An Overlooked Strategy for Assigning Project Managers
Traditionally, project managers are assigned to a project and are expected to oversee the project from beginning to end. There is nothing wrong with tradition, and this method of assigning project managers does have its advantages, such as continuity and strength of relationships with stakeholders.
Non traditional - Starters, Relievers and Closers
A powerful strategy that is often overlooked is to assign project managers by project phase. For example, in baseball, pitchers are typically categorized as starters, relievers, and closers. Starters usually have a history of very good performance and are considered more capable than relievers. Relievers are considered capable of maintaining control but typically are not as strong as a starter or a closer. Closers are often considered better than starters and their use is limited to the special situation when the game is almost over and a win is on the line.
Consideration should be given to assigning project managers in the same way a baseball manager assigns pitchers. In other words, the most senior personnel can be used to kick off the project to ensure a good beginning. Once the requirements are established and baselined, a transition can occur to a more junior project manager capable of maintaining control for a project that has a good start.
The transition must be formalized!
This transition has to be formal, with “sign-off” among the two project managers. The stakeholders must also be prepared for transition and may be included in the transition process. Once the transition is complete, the junior project manager may run the project until the project is ready to close. Then a switch can be made to a project manager who is more skilled or who specializes in closing projects.
This phased approach to assigning projects helps the program manager maximize the use of his most highly and/or uniquely skilled project managers. Additionally, because of these different skill sets, some project managers have a natural affinity and ability for starting or closing projects and excel at it.
Additional benefits for changing project managers
You can take this method of assigning project managers a step further when outsourcing or when global operations are concerned. Depending upon the experience balance, the outsourced project manager may serve as the most experienced project manager, and he or she can start the project. Or, in the case of global operations, to ensure consistency in operations in different locations, a subset of project managers may start all projects.
This phased approach of assigning project managers can help struggling project managers. Additionally, a side benefit of assigning project managers by phase is that the organization and stakeholders learn to accept the fact that project managers will be changed. Therefore, when you have to change a project manager for another reason, the organization more readily adapts and there is less of a stigma of failure if the move was for nonperformance.
Realize that this phased-approach strategy requires a strong checklist for defining what needs to be accomplished to make the project successful. However, this is not really additional work, because the transition checklist should exist anyway. After all, over a program’s life, odds are very high there will be project manager changes mid-stream due to other factors.
Adapted from The Handbook of Program Management - McGraw-Hill
Dr. James T. Brown PMP
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