Choose When to Separate People Management From Project Management


I was on the phone this morning with a senior manager. He was describing their current project: “Well, we've got 25 people: 12 developers, 6 testers, 2 writers, 4 support people, and 1 project manager.” I asked about the managers of the developers and testers. “Oh, the dev manager is running the project. We don't have a test manager yet, we're interviewing.” There are no technical leads, no sub-project leads, no other management other than the project manager.

This project is headed for disaster, not because they need more levels of management, but because the project manager is attempting to manage the project and manage 25 people. That's not possible. The project manager could manage the project of 25 people, but he can't help 25 people do their work, plan for their upcoming work, and deal with the little problems that arise.

If your project or organization is in this position of having just one manager trying to manage the project and the people, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are there more than 6 people altogether? One manager can manage 6 people relatively easily. A talented manager can probably manage the 6 people and the one project those people are working on.
  2. Does the effort have more than one functional area, and are those functional skills diverse? The more functional areas involved in the project, and the more diverse those skills, the less likely one project manager can effectively manage both the project and the people. A project manager who knows a lot about development may not know enough to guide the testing. In the example above, the project manager doesn't know how to organize the testing.
  3. Does the project manager need to heavily interact with the customers or sponsors? The more interactions, the more the project manager will feel pulled in multiple directions. If the project manager is also attempting to manage the people, the people management will lose.

If you answered yes to any of these three questions, it's time to separate the project management from the people management. Help your projects succeed by funding both the project management and the people management. If you have to skimp on management, make it senior management. After all, there won't be anything to manage from the senior level if the projects don't finish.

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