The 3 Most Important Things a Successful Project Manager Does—The Lazy Leader's Project Management Sermon

Apr 30, 2021 6 min read
The 3 Most Important Things a Successful Project Manager Does—The Lazy Leader's Project Management Sermon

In this post, the Lazy Leader dons his collar for a sermon that answers the question: “What does project management mean to me?” Or to put it another way, what are the 3 most important things a successful project manager does?

This post may surprise you, as it has nothing to do with project planning and control!

In  this  post, the Lazy Leader answers the question: “What does project management mean to me?” However, before we start, I think it wise to set the scene.

Nowadays, I rarely manage projects. But I often sponsor projects and lead delivery teams. I also coach, cajole and encourage the project manager!

One of my jobs is to solve problems: To find solutions that enable beneficial business change. And, I see project management as a core competence in directing and managing such change. Ergo, I shall begin with a concise definition of project management.

Project management is the planning, delegating, monitoring and control of all aspects of the project, and the motivation of those involved, to achieve the project objectives within the expected performance targets for time, cost, quality, scope, benefits and risks. – Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2, 5th Edition


As far as project management definitions go, I think this is okay, although my thoughts on the body of project management knowledge and the accreditation game is another tale.

But anyway, what does this definition really tell us about project management? What does it tell us about being a project manager?

In truth, many definitions leave us out in the cold.

What this definition does encapsulate indirectly is what the project manager should be doing. It helps identify the 3 most important things a successful project manager does.

The three—and yes, this is a 3-point sermon—things project management mean to me are:

  1. Making informed decisions;
  2. Gaining management support; and
  3. Dealing with the unexpected.

So now you have my answer to the question, “What does project management mean to me?” I shall now take a closer look at these three distinguishing project management qualities.

Making Informed Decisions

How often is project management misunderstood and poorly practised? Why is this?  Quite simply because organizations don't know how to control change!

That’s right, businesses don't know what they are doing! Senior management may believe it is driving change through from the top down, when in reality it is basing its decisions on fallacious assumptions.

And here's the crux of the problem. Every one believes someone at the top knows what they're doing. But such thoughts stops everyone from learning and innovating.

So, let the Lazy Leader tell you a story…

Channel shift

We'd been working to introduce a new content management system. It started out as a technology project. However, I was convinced that this was the wrong approach. I thought we had an opportunity to save a great deal through channel shift and improved handling of customer enquiries. But a change this big meant a change in the way we viewed the customer and how we engaged with them. I soon realized this would not be possible unless top management saw the opportunity and bought into the idea. This was a big ask because everyone thought the project was about technology.

To get to the heart of the problem, I asked an analyst to do a small study on website usage. I wanted to know how many pages we had and how often they were visited. I also wanted some insight into the way our customers behaved online.

When the analyst completed the research, she reported that we had over 5,000 web pages yet more than 80% of them were rarely used or not used at all. When I examined what she had found, I learned that customers hardly ever visited the home page and never spent time browsing the website pages. Indeed, most traffic was via a search engine. I couldn't believe how bad things were; one of our most popular pages was the 404 error, page not found message!

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