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What is a “Project Manager” (really)?

Does anyone involved in software in your bank even know?

The Project Manager position has become a critical one for software implementation. However, the discipline often gets confused with other specialties. Our "Tech Sherpa" Anna Murray will guide you to the right destination. The Project Manager position has become a critical one for software implementation. However, the discipline often gets confused with other specialties. Our "Tech Sherpa" Anna Murray will guide you to the right destination.

Time for a pop quiz.

Which of the following items is within the job description of a Project Manager?

A. Writing business requirements

B. Negotiating budgets with clients

C. Budget tracking

You may be surprised that only C is in the actual job description of a Project Manager.

Item A is in the wheelhouse of the Business Analyst.

And item B is in the purview of the Program Manager.

Yes, it’s unfortunate there are so many similar-sounding roles on software projects!

Management by misunderstood definitions

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Confusion abounds about roles on software projects.

There are many blurred lines, mixed-up roles, missing roles, and double teaming of roles. It can look like a soccer game where you’re not even clear who’s on offense and who’s on defense, never mind identifying the goalie.

The Project Manager role is one of the most misunderstood. The title “project manager” sounds very broad. So, people just pack into it whatever they think it means. That makes the position nearly impossible to hire for, let alone manage well.

Here are three jobs that are most frequently mixed up with the Project Manager—and what they really are:

Program Manager: The Program Manager is one level up from our subject, the Project Manager.

The Program Manager is experienced in leading medium to large software projects. The Program Manager is the main interface with the client (internal or external), and organizes all the teams. In coordination with the client, this manager defines the project strategy and goals; makes major technology decisions; identifies needs; sorts through conflicts; negotiates solutions; and spearheads execution.

In short, he or she is the “Uber Project Manager.”

Business Analyst: The Business Analyst listens to all the needs and requirements of the business and writes a software specification. The BA knows how to translate business needs into documentation that can be understood by programmers and business people alike.

Product Manager: Let’s say your company has three or four software platforms up and running in your business. Someone needs to be in charge of those platforms, how they get modified, extended, upgraded and so forth.

This is the Product Manager. Think of the product manager as the person to whom the software development team “hands off” the finished project.

Defining a much-misunderstood position

So what is a Project Manager?

Because there is so much confusion about who the Project Manager is, I have consolidated the following definition and description.

Project Manager: The PM is formally trained in the methods of project management, often holding a certification such as a PMP. (That designation, “Project Management Professional,” is an internationally recognized professional designation offered by the Project Management Institute.)

The PM is in charge of interacting with the technical teams; making and tracking the detailed plans; and using project management tools to report on progress.

You will see this person conducting daily status meetings; preparing agendas; capturing to-dos and follow-ups; and making sure they get done.

He or she will have mastery over project management tools such as specialized spreadsheets with lots of macros; ticketing tools; and project planning tools such as Microsoft Project or Jira Portfolio.

Looking at the definition above, you may be surprised at how narrow the project manager’s job is. For sure, the PM is of absolute critical importance. However, the role is focused on tracking and reporting.

Knowing who a PM is and what he or she does is critical for filling the role successfully.

Anna Murray

Anna Murray of emedia llc brings a real-world view to life in the trenches of technology. Often with a dash of humor, Murray’s suggestions can help tech work better inside your organization. She is the author of The Complete Software Project Manager: Mastering Technology From Planning To Launch And Beyond.

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