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Let’s Be Realistic About a Project Manager’s Role in Product Delivery

KeyedIn’s Vice President of Marketing, Shawn Dickerson, wrote a piece on product delivery vs. project completion. In it he discusses important project management themes like business value, outcomes, and visibility. Although what he’s proposing makes sense theoretically, it’s difficult to execute realistically.

For starters, the shift from a “project-completion mindset” to a “product-focused delivery model” is not a small one. Project teams are fighting to keep up with demand and often struggle to even close projects let alone worry about the outcomes. Dickerson is correct in that staying on schedule, in scope, and under budget may not directly deliver business value, but they are important and should still be the primary focus of project teams. This is not to say that teams shouldn’t focus on outcomes as well, but Dickerson suggests this includes constant improvement of deliverables. He uses the terms “flexibility,” “innovation,” and “quick changes” to advocate for a more-iterative approach. That is simply not realistic for resource-strapped project management offices. How are they supposed to constantly revaluate deliverable criteria when many are wearing multiple hats and working on multiple projects?

Dickerson recognizes that this type of product-focused model would require frequent data updates to the PMO and that is precisely the problem. Many organizations simply don’t have consistent usable data to make these types of decisions. I agree that “resources may in fact be getting wasted, but these losses can be under the radar because by all appearances, everything is going according to plan as long as tasks are being completed.” Dickerson is right, there is a head-down mentality that can be detrimental to project outcomes. He suggests more frequent milestone and review cycles to review product delivery and resources allocation and the possible need for redistribution. This sounds like program management to me and product management can certainly have a place within the program. Check-ins, status updates, and feedback about value can and should be done at the program level.

Source: SoftwareReviews, Screenshot December 2019.

Our Take

There is no denying that project outcomes are important, our Audit the Project Portfolio blueprint focuses heavily on them. However, the responsibility to manage them is at the portfolio or program level. Dickerson mentions “continued improvement” several times as the concept of the project never really ending. He says “there is always improvement and maintenance to get the most value from the work put in.” I’m on board with this comment, but whose job is it to do this? If it’s the project manager’s job, let them know and maybe balance their load so they can take on this role before they inevitably have to “move on to the next set of tasks.”

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