IS Guerrilla: Billy, don

Those who get hurt the most are the ones who bring forward an honest estimate the first time

Billy, don’t be a PM hero

Show me an IT project manager who wants to be a hero, and I’ll show you a potential sucker who just might take the entire project team down.

I’ll assume that you’re not one of ’em, but let’s talk for moment about those who are, ’cause there’s more than a handful of them out there, and what they do hurts the reputation of all of us in IT.

They’re the kind of PMs who carefully (and sometimes not so carefully, if they’re both suckers and fools) lay out a project budget and schedule, and then lose their brains entirely when confronted with a client or a management team that:

A) pushes back on their cost and/or schedule (“It can’t possibly take that long or cost that much, can it?”), or worse yet,

B) flatters the project manager into shortening the project schedule or cutting project costs, without an associated reduction in scope. You’ve seen it before: the president of the company says: “I know a normal project manager might have to take as long/might have to spend as much to get this project done as your plan says, (insert name of PM and potential sucker here), but I know that you’re better than that. You’re one of the best we’ve got (arm around shoulders), and I’m sure that a guy/girl like you could finish this project for 25 per cent less, and 30 per cent faster”.

After all the careful planning, after all the stakeholder consultation (assuming the person is at least a marginally competent IT PM), after getting the entire project team to buy into the plan that’s been prepared, caving in on dates or budget is, in the case of A, above, cowardly, and in the case of B, vain and possibly dangerously stupid.

In case A, if the PM can honestly cut back this much without hurting the project outcome because he or she has so overpadded the estimates in the first place, then the person is not much of a project manager either.

In either case, it’s entirely understandable if the project team decides to draw and quarter him/her when they find out what the project manager has done. Who are they to give up big chunks and money and time without consulting the people who’ll have to deliver what’s been so recklessly over-promised? The team knows (and so does the PM, deep down in their black little heart) that nothing comes for free, and any cutback in schedule or budget has to result in a scope or quality reduction somewhere, whether it is acknowledged it to management or not.

Worse yet, this “hero” response in a PM drives a management behaviour that we all ultimately pay for – if a project manager takes a big piece off of the estimate every time, management figures that a game is being played; they quickly learn never to trust any first estimates from anyone in IT. If they always push back and IT PMs always give in, it underlines their (hopefully mistaken) view that IT project budgets and schedules are always over-inflated, and should be cut back to size before they’re accepted.

Of course, those who get hurt the most are the ones who bring forward an honest estimate the first time – if they’re forced to take the 25 per cent off the top that others have trained management to look for, the failure of the honest project team is assured.

We’d do well to fire the PMs who cave under pressure or fall to flattery – these wannabe heroes can’t be allowed to continue to take the rest of us down with ’em.

Hanley is an IS professional living in Calgary. He can be reached at