Submitted by Tom Imlay, Director of Project Management
People often ask me that question. I do not always have a good enough answer, but I think of it this way. A project is like a game. Baseball, hockey, soccer. Pick your favorite. A game and project both have specific beginnings and endings. Both are successful (or not) based on the work of the team. Usually, each includes multiple periods. In projects these are called phases.
Another way in which projects are like games is that each has specialists. Forward, defenseman, goalie, etc. One of the specialists for games is the coach. For a project, that person is the project manager. They pull the team together and make the game plan needed to succeed. Project managers facilitate meetings and other communications needed to get the team on the same page and keep them there. Project managers track budgets, status, and progress to keep the work within bounds and moving forward.
Planning the project work is one of the key contributions of a project manager. A plan is essential if the team is going to understand the big picture and their roles in it. Like a coach, the project manager is thinking about the next steps, the work coming up, where the team is, not just for this play but for the overall game and season and what is required to finish successfully.
Successful projects always have a project manager. Sometimes it is one of the team members with a dual role. Like a player-coach in sports. This is common for small efforts and can be very successful. For larger efforts, the team needs a dedicated coach or manager. Someone with knowledge and skills specific to organizing teams, creating a winning game plan, helping the team execute the plan, and implementing contingencies for problems when they arise.
Why do we need a project manager? Project managers help the team be successful by planning, facilitating, tracking, meeting, following up, budgeting, allocating, and more. You can play hockey without a coach. Winning the Stanley Cup requires a complete team – including the coach.