Insight Blog

The Accidental Project Manager

by Eileen Koch

April 23, 2018 | Project, Program, Portfolio Management

During a recent client meeting, I facilitated a Discovery session identifying the issues my client was facing running his Program Management Office (PMO).  With an annual budget of $150M and over 100 resources, he is constantly being told by his executive leadership team to “go faster”.  At the conclusion of our Discovery session, we identified several disciplines lacking in the PMO that needed attention and would yield an increase in speed to market.  As we began plotting a course to remedy this problem, he threw out another issue.  He said, “and, what do I do with my accidental project managers”?  Confused by the term, I asked for more information.  As it turns out, many of his project managers are not trained project managers.  They are high performing individuals who have found themselves now in a project management role.  They are not PMP certified and have no desire to be.

As I reflect on the organizations that LSA works with every day, I realize that most have accidental project managers.   According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), “as project management continues to gain popularity at organizations around the globe, the trend of the accidental project manager will increase in numbers as organizations formalize project management as a core competency.”  Now that I’m familiar with the term and the fact that the role will only continue to grow, I offer three tools and one characteristic that, regardless of your formal role, will help anyone leading a project and will enable speed in execution.

A Plan. Our mantra at LSA is “plan the work – work the plan”. Often times, a project manager will try to run a project without a plan, and that strategy just doesn’t work. Take the time upfront to identify the tasks, the critical path (milestones that are required and create dependencies for subsequent work) and the estimated start and end dates so you can determine if you are on track in meeting the goal.

A RACI Diagram. RACI is an acronym (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) derived from the four key responsibilities used to clarify roles and responsibilities in a cross-functional project. No matter how detailed and complete a project plan may be for any project, confusion or omission of participant roles and responsibilities will cause major problems.

A RAID Log. A RAID log captures risks, action items, issues, and decisions. This tool can be a project manager’s best friend and historian. Often times, information is buried in emails, meeting minutes, or hallway conversations. Documenting project information in one place is invaluable.

A Leadership Style. Tools are important, but the real magic in delivering a project with success is the ability to connect with people, influence outcomes, raise difficult issues, and demonstrate managerial courage. Don’t forget to lead the team.

Today, most individuals work in a “project” oriented environment. If it were up to me, kids would learn basic project management skills just as they learn Trigonometry (I mean who really uses Trigonometry). As such, they need to be equipped with the basics for planning work, identifying roles and responsibilities, tracking issues and risks, and leading their teams with a common purpose.

As far as my client who needs to go faster, we plan to help him turn his accidental projects managers into “adaptable” project managers, by developing within these resources the necessary competencies around work planning, risk management, change control, and resource management. These added skills will enable his PMO to adapt to the ebbs and flows of faster project activity, while maintaining the current shape of the function. The depth of how each competency is applied will be based on project risk so that projects are not over-managed or under-managed. While project management is often seen as a barrier to speed, LSA’s experience is that using the right tools provides visibility to decrease project swirl, optimize team performance, and enable project success.