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Managing projects when funding is difficult

The difficult times that hit the business world about five to six years ago are still upon us - don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Houses are being built, but many remain empty. Office buildings are being constructed, but space in them is widely available. This recovery – if it is truly a recovery at all – will take years…not months or a couple of years. And aggressiveness shown by a few builders doesn’t mean we are out of the woods yet. Businesses are still closing all around us.
So what does this all mean for projects in organizations and the project managers who manage these projects? Customers sometimes think of project managers as the ‘extra’ expense on an IT project. If you are a project manager, then you know that’s ridiculous. The value added by even a mediocre project manager is undeniable – keeping the status reporting, formal calls and project schedule up-to-date and in front of the key project personnel helps to ensure that the project stays on track. No one else on the delivery team is going to do that. But a customer on a limited budget may have other ideas.

Does my project really need an expensive manager?

I was leading a project last year that involved a difficult customer on a limited budget who did not value Project Management highly at all. The customer-side director-level sponsor was a self-professed Project Manager hater. When I was assigned the project and made aware of this fact by the PMO Director, my first thought was definitely not “Thank You!”
This was an approximately 6 month long project and I fought very hard for the first couple of months to show value and win them over. I found that the key to acceptance was to show them value and understanding, strong decision-making, and as minimal an impact on the project budget as possible. A couple of incidents arose on the project where I was able to step in and get some higher-level technical assistance where normally the project would have floundered without a strong project manager, and then I was considered “ok”. He still hated all other project managers, just not me anymore.

Can’t the business analyst handle that?

Many customers, though, think they can get all of the PM expertise they need from a knowledgeable business analyst. On a very small project, that may be true. But on a larger-sized engagement, the business analyst will be too consumed to deal with the administrative processes and the decision-making that would usually be handled by the project manager.
To really ensure that an engagement stays on track and that the diverse mix of very talented individuals remains focused on the end goal and moving forward in a straight line, you must have an experienced project manager steering the ship. There’s no one better to coordinate the communication, manage the budget, produce the status reports and lead the status meetings. Bottom line, if you want your IT engagement to run as smooth as possible, it is imperative that you pay for the project management effort.

Summary

Customers and IT leaders are smart. Workforces are being cut – new jobs are being created but unemployment isn’t going away as fast as many had hoped. Project managers still remain key resources on initiatives. The bigger concern for PMs is that there may continue to be fewer of these engagements taking place. Some companies are still maintaining and reducing, not undertaking new work. Fewer new projects are starting so the overall need for project managers is still dwindling just as it is for resources across the board. Project managers must dig in, keep themselves current and relevant, and maintain strong connections within their organization and continue to show value on each project they lead and with every team that they manage. Visibility on the project and within the organization is critical to the PM looking out for his or her own career…now and for the foreseeable future.