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Do we really need Project Managers?

Over the past several years I have noticed that Project Management has become more and more prominent. PMI, PMP certification, PMP podcasts and on and on. It seems that project managers are everywhere. Without a good project manager, your project is doomed! Or is it? Is it possible to deliver projects without project managers? My answer would be broadly yes, but the team needs to develop project management skills (and of course, if the project is large (one man year of effort or more), then it make sense to have a project manager).

This raises an obvious question; what are the critical skills that a team need to deliver a project.

Critical skills to deliver a project.

If we don’t need project managers to deliver projects, what are the critical skill that need to be developed to execute successful projects. Let’s break them down according to the sequence that we would execute a project – identify and select, define and plan,  execute and manage and finally close our project.

  1. Project selection – defining the WHAT and the WHY.
  2. Definition – refining the detail of the WHAT and breaking it down into manageable chunks.
  3. Planning – sequencing the work, estimating durations and scheduling the work.
  4. Estimation – building an estimate of how much it will cost to execute the project.
  5. Execution & Management – building your team, communicating with affected parties, assigning work, resolving issues, measuring progress and much much more.

Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these areas.

Project Selection

Choosing the correct projects to do in order to achieve your goals is critical. In order to select the correct projects, you must be able to first express your goals in a tangible way. That is, it must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound; a SMART goal.

Once you have defined SMART goals, you can access all projects and select the correct ones based upon:

  • How they contribute to your stated goals?
  • How much time, resources and money you can commit at any one time (capacity planning)?
  • Your priorities – when there is too much to do at any one time, you need to make choices based on your priorities.

Project Definition (Scoping)

Once you have a proposed project or set of projects to deliver, you will then need to break each down into smaller chunks which will allow you to:

  1. Define the work required for each chunk – we will refer to these as elements from now on.
  2. Identify any associated assumptions you are making, risks and skilled resources required to deliver.
  3. Define the level of effort required in terms of people plus any equipment or facilities.
  4. Define the sequence to execute activities.
  5. Develop a plan for execution of the work.

We refer to the breakdown of the work as the “Work Breakdown Structure” or WBS. The description of work, skill-sets, assumptions and risks associated with the WBS is known as the “Statement of Work” or SOW.

Planning & Scheduling

Once the WBS has been defined, you will then need to build a plan and start scheduling activities. In order to do this properly, the following skills are required:

  1. The ability to convert your WBS & SOW into a project plan using software such as MS Project – this is just a list of ordered and indented tasks.
  2. Establishing both the duration (calendar) and level of effort (days or hours of real people’s time) to execute each task.
  3. Sequencing of the activities into a schedule. That is, answering questions such as, what needs to be completed before something else can start? What can be executed in parallel?

Note: When you look at the relationship between task/elements of work, the constraint can be either logical or resource based. Take the example of building a house, you cannot build the walls until the foundation is complete. This is a logical relationship. Now take a chef in a restaurant who is asked to cook fifteen different main courses at one time. He can cook them in any order, but not all together as he is constrained by the amount of work he can do at any one time; let’s say five at a time. He will need to decide the sequence to cook the dishes in three separate batches. Similar logic applies to projects.


Now that a WBS and schedule exist, an ESTIMATE will need to be developed for the project. Estimation is both a science and an art. The science element is based around estimating the costs associated with the well-defined WBS elements. The art on the other hand is based on assessing how much RISK there is with the execution of the project. Once you have identified the risks, you need to quantify the potential costs if the risks materialise. When estimating, a blend of learnable skills plus experience is required to develop the best project estimates.

Execution & Management

With a good schedule and team in hand, and having recruited some of your team members, you will now need to execute and manage the project. The key role here is to manage progress to plan. This requires many skills, but the primary ones will be leadership, people management, budgetary management, communications, time management, issue resolution and other general management skills. Most of these skills are not project management specific, but they can be honed and developed through the delivery of projects.

If these topics is of interest, then please enter your email below as I am writing a book on this subject called “Get Projects Done”. It is a step by step guide aimed at improving project delivery.

What do you think? Do we really need Project Managers?

Keep me informed on your Get Projects Done book.

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