Project Manager

The project manager is the individual who carries the project through by creating the project plan, managing day-to-day activities, and addressing issues as needed. Although a weak executive sponsor has the very real potential of sinking a good project with a skilled project manager, it's hard to think of a successful project that doesn't have a skilled project manager at the helm. Actually, a skilled project manager would probably spot a weak executive sponsor quickly and work to find a better one!


The project manager creates and refines the project plan. Creating the project plan involves coordinating with many different parties, both technical and business-oriented. As we will see in , "Implementing a CRM System," the project plan is best initiated in a team workshop, bringing together all the stakeholders so issues can be identified and decisions can be made on the spot. It's important to acknowledge that experienced CRM project managers are not able to make all the decisions required for a project by themselves, and must consult with the other members of the team to reach solid, well-informed decisions. It is precisely this team approach that makes the difference between a so-so project manager and a truly successful one. Once the plan is created, the project manager drives it through project completion. Project management requires a firm hand to avoid scope creep and delays while allowing genuine issues to be handled appropriately. Here again, the project manager may need to consult others on the team to make decisions, but should know enough about the technical and business environment of the project to decide when to make an independent decision and when to request assistance, and from whom. The project manager assembles the project team. This is perhaps the most delicate activity, since it requires attention to both skills and personalities, particularly when it comes to choosing which end-users will become the super-users. Especially on larger projects managers can show a great deal of reluctance to assign resources that will be consumed for weeks on end by the CRM project. The project manager must be prepared to identify the best candidates together with backups and to be persuasive when recruiting them. He or she must convince the managers of the benefits of their staff's involvement, knowing when to pull in the heavy artillery (the executive sponsor) if essential resources are not forthcoming. Once the project plan is defined and the team is recruited, the project manager manages to the plan. This requires daily contact with all team members to make sure things are on track. If there are technical issues beyond the complete understanding of the project manager (and there will almost always be some such issues, regardless of the skills and experience of the project manager), appropriate detective work must be performed to confirm both good and bad news. As problems arise, the project manager handles them by assigning team members to resolve them, by escalating them to the executive sponsor, or by working with individuals outside the project team. This triage of issues is an essential skill of the project manager, one where both technical skills and an understanding of the business environment are required to recognize what issues are important, and to determine how best to handle them. Most of the big problems I have seen in CRM projects stemmed from the inability of the project manager to recognize that certain issues existed at all, or to realize that they would seriously affect the outcome of the project. The difficulties often arise because the project plan and milestones were poorly laid out in the first place and failed to expose key issues. At the same time, the project manager should not panic at every little problem for fear of wearing out the team and the executive sponsor's welcome, so there's a difficult balancing act inherent in problem management. The project manager chooses to conduct meetings as appropriate to bring everyone up to speed and facilitate cross-pollination. Special attention must be given to scheduling the meetings so as not to interfere with the actual work being done. (I find that a set weekly meeting for the entire team is often the best way to proceed.) The project manager must also orchestrate meetings so that key resources find them to be a productive use of their time, or else they may not show up the next time around. As the project manager is managing the project, there's a component of people management as well, keeping the team members engaged, reasonably happy and motivated, and free of having to work on pestering issues outside their scope. This is not a mere cheerleading job, and actually many team members, being very technically-oriented, will resent being cheerled, if there is such a word. Rather, it's a matter of attending to individuals and removing obstacles in their way, knowing when to provide the compliments, the reassurance, the motivation, or simply peace and quiet to do the job at hand. I've found that most people treasure having someone else who will think through the logistics for them. They can come in and do their work without having to worry that they have the proper version of the browser, a key to the bathroom (don't laugh, it's often a big issue for contractors!), or the password required to do the testing. This level of detailed management is a good example of the essential difference between the responsibilities of the project manager and those of the executive sponsor. The project manager also communicates the plan and progress against the plan to the team and to the larger organization. A bit of PR is always welcome here, avoiding dry status reports without becoming so slickly cheerful that suspicions start developing. For all but simple projects, a comprehensive approach to communications is best, blending regular status reports, presentations, updates through various established communication vehicles, and probably a dedicated web site for the project that curious individuals can access for the latest news. In larger projects, the project manager can choose to delegate the implementation of the communication strategy to a specialized individual. Finally, the project manager collects feedback and lessons about the project from the various participants and the end-users. The goal of such a "key learning" or post-mortem exercise is to make subsequent projects smoother, and for CRM projects there almost always is a subsequent project, often with many of the same participants, to address issues that were left aside in the initial deployment.


So, apart from walking on water, what kinds of skills are we looking for when recruiting a project manager for a CRM project? It's obvious that a successful project manager needs to have excellent project management skills. Even excellent organizational skills will be put to the test by complex projects that include dozens of subtasks and insidious dependencies all over the place. There is also a very large component of people coordination. Even individuals who are assigned to the project on a part-time basis (and so, presumably, have a full-time manager somewhere else) may spend weeks on the project, and their efforts need to be planned and coordinated with others' contributions. There is the issue of making the team feel and function as a team even though it is temporary and many of its members are only participating in it on a very part-time basis. In short, for all but the simplest projects, formal project management training and successful experience with similar projects is a requirement. The second requirement is to find someone who understands the technical side of the project at least at a managerial level. Although there's no need for the project manager to be able to tune the web server, it is very important that the project manager 1) understands the need for tuning the web server and 2) have a rough idea of how long it should take. So if the web server administrator asks for ten weeks to do the tuning the project manager must be able to determine that it is, or not, a reasonable estimate. Here again, experience with similar projects is invaluable. The third requirement is an understanding of the business issues around the project so that problems can be recognized early and circumvented with just the right amount of effort. This particular requirement seems to scream against using a consultant in the role, since deep knowledge of the organization appears to require having worked in that organization for a while, but it's not that simple. We'll come back to that in just a moment. The fourth requirement is solid communication skills. This goes way beyond communicating with the team members, which was mentioned above and is quite an undertaking in itself. This is about formal communication outside the project team, reaching out to end-users and to the larger organization. The mix between the communications requirements and the technical project management requirements is often uneasy and many project managers are much stronger on one side or the other. If I were to compromise on either one I would favor strong technical project management skills for the project manager and get help with the communications side. Should you hire a consultant to be the project manager or must the project manager be an insider? The requirement of understanding the business issues seems to mandate an insider, and a long-time, well-informed one at that. However, the very first requirement we listed, successful experience driving similar projects, is very rarely found within the organization since companies rarely conduct back-to-back CRM projects in-house. What should you do? If you do not have an individual with the appropriate project management experience on staff, go with a consultant, whether one working for a system integrator or an independent one. Experienced consultants understand business issues quite well since there are many similarities across companies, and they know what questions to ask to get the inside scoop on the specific issues within the company. If you choose to use an outside consultant as the project manager, be sure to provide access to the executive sponsor and business owners to gather information. You should also include an extra level of supervision to ensure that business considerations are properly understood, and that the project manager is putting the best interest of the company ahead of his or her employer's. So far the discussion has proceeded as if there is only one project manager and the role is full-time. It doesn't need to be. For a simple project in a small organization, the executive sponsor, business owner, and project manager may be one and the same person. Projects with a small scope can do well with a part-time project manager, either an employee or an outside consultant, reporting to the business owner. Projects of medium or higher complexity require a full-time project manager. Very complex projects require a small team of project managers to ensure that all components are appropriately managed.