In The News

The Accidental PM – time to embrace them? Let me count the (5) ways.

There IS a role for the accidental Project Manager in the digital revolution. Here are 5 ways organisations can embrace the so-called Accidental PM...



DevOps. Continuous Integration. Agile, and its different flavours. Self-Regulating Teams. Waterfall. Tribes. These are all examples of different flavours of frameworks that are used to deliver change in some way, shape or form. As the world moves to an on-demand society where we want things faster, cheaper just keeping up with the different terms could, by some, be considered an achievement in itself.
The advancement of on demand “as-a-service” platforms and applications and the use of open source means that where enabling technology was once a limiting factor for the critical path of a project, its now no longer the case. It’s the people on the project that are seen as the limitations. So in this world of fast paced change, is the role of a Project Manager now defunct?
Actually no.

The reality is Project Management is in greater demand than ever, according to Wrike almost half (44%) of resource shortages reported on projects are due to a lack of Snr Project Management availability. Faced with the perfect storm of people shortages and increased demand for change how are organisations responding to the challenge?

Embrace the “accidental project manager”.

The accidental project manager is a term given to a person with no formal project management qualifications who has been drafted into lead a project. In some quarters this can be frowned upon. IBM states that 54% of projects fail due to project management issues, with Wrike stating that 83% of successful projects are delivered by certified project managers.
It’s easy to form the conclusion that the Accidental project manager should be avoided. The reasons for this are many, and varied, SMEs tend to gravitate towards their passion, perhaps negating planning, financial control and governance or not quite controlling scope.

However, there IS a role for the accidental PM in the digital revolution, here are 5 ways organisations can embrace the so-called Accidental Project Manager:

1. Recognise that availability is not a skill set.

Faced with resource shortages it can be tempting to allocate the nearest semi-available person to your organisations next key project. Selecting the right person for the job is critical for success, the right person in the hot seat can boost the chance of success, retaining that knowledge and person through out the project life cycle increases this probability even further.
Select someone who has some understanding of the work, will be passionate, show good leadership potential and who has the right soft skills for the job. If this person doesn’t exist, then look at options to postpone the start of the project until you have the right person available.

2. Coach, nurture and mentor your talent.

Often leaders will turn to a subject matter expert with some knowledge of the product or service to run the programme. They will likely have expert knowledge in their chosen field but will most likely have some gaps in what it takes to run a full project, will be unfamiliar with the processes and tools used to govern projects in your organisation or perhaps not understand the technology that will enable the change.

It is critical, and not just for the early days, that adequate training and support is provided. Assigning one of you’re a-player PMs to support, mentor and guide and retaining this support is available throughout the life of the project will pay dividends. Don’t assume your rising star doesn’t need help or a place to sound out issues they will encounter roadblocks and challenges that they haven’t have experienced. It’s critical that they have an open door to support during these moments and that they can seek expert advice and have a support network if they are to thrive.

3. Start small and learn to walk first.

Coaching and selecting the right person for the job will help to provide the platform for your talent to grow now you need to select the right kind of project with the right size and complexity are vital. It is one of the main issues faced by organisations that will impact the success, and confidence, of your chosen PM.
Too small, without any kind of organisational buy in, can be just as bad as allocating something that is too big and will place too much pressure and give too many new things to learn and grow with.

Don’t be afraid of reviewing the assignment regularly too, scope creep is a key factor in project failure (even in Agile!) and the project can, for the inexperienced, just get too big. Regular review of the assignment and support to draft in help, or switch out to an experienced candidate in a support or lead role will help to reduce risk to your organisation and remove the chances of burning the Accidental PM out.

4. Beware the SME trap.

One of the biggest challenges to overcome with the accidental PMs first, second or even third assignment is the tendency to drift back to their comfort zone. Too often, for example, developers managing a project will become obsessed with peer reviewing code and drill into the detail that they need others to deliver. It can be a good thing – extra pairs of hands to help at critical points, but so too can it be a bad thing. Project Managers add value by having the full picture, the helicopter view, of the project.

In the purest terms the function of a PM is to steer the project to successful conclusion, manage risks, control budget, get the right people in at the right time and keep stakeholders informed and keep the project moving forward. Its important to support the accidental PM by helping to ensure that the success criteria, and the scope, of the project are known and understood, the expectations of the role is communicated and the KPIs of the role are bought into so that they aren’t put to one side or forgotten about until it’s too late.

5. Support career progression, learning and development. A common concern for new or temporary project managers is how the smaller informal projects will impact their career path. For some the project is simply a short-term vacation away from their day job, they need assurances that they won’t be left behind when they return to the fold.

For others project management is seen as a stepping stone on the journey to become a Project Management professional. With a long term career path on the horizon, they need assurances that there will be a future, that they will have investment in training and development, and that they will get to manage bigger, more challenging change programmes.

According to HR review, almost 1/3 of its respondents have left positions where there is no investment in training. It’s the role of the leadership to ensure in both cases that the accidental project manager is cared for, with recognition of a job well done and the rewards for the temporary project agreed in advance and honoured. The risk of not doing so can, and often does, result in attrition.

To be truthful the concept of the accidental project management isn’t really something new. Project Managers aren’t born project managers, their career path must start somewhere. The most successful organisations recognise this and cater for the adoption of “new blood” in change by paving the way to success with training, development and support. Reserving the larger, trickier, project for the experienced PM team who will over time have amassed certification and accreditation. By standardising their approach, being clear on project management expectations and the role a project manager has to play the most successful organisations and leaders are using the old experienced guard to do the heavy lifting whilst nurturing new talent to deliver change in a safe environment.

Some further reading:

McKinsey – Delivering large scale IT projects on time/on value
Computer Weekly – European bank IT spend $46 bn by 2017


For more information, or to arrange a discussion about project management options, contact:
Paul Long
07854 760 309
[email protected]

Up next

Gibbs Hybrid Joins the Atrium Family of Companies!

Gibbs Hybrid Joins the Atrium Family of Companies!