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Put Me in, Coach, Role vs. Soul

This completes thoughts posted November 8, 2011 at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com.

 Put Me In, Coach: Role vs. Soul

            Too many project managers perform as player-coaches. They call their own number as their first option. They know how to do what needs to be done, and there hasn't been enough time to train other people to do it.

            This is terrible management, for a number of reasons, but you see it everywhere.

            The manager’s job is to get results through the work of other people. The project manager is the only participant with the responsibility of keeping in touch with the varied actions going on all over the project.   

            At the same time, the project manager is to assess the skills and needs of each key team member, put that person in the right spot,  develop the person’s potential and guide the person’s collaboration with other actors.

            The  position calls for communication, coordination, problem-solving, conflict management.

            The star project manager often is invisible to the outside observer. This star doesn’t shine above everyone else. It’s down inside the machinery, making everything work.


            When the soul of the star performer overcomes the role of the project coach, it’s a costly triumph. A lot of bad things happen. For one thing, no one is managing while the project manager is busy being better than everyone else at some task (or not). Problems aren’t getting solved properly, and things that shouldn’t go wrong start sprouting in the untended corners of the project.

            And the team members who should be learning and practicing responsibility are being shoved aside or ignored. Their development is stunted.

            The project manager often burns out. Everybody else drifts away.


            It happens because the distinction between doing and managing never occurred to the project manager, and no one told him/her how and why to avoid the trap. Whoever appointed the project manager often doesn’t know the difference, either.

            This is a startling disconnect from project reality, but it is pervasive and it is a major reason for the high rate of project failure . . . and the destruction of potential managerial talent.

             You need to undergo a transformation to become a manager, and that goes double when you become a project manager. If only more people understood this, we’d all be immensely better off.

            Being really good at doing stuff is not the point. Getting really good results is.

            Project management is sweaty, gritty. It’s demanding. It can be very boring and/or stressful until it suddenly erupts into difficult and unfamiliar problems. Often, there isn’t much support, even – especially? – from the very people who ought to be the manager’s strongest supporters.

            Project management means directly engaging the challenges from the very beginning, by conducting candid negotiations with powerful people – and getting their firm agreement to provide the kinds of practical support that make projects work.

            It’s commanding the collaboration process in meaningful and productive ways, by devoting proper attention to building supportive relationships, arranging the communication and structures that will enable and invigorate the team and the other stakeholders.

            It’s building, maintaining and adjusting processes that make team members’ work productive, and that address stakeholder needs in timely ways. It’s problem solving across the board.

            That’s the role of the project manager. You’re the leader and the coach, and you don’t put yourself in the game.


Organizations need frequent tune-ups to maintain effective workflow amid change. Jim has long experience – plus creative tools -- to help executives analyze their organizations, then design and implement better ways.
Project Management is the 21st-century model for managing complex, risky innovations to on-time outcomes within budget. Jim Milliken offers workplace-tested designs in customized formats for onsite implementation and classroom training.
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