Published:  2016-03-11 Views:  905
Author:  karelnel
Published in:  Technical/Tegnies
The Plight Of The Project Manager

The Plight of the Project Manager

It sounds impressive to be called a "Project Manager" although most people does not have the faintest idea what "Project Management" , especially in a complex, large project environment comprises of, even more so in a politisized environment. People may have the impression that this person just sits in his chair of authority and  orders other people around, left-right-and-centre and then, all of a sudden - out jumps the wonderful end-result, for which he gets the glory. Nothing can be further from the truth. Let me enlighten you a bit.

The project manager finds himself  at the centre of the Project and is responsible to 'make it happen'. He is considered the responsible person for doing the work for the client and to the client's satisfaction on his organisation's  behalf. He is, by matter of speaking – ‘ at the bottom of the food chain’. He has, in the execution of his task, in theory, a lot of support functions to help him, a lot of bosses to  guide him, a lot of committees to oversee him and help him make decisions. In practice it turns out differently: He must continuously supply the support functions with information and adhere to their prescripts. He must feed his bosses with information and keep them happy. His relationship with the committees is often a terrifying ordeal, because about all of them are mini court hearings in which he stands as the accused who must "please explain".

He must do his work subject to a tremendous number of management documents – strategies, processes, practices, procedures. The process is tremendously complex. In executing this process a LOT of management and technical documentation must be generated. In the RSA military environment this is, for example,  regulated by  a standard, RSA-MIL-STD-3.  It defines all the documentation requirements for a project, from beginning to the end and even thereafter. A good estimate of  how much work it implies for each predefined phase of the project (of which there are a number) is between 1000 and 12000 man-hours of work, depending on the complexity of the project. (Remember one man-year is about 1800 man-hours). These documents must be generated, reviewed, approved, audited and  submitted  to specific approval committees, and then of course implemented.

Sometimes he is lucky and it is possible for him to contract specialist engineers to do this work (called Engineering Support Work or Staff Support Work). They work at rates between R600/hr to R1500/hr and from that rate one can calculate the cost of these management and technical documentation. If such work can not be contracted out (in principle), the responsibility falls back on the Project Manager (who is in many cases not a trained Systems Engineer), and those of his colleagues, whom management can spare and allocate to his Project. This is mostly totally insufficient.

If the Project Manager succeeds to pass all these hurdles, and he comes to the point where he must now contract industry, he enters a particularly dangerous time frame. With all projects money is involved and the industry is hungry for money. There is huge competition – and out there in industry everything is not always done above board. With big money involved one can expect dirty play and even political interference.

Now imagine this poor Project Manager: He has worked his heart out. He has produced quality documents. He has worked according to the book as good as he could. He has passed all the strict internal hurdles. All support functions are happy. All bosses have signed where they should have. All committees approved his work. Now he can run with the project and start seeing all the plans fulfilled. Then his work is stopped due to external interference.

It may come as an anonymous letter to the Minister or to the CEO or to whomever. It may come as an allegation in the media. It may come as a Black Empowerment issue.  It may come as a instruction to be audited by the Inspector general, Auditor general or worse: A Forensic auditor based on a rumour someone spread at some cocktail circuit or gholf game. In some cases he and his support members are then  harassed by the auditors, or interrogated in a way that befits a criminal. In the end MUCH more is paid out to the auditors (who do not really understand the processes and the documents in any case) than he was originally allowed to spend on Engineering support (as described above). In some cases he is not even allowed to see the audit report!! While he is under investigation, the bosses are nowhere to be seen. The support functions draw up their shoulders. The committees that made the decisions on his program do not accept responsibility and plead not guilty or ignorance. It FEELS to him that he is considered to be the criminal. And then his Company may also sometimes  even institute  a half-baked disciplinary hearing against him (So called 'own internal investigation'). ALONE he stands. External hirelings and even the Company's own resources (legal division) are used against him. ALONE. ALONE.

Obviously this is not the outcome of all projects - thankfully so, otherwise none of us Project Managers would have survived. It would however be proficient for aspiring project leaders to inform themselves about realities as described above by studying a few case studies of real projects. A good place to start is watching the film "Pentagon Wars".


KPJ Nel Pr Eng


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