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5 Steps to Stop Accidental Project Management

pm pmo project management Nov 30, 2022
5 Steps to Stop Accidental Project Management

Do you assume all projects in your organization are being managed by project managers? Do you think you even know all the projects that are going on in your organization? If you answered “YES” to either question, you are kidding yourself. There are so many moving parts in most organizations that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on everywhere. 

Here’s what happens in most companies. Someone in a department comes up with a great idea that they’d like to try as a proof of concept. The time and resource commitment is low, so their manager gives them the go ahead. Guess what? The proof of concept works and requires more project management attention. This isn’t something that’s officially on the PMO’s radar, so the person who came up with the idea now gets the ‘privilege’ of managing this project that now has legs. 

Some call this fortunate person an “accidental project manager.” They find themselves responsible for managing projects even though this is not their primary role. How often does this happen? A recent study by Appleseed Partners surveyed 200 people in North America who manage projects. They found that 2 out of 3 people were not certified project managers, and out of those, 30% would consider themselves accidental. 

Two observations here. First, let’s stop calling these hard-working people “accidental” project managers. Cars and puppies have “accidents,” and both have negative connotations. No one wants their career to be an accident. Second, as company leaders, we need to embrace these project leaders and enable them to do their project management jobs even better! 

Here are five steps to start this journey. 

  1. Define a Minimal Skillset - What are these project leaders doing? What would you expect them to be doing? Come up with a list of skills each non-PM person that is managing projects should have. A good place to start is that they should be able to Define Scope, Create a Project Plan, Identify and Mitigate Risk, and Focus on Outcomes. 
  2. Identify Who Is Doing the Work - Work with your functional managers to see what “skunkworks”* projects are in progress and who is managing them. Don’t make this a witch hunt. Embrace and encourage the innovative spirit. Just make it easier for them to do the project management portion of their job. 
  3. Rebrand and Elevate Them - If you are calling them accidental project managers… stop! How would this make you feel? “Who, him? Yeah, he’s an accidental Vice President.” Call them project leaders, project coordinators, project integrators. Anything besides accidental. 
  4. Train Them - Remember the minimal skill-set you identified in step one? Come up with a curriculum that will give them just what they need and deliver just what you expect. This can range from taking courses through PluralSight or O’Reilly to bringing in outside trainers (may we recommend The PMO Squad) to give them the tools they need. 
  5. Measure Results - Check in with your functional managers on a quarterly basis and see if they can tell a difference. Are projects getting done quicker? Are they able to be more easily integrated into the PMO, and ideally the business faster to start providing value?  

Accidents rarely have a good connotation. Let’s be deliberate about those who are brave enough to head up projects in their departments and empower them to do their jobs masterfully! 

*an innovative undertaking, involving a small group of people, that is outside the normal research and development channels within an organization. 


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