Project Managers, Delivery Managers: The Big Differences

Project managers get a bad rap.  They book too many meetings.  They make too many distracting requests for status updates.  They are just too much overhead in general, not providing enough value to justify their existence.  Where do these impressions come from?

This isn’t about necessarily condemning the time-worn practices of traditional waterfall project management, but rather about refocusing our attention on the reason we undertake projects in the first place.  Every project has an objective; that is the first thing every project manager learns.  So why is it that project management often gets wrapped up in so many other tangential activities?

Project managers are often focused entirely on the following;

1) Maintaining their project plan / Gantt chart

  • Making sure certain tasks planned for certain times start and end as planned, despite what project conditions may have impacted whether or not the original plan remains achievable

2) Different levels of management reporting

  • Constructing reports of various levels of detail for different management, steering committee meetings, depending on the enterprise

3) Capturing project metrics and status updates

  • Following up with individual team members for status updates on their various tasks and measuring those updates against the original plan

4) Deviations from baselines; avoiding them, or otherwise explaining them

  • Trying to understand, explain and report on project deviations from original plan, which are in reality unavoidable

While delivery managers are focused on the following;

1) Working business functionality

  • Delivering working, fully developed code/functionality that meets customer requirements

2) Obstacle/issue resolution

  • Working with team members and customers/clients to overcome or eliminate obstacles preventing effective project delivery

3) Process and team facilitation

  • Facilitating communications, transparency of information, and feedback loops between team members, and between the team and customer/client representatives

4) Continuous improvement

  • Facilitating team retrospectives, searching for ways to improve team performance and delivery, making sure ideas are followed through

The differences between these lists should be immediately obvious.  Traditional project management focuses on deliverables that are tangential to the actual project goal or objective, whereas delivery management is focused entirely on facilitating arriving at the project goal or objective.

The source of these fundamental differences can be traced back to methodology.  Traditional waterfall project management often demands a preponderance of formal documentation, such as plans, fully formed requirements documents, detailed status reports.  PMs working to the plan.

Agile development environments, by contrast, typically have a much lower threshold of formality or structure, leaving project managers and teams free to focus on resolving any issues or obstacles, facilitating communications within or between teams, and facilitating continuous improvement practices. DMs work the plan

The important mindset change that needs to happen is project managers need to reject the need for certain project management processes for their own sake, and really evaluate each process and effort the team is making to determine whether or not it contributes directly to delivering value.  For all of the effort spent around reporting, capturing metrics, or whatever activities take our focus away from core project/product delivery, the truth is this; whether or not one is delivering client value is the only metric that matters.

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