The View Matters

In reading Scott Berkun’s book Making Things Happen, I learned quite a bit about managing projects. Scott’s background is similar to my own – for years, he was (and possibly still is) a project manager for Microsoft, overseeing large teams working on fairly extensive projects. With a technical background, he wrote the book with a leaning toward developing IT products, though many of his lessons can be applied to any type of project.

One of the points he raises is in regard to the groups of people who establish the vision for a project – that is, who it is that should decide what the project is attempting to accomplish. This is a question that should be of interest to anyone even remotely involved in the management of a project – poor delegation of authority at this point can doom a project. As Scott describes this, there are 3 primary interests that need to be represented in establishing what the goals of the project are.

Customers

Naturally, there should be significant input from the ultimate consumer of the new product, as that consumer knows what they need, and ensures that there will be an ultimate use to the product produced. Often, they are also the ones paying for the work, and therefore need to ensure that they are getting what they pay for.

Marketers

Perhaps a poor word to describe this group, this is the portion of the team that understands how the product will be sold, how money will be made through the project. This group is concerned with the finances of the project, and the product it ultimately produces.

Engineers

Again, not the best word to describe this group, but these are the people who will actually be building the project, whether it be code, a bit of machinery, or some other good. Their concern is feasibility – that is, whether or not the product can be built according to the needs of both other groups, within their limitations and conditions.

Balancing it all out

In a perfect team, there would be equal weight given to each of the three groups, and components of the project would be negotiated between the groups. If any one group exerts too much influence, the result can be disastrous – either going over budget (if the finance aspect of the project doesn’t have a voice), not meeting consumer needs (if the customers don’t have a voice), or not being built at all due to technical limitations (if the engineers don’t have a chance to speak).

In most cases, this balance is quite hard to achieve, and this is, perhaps, what makes project management such a difficult task. It is the job of the project manager to balance these views, to ensure that concerns are addressed, and that authority to make decisions is appropriately delegated. A project manager who can handle this balancing act may be well on the way to running successful project, while one who cannot may be left wondering why each project seems to perform poorly, no matter who’s voice is listened to.