5 Primary Functions of a Project Manager
| it careers - Richard Bevis

5 Primary Functions of a Project Manager

5 Primary Functions of a Project Manager

The project manager must satisfy multiple constituents. They are answerable to a client or company executive and must also keep numerous stakeholders in the loop. But communicating project performance is just one of the project manager's functions.

You can slice the project manager's job many ways, but we'll look at a five-part approach where the PM is responsible for:

  1. Initiating the project,
  2. Recruiting and aligning the project team,
  3. Setting timelines and managing project progress,
  4. Managing the budget, and
  5. Monitoring and communicating project performance.

So, let's look at these five functions, starting with initiating the project.

1. Initiate the Project

Before a project can begin, the project manager must understand the key stakeholders' desired outcome for the project and determine its feasibility. This will entail a detailed review of the expected timelines, human and capital resources required, financial costs, and the risks associated with the project. One of the risks to be assessed is whether the project has necessary levels of stakeholder and management support.

The project manager must ring-fence the project. This means clearly defining what is in-scope and what is not! For example, if the project is focused on building a product proof of concept, then issues such as ongoing maintenance may not be in-scope. However, if the project goal is a production application, then ongoing operations and maintenance plans will likely be required project deliverables.

It's unlikely that management will sanction a project without an in-depth understanding of the business case — its cost, the projected impact and benefits, and the likelihood of success. All these things must be set out in a project initiation document and signed off by stakeholders before the project can start. You do not want to get to the end of the project to hear a key user executive say…”But that’s not what I expected!”

One additional decision must be made in this project initiation phase! The project manager must select the project methodology to use. In software development projects, they have choices such as Agile, Lean, Scrum, and Waterfall. For more general IT and other projects, they may choose the PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) methodology, or the Project Management Institute's methodology, as defined in their Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®).

2. Recruit and Align the Project Team

The next step is for the project manager to assemble their team and to get their work started.  In our previous article, we discussed the facets of leadership and management which every project manager needs to possess. The PM needs these skills to assess team members strengths and weaknesses, to create the optimal team blend, and to motivate them.

Once the team is assembled, the project manager must onboard the members and ensure that they understand their roles and responsibilities and that they are aligned with the overall project goals.

Why is team alignment so important? Well, if everyone’s not on the same wavelength, then mistakes, conflicts, and miscommunications will surely occur. It’s necessary that everyone, team members and stakeholders alike, share a common view of the project’s scope and end goals.

In addition, they should have a clear understanding of their individual roles and responsibilities, the selected project methodology, the metrics by which team and project success will be measured, and finally the decision-making and reporting processes for the project.

3. Set Timelines and Manage Project Progress

It's the PM who defines and sequences project activities, sets their estimated duration, and from that creates the project schedule and the overall critical path. They assign specific tasks and deliverables to team members and communicate regularly with them to track task status. Project managers make sure that their team is not unduly saddled with needless bureaucracy — allowing them to concentrate on their tasks at hand.

Ongoing communication is vital to project success. It allows the team to surface those issues that might impede the project. There are risks associated with every project. Problems may occur, but they need to be handled calmly and with due thought. Effective project managers are dialed into their team and are ready with contingency planning to overcome barriers to stage and project completion.

As we said earlier, on-time delivery is one of the key measures of project success. Having set realistic timelines in the original project plan, the effective project manager always keeps her team focused on the critical path and the projected end date.

4. Manage the Budget

A second key measure of project success is completing it at or under budget. Successful project managers are good at setting a realistic budget and then agreeing it with executive and stakeholder management.  The budget reflects what the stakeholders are willing to pay for the benefits that they expect from the project. From that perspective, the project manager manages project progress and expenditures and makes decisions that maintain project alignment with stakeholder goals.

As the project proceeds, circumstances may change, and the project manager may need to trade-off between parts of the budget. They will have to reallocate resources and monies from one area to another to keep the overall project and budget on-track. That's a normal part of the project budget balancing process.

It’s the PM’s job to make and communicate project and budget changes as needed to complete the project, while satisfying stakeholder expectations. Although there may be someone on the team who runs the numbers, it's the project manager who has final budget responsibility. They will be watching the spend on a regular basis, comparing it to expected progress and reporting on key project performance indicators (KPIs) as agreed with stakeholders.

5. Monitor and Communicate Project Performance

The final project manager function is that of monitoring the project and communicating progress to stakeholders and team members. Although we say that it's the final function, it's not just an afterthought. In fact, it happens throughout the project — from initiation through to completion.

An experienced project manager will communicate in multiple ways, both formal and informal, with their team and project stakeholders. As the project rolls on, it's the PM who tracks progress on scheduled activities and the actual burn-rate on the projected budget. They will have established various means of regularly sharing progress with the team and stakeholders.

There will always be project setbacks, but it's how they are handled that affects customer satisfaction. Clients will always welcome good news, but bad news is best delivered to them early and with a considered plan for corrective action.

Final Thoughts

A successful project manager completes their project on-time, in an orderly fashion, and within budget. And of course, the project must deliver what the customer expected or more.

It sounds easy, doesn't it? But we know that the project manager’s job is not easy. That is why qualified project managers with certifications such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) are in-demand!

If you're considering project management as your next career step, then sign-up for CBT Nuggets CAPM online certification training, led by Simona Millham. Simona will take you into more detail on project manager's job functions and the essential skills you will need to lead your own project.

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