We’re living in some of the worst economic times in 60-70 years.  Businesses are closing.  Analysts are estimating a possible 20% vacancy rate for businesses across the country by the end of 2009.  Here in Las Vegas the once flourishing hotel and casino industry is seeing bankruptcy filings and halted construction projects throughout the valley.

So what does this all mean for Project Managers?  Customers sometimes think of Project Managers as the ‘extra’ expense on an IT project.  If you are a Project Manager, then you know that’s ridiculous.  The value added by even a mediocre Project Manager is undeniable – keeping the status reporting, formal calls and project schedule up-to-date and in front of the key project personnel helps to ensure that the project stays on track.  No one else on the delivery team is going to do that.  But a customer on a limited budget may have other ideas.

Why Do I Need a Project Manager?

I was leading a project last year that involved a difficult customer on a limited budget who did not value Project Management highly at all.  The customer-side director-level sponsor was a self-professed Project Manager hater.  When I was assigned the project and made aware of this fact by the PMO Director, my first thought was definitely not “Thank You!”

This was an approximately 6 month long project and I fought very hard for the first couple of months to show value and win them over.  I found that the key to acceptance was to show them value and understanding, strong decision-making, and as minimal an impact on the project budget as possible.  A couple of incidents arose on the project where I was able to step in and get some higher-level technical assistance where normally the project would have floundered without a strong Project Manager, and then I was considered “ok”.  He still hated all other Project Managers, just not me anymore.

Why Buy the Cow…?

Many customers, though, think they can get all of the PM expertise they need from a knowledgeable Business Analyst.  On a very small project, that may be true.  But on a larger-sized engagement, the BA will be too consumed to deal with the administrative processes and the decision-making that would usually be handled by the Project Manager.

To really ensure that an engagement stays on track and that the diverse mix of very talented individuals remains focused on the end goal and moving forward in a straight line, you must have an experienced Project Manager steering the ship.  There’s no one better to coordinate the communication, manage the budget, produce the status reports and lead the status meetings.  Bottom line, if you want your IT engagement to run as smooth as possible, it is imperative that you pay for the Project Management effort.