back to article Project managers: fall-guys or heroes?

Most project managers do a difficult job, but what are they really like? From my experience, a few essential facts about PMs: • PMs do it in the right order, standing in front of complicated charts • PMs take the blame if the project goes bad; it's in their job description • PMs aren't more important than the project, but …


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  1. PM Coach
    Thumb Up

    Great article!

    What a brilliant article! Made me smile on a rainy Monday morning.

    project management really can seem like a crazy endeavour, but I guess we all love that buzz of achieving things 'against all odds'!

    Perhaps the title could be 'fall-guys, heroes or adrenaline junkies'?!

    I loved the article and am looking forward to reading more from you soon. Off to tweet it now, thanks!

    Kind regards

    Joanne Ernst


  2. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Oh the woe of a project manager

    I can't help but observe that, like cooks, if PMs cannot stand the heat of the 'kitchen' then they should not be there in the first place.

    The article reads a bit like a whinge and anyone can whinge.

  3. Pete 2

    The good, the average and the clueless

    I've worked with/for a lot of project managers. Two or three of them were absolute stars - as deified in the article. Some merely took up productive time with undirected meetings that rambled on forever and there were one or two outstandingly bad ones who really, really had no management or leadership qualities at all.

    Of the rest, they *did* do a good job - not excellent, but competent - possibly because their mettle was never tested since the projects went ahead with little or no drama (though, maybe that's a testament to their skill: all the best people AVOID problems, rather than fix them). The difficulty with this lot was that you couldn't tell the good ones from the lucky ones.

    However, the main observation is that before I encountered any of these people, and until some time had passed, it was not possible to distinguish the great ones from the turkeys: they all did much the same until something unexpected happened. I suspect that if you took all of these peoples' CVs you'd be hard put to tell which PMs were worth their weight and which were a liability - basically, choosing one to employ is a bit of a lottery - luckily for some.

    1. Titus Technophobe

      Good and Average?

      II have to agree with Pete here 2 or 3 project managers have been absolute stars. Of the rest the vast majority would range from clueless to mostly harmless, I never encountered good or even average. (Joanne above just maybe you need to get a life?)

      To the question 'Project Managers Fall Guys or Heroes?' , ya knows, I just don’t know maybe the old Y2K joke below is a bit of a summary -

      A team of cannibals get hired on a Y2K project. At the interview they were found to be totally brilliant programmers but they are warned that they mustn't bother (eat) the other staff.

      The cannibals promise.

      A few months later the boss comes to see them and tells them all they have been doing a great job, but one of the cleaners is missing. He asks if they know anything about this.

      The cannibals shake their heads no.

      After the boss leaves the lead cannibal screams at them. "Who is the idiot that ate the Cleaner?"

      One hand slowly rises.

      "You idiot!", says the lead cannibal, "for months we have been eating the project managers, programme mangers, test mangers etc and nobody has noticed or cared now you have to go and eat a cleaner!"

  4. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge


    PM = Thinking man's wheeler dealer (think Arthur Daley with a spreadsheet) :)

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Perfect project management...

    ... is rarely achieved, but I like to tell people that on a good day, when everything is going to plan, then my job is to drink lattes, wander around and chat with my development teams.

    I actually had a day like that once and the memory of it keeps me going.

  6. Tim #3

    Looking good

    “PM is part science… part psychology… and part making the impossible happen.” In part yes, personally I believe it is an art. It’s something some people can really excel at, make appear effortless yet produce the most stunning results. I look forward to the rest of the articles, please avoid too many features on software packages and other PM ware, that stuff is only tools, focus more on what makes a good pm- the psychology aspects– and find some great projects & the people that PM’d them. Also focus on training and accreditation, what value it provides and what people should consider.

    In any event, a PM certainly is not a technically proficient person who has then been given a copy of MS Project and a Prince2 course.

    1. Titus Technophobe


      On the basis of the Project Managers I have known the norm is 'a technically incompetent person who has then been given a copy of MS Project and a Prince2 course........'. Also on the basis of looking up the results on the Prince 2 candidate register, about 1/3 will have passed the aforementioned Prince 2 course, and on the basis of personal experience about 1/5 will in fact be able to use MS project (which let's face it is hardly rocket science).

      Draw your own conclusions of my opinion of Prince 2 course training and it's value to the food chain ;-)


      1. Tim #3


        I believe that Prince2 only exists to give recruitment agencies something to search for, and for misleading recruiting managers who know knothing about PM. Prince2 qualification is no more an indication of someone's ability to manage projects than a basic word processing grade is an indication of an ability to write like W. Shakespeare, it just exists to keep the training, certification and book-selling industries in work.

  7. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    Project management is important.

    I would also like it if someone applied some project management to getting the RDPCLIP bug in Windows actually fixed. Copying and pasting various things from point A to point B...I almost posted a very early article draft/idea scratchpad as a comment!

    Joking aside; good article. I wish my bosses understood the importance of project management plays in the real world. More to the point; why it’s a bad idea to have your project manager and your technical lead be the same person. Both individuals are usually hugely under pressure to put out fires. Combing the jobs just gives you a very burnt out individual who will never have the time to put out both the technical and political fires that are all in the processes of burning holes in their desk.

  8. Anonymous Coward


    nothing more than human shields, and overpaid, to boot.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    I thought that essentially *ALL* they did was to report to senior management

    Oh sure, the typical Project Manager would be forced to stop by for a few minutes per week with the troops to get a status update on the What-was-it-again? Project , and then back to another 56 hours and 44 minutes a week of preparing presentation slides in just-ever-so-precisely the correct format du jour. Then, at the weekly meeting, the senior management would nit-pic the precise word choice, or font used, on the endless presentation slides. Half-a-million bucks of hired-help debating the size of the margins on the slides...

    Meanwhile, the engineering staff are left to their own devices to Manage (verb) the What-was-it-again? Project (noun) all on their own. And you know how that ends...

    My approach would be as follows, "But Mr. VP, the project plan, the one that you approved, provided just ten minutes per week of 'Reporting to Senior Management' - see Page 57, Line 82, WBS element 'FYOU'. I'm sorry, but your time is up for this week. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get back to Managing the freaking Project."


  10. Anonymous Coward


    I thought Prince2 was shorthand for "The Artist Formerly Known As Symbol".

  11. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    PRINCE 2

    The Independent recently stated that the UK taxpayer is currently saddled with £26.3bn of government IT projects that are deemed “not fit for purpose”.

    But I thought all UK gruberment projects supposed to be managed using PRINCE 2 (PRojects IN a Controlled Environment)?

    So who wrote the business case and the expected benefits and costs?

    The business case is usually written by the senior business user (PRINCE 2 role), the project executive (PRINCE 2 role) is responsible for verifying that the benefits are achievable and represent value for money and the business case is used at each stage by the project board (PRINCE 2 role - comprises at least:- senior business user, senior supplier and executive) to ensure that the project is still on target.

    Oh hang on I think I see the problem, the senior business user is a civil servant, the executive is a civil servant and the senior supplier is a large consultancy firm....

    Therefore project manager = fall guy (or girl)

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