Human Resources

Statewide project manager group is resurrected

Too many ‘accidental’ project managers have nowhere to turn for help.

June 6, 2014
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Following a three-year hiatus, the Michigan Project Users Group is up and running again.

MPUG is a group for professional project managers focused on sharing Microsoft project management tools. The organization has been dormant after interest waned, but a group of Michigan project managers resurrected it last week during a meeting in Southfield.

“We realized the value of peer information, and of having that audience of professional project managers to bounce ideas off. How do you do this? Here’s some tips and tricks,” said Doug MacNeil, consultant and project management professional at C/D/H, which has offices in Grand Rapids and Detroit.

“People really want to know what is working with their peers at other companies. That is, I think, where the real value comes in is when users of the product can huddle up (and get help).”

MacNeil said C/D/H, a tech consulting firm, is one of the companies taking a leadership role in reviving the group, and he and his colleague Sarah Woodruff, sales and marketing manager for C/D/H, will represent the company on the board of directors.

MPUG will focus on sharing Microsoft-related information, a popular tool in project management.

“We are scheduling quarterly events that will allow us to share Microsoft project-related information,” he said.

He noted MPUG has a LinkedIn page and is establishing a discussion board to encourage information sharing between quarterly events, and he hopes the quarterly events will grow into more frequent meetings.

MacNeil said the value of having a group like MPUG is in helping project managers utilize project management tools to their full capabilities.

“It’s a tool that can be very simple to use in some hands and then can be very complicated to use in other hands,” he said. “That can save the project an hour or two or 10 over the length of the project.”

Unfortunately, MacNeil said, a lot of project managers don’t have the proper experience for the roles they are being handed, calling them “occasional” or “accidental” project managers, rather than those who have gained professional project management certifications or experience.

He said occasional project managers are those who might be asked to look at a project on a random basis, but who don’t typically do project management.

“It’s more looking at a project and making sure things get ordered correctly or whatnot,” he said.

Accidental project managers are those who may or may not be actively involved in the project and have been tasked with the responsibility of managing a project.

“(Someone who) may have some Excel skills or maybe has seen one of the project management tools, but really doesn’t have a good, sound basis in project management,” MacNeil explained. “It’s kind of an ironic scenario that you would put someone in that role without the skills and training.”

On the other hand, a professional project manager has had sufficient training in project management, the tool sets used in the profession and in the environment in which they are working.

Professional project managers are trained to look at the bigger picture, he said.

“A professional project manager takes a look at the entire project, not just the single piece,” he said. “They may even expand the view into the entire portfolio because one of the key pieces to really effective project management is not looking at the project with blinders on.

“Every decision that is made from a project management standpoint on an individual project has a whole series of domino effects, not only on that one project, but all of the other projects within the project portfolio.”

The risk, according to MacNeil, is an occasional or accidental project manager might not see that bigger picture, putting the project budget and timeline in jeopardy.

“The best example of that is building a house. If your painter has extra time, and your plumber is backed up, you can’t always just pull a painter off to do plumbing, because they may not have the skill sets to do it,” he said.

“The accidental project manager may see that warm body as an available person and pull them in on a project or realign them and not realize that the painter doesn’t have the skill set necessary to do plumbing.”

Experienced project managers are becoming more important, according to Woodruff.

“The demand for project management is increasing,” she said. “The whole environment of needing to successfully execute projects is right at the forefront of most organizations. And there are a variety of studies out there that have been well documented that indicate anywhere from 50-70 percent of projects that are completed are completed over budget and late.”

It is a project manager’s responsibility to bring a project in on time and on budget, and with more complex projects popping up, these functions are more important than ever.

“There has been a perception that PM is an overhead function,” MacNeil said. “When you put it into dollars and cents it’s not overhead. It’s actually a cost savings because you are allowing and assisting the organization to execute a project, in some instances at quite dramatic cost reduction, because you are effectively utilizing the resources or managing the budget so you don’t overspend or under deliver.”

Another big responsibility that falls on project managers’ shoulders is being prepared for and handling risks and issues that come up within a project.

“The professional project manager has the ability and has been trained to deal with risks and issues related to their project, not only from the individual project standpoint but from the portfolio standpoint,” MacNeil said. “A lot of times accidental project managers don’t see the big picture or the potential risk to their project.

“For example, if you are dealing with a vendor that doesn’t have the ability to deliver. The (accidental project manager) may not understand that delaying project A is going to impact projects B, C and D, because of the resourcing or delivery issues,” he said.

“It’s having that risk management understanding and how to deal with the potential risks within the project where the professional project manager can make a difference for an organization.”

At the same time, project complexity and volume are increasing and so is the accessibility of available tools, which means more and more accidental and occasional project managers can access these resources, but not always with the skills necessary to really utilize them to their capacity.

“It is just like in home improvement: everybody thinks that they watch it on TV, they can do it themselves,” MacNeil said. “So they watch a home improvement show on HGTV and all of a sudden the average homeowner is out there with a table saw and all sorts of industrial equipment and they end up with crooked shelves or doors that don’t close.”

That is why MacNeil and Woodruff think now is an especially good time to bring back MPUG. The pair said the group is open to project managers at any level of experience.

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