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The 4 Types of Project Manager

There is more than one way to grow a company, and project managers are actually at the core of that growth. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Carsten Lund Pedersen and Thomas Ritter identify four different types of project manager that can help the business grow in different ways. They say your organization should try to retain a healthy mixture of all four of these types:

  • Executor
  • Expert
  • Gambler
  • Prophet

A Reliable Quartet

The authors arrive at these four classifications of project manager according to how managers’ priorities align with two questions: “Is the growth opportunity in line with our existing strategy?” and “Can a reliable business case be made?” When the answer to both is yes, then you have an executor. Executors do not really venture into risky territory. They look for sure-thing improvement initiatives and work vigilantly toward reaping the expected results. Thus, executors are reliable, but they are also frequently limited to work that would be considered “low-hanging fruit.” They are not necessarily innovators.

When project managers do not have a reliable business case but the work aligns with existing strategy, they are gamblers. They bet on a potential big opportunity when the hard data is not there to support it yet. One result of such gambling could of course be utter failure—but another result could be an “analytically overlooked” growth opportunity. Gamblers can improve upon the status quo in strategically agreeable ways.

When project managers have a reliable business case but the work does not align with strategy, they are experts. But they might be more aptly described as champions, because they want to implement statistically sound new growth opportunities into an environment that just has not been sold on it yet. Experts’ challenge is to convince people of the great opportunities right in front of them.

Lastly, when project managers do not have a reliable business case and the work does not align with strategy, they are prophets. Or they could also be idiots. But optimistically, they are prophets. Prophets have a big vision and a strong sense of intuition, but no hard evidence supporting it. They ask others to take a leap of faith with them into uncharted strategic territory.

As can be seen, every type of project manager brings a unique sort of value to the organization. However, it is common for one type of management philosophy to flourish at the expense of the others in an organization. It is critical to do what you can to consciously avoid such a scenario. Executives will play a big part regardless:

Executives contribute to organizational failure when they misalign projects and project managers, but this fact is often hidden in the ruins of a failed project. There may be a tendency to see prophets and gamblers featuring on prominent magazine covers or taking newspaper headlines if they succeed with their high-profile projects. For this reason, executives tend to assume that prophets and gamblers are the best. In such cases, executives may be likely to promote good executors to run a prophet-type project, as senior management may think that the executor is finally ready for this big opportunity (with potentially disastrous results). Or executives may assume that they should tap prophets to run a project that really needs a great executor — which may lead to managerial befuddlement when the prophet doesn’t succeed. Instead of assuming that certain types are better than others, executives need to be aware of, value, and give appropriate room to all four types — and match them with the right projects.

You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2017/07/the-4-types-of-project-manager

About John Friscia

John Friscia is the Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He began working for Computer Aid, Inc. in 2013 and continues to provide graphic design support for AITS. He graduated summa cum laude from Shippensburg University with a B.A. in English.

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