a project manager.

To be a good project manager, you need to be a leader and get people to want to do something you believe should be done.

2.  5 Qualities of a Great Project Manager

A great project manager is …

  • Dedicated (not accidental)–takes total responsibility from project initiation to project closeout (accidental means you don’t fully understand the role)
  • Proactive (not reactive)–takes initiative, anticipates problems and tries to prevent them (reactive means reacting to problems as they happen)
  • Assertive (not aggressive)–stands up for his or her own rights while simultaneously respecting the rights of others (being aggressive means ignoring the rights of others while getting what you want)
  • Authoritative (not dictatorial)–taking as much authority as you are willing to assume by virtue of your position
  • Forward thinking–making unsolicited contributions to the organization in order to improve it

3.  The Law of Requisite Variety

An organization is like a system, and a law in systems theory called the “law of requisite variety” states that “in any system of humans or machines, the element in the system that has the greatest variability in its behavior will control the system.”   You must either increase your flexibility or reduce the variation in the behavior of the organization.  So for you to be in control, you have to increases your flexibility so that it is greater than that of any other element in the system.

Many managers resort, however, to the second approach, by trying to reduce the variation in the system through rules and regulations.   However, a better way to reduce variation in system behavior is through proper planning.   Your long-range planning should be tentative and broad-brush in nature, your day-to-day planning can and should be more detailed, but not to the point of micromanaging:   every employee has to be in control of his or her own behavior.

4.   Project Planning is a Team Effort

The first rule of good project planning is:   the people who do the work should do the planning.    The two reasons for this are:

  • People have no commitment to a plan conceived by someone else
  • The team will think of things that the project manager would not think of

5.   Project Manager Traps

Here are some traps that new project managers may fall into.

  • Having no clear vision or mission–if you are extremely clear about what you want to accomplish with your project team, you can get rid of the anxiety about whether you are doing is what you should be doing
  • The “doing trap”–working on technical issues and neglecting your management duties, just because you feel you can do them more quickly or effectively than someone on your team
  • Micromanagement–supervising your direct reports or team members very closely, because you don’t fully trust your direct reports or team members to do the job as well as you would do it
  • Being a “working project manager”–when you are expected to do some of the work that is being done by other members of the project team, with the result that when there is a conflict between getting work done and managing the team, the work always takes priority, and the managing suffers

6.   Project Management as a Career

Dr. Lewis recommends the book The World-Class Project Manager by Bob Wysocki and himself (Boston: Perseus Books, 2000) for a fuller treatment of project management as a career path.



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