Project Management

Pros and Cons of the Hero Project Manager

For various reasons, sometimes a project goes so wrong that the unhappy client requests a new project manager be brought on. Doing so has such an immense negative impact on the fired project manager. The incoming project manager is seen as a hero. Susanne Madsen explains in a post for the PM Perspectives Blog the pros and cons of asking a new project manager to take over a failing project.

Fighting Failure

Simply replacing the old project manager (PM) with a new one is the safest and easiest option for all involved. A burden is lifted off the senior management’s shoulders as they are not required to sit around and pick apart why the project has gone off track. They can just bring in a new, experienced PM who they know will get the job done. However, placing all the blame on the original PM also makes it so that nobody else in management needs to consider if they played a part in what went wrong. This is not so good a thing.

Next, the PM coming in will be eager to take over the failed project, since a deteriorating project presents minimal risk and maximum opportunity for the incoming PM. Likewise, the hero PM will enjoy wide authority, and team morale will probably increase at the prospect of a fresh start. But Madsen adds this:

A new PM needs to have something new and extra to offer, which makes it more likely that he’s looked up to and perceived as a hero in the making. If such a senior PM can’t be found the organization might be better off keeping the existing PM in place and simply provide the support that’s required.

While everyone is looking up to the new PM to get the job done, the methods the PM uses could end up making him or her unpopular amongst the team. The PM’s knowledge, bluntness, and determination in pursuit of improvement could rub people the wrong way. This is maybe the necessary price of being a “pace-setter,” someone who knows that his or her methods will work and expects the team to follow that example.

Pace-setting is often necessary in the beginning, but there needs to be a balance. In order for the company to reap the most from a new experienced PM taking over a failed project, it needs to be done in the correct manner. After the PM gives the team the skills and knowledge to perform the job, he or she needs to scale back on the directive style and then begin to empower, coach, and encourage people to step up and contribute.

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