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What specifically is all the "stuff" a PM is actually responsible for?

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A complete answer: "A Project Manager is responsible for Project Management". Project Management is a discipline (we can even call it a "science") with its body of knowledge explained in PMBOK (for example).

A short answer: a Project Manager is responsible for keeping a project in its scope, time, cost, and quality constraints.

  • How didn't I remember the PMBOK!?, ty yegor256. – apacay Apr 5 '11 at 16:18
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Project management generally deals with planning and organizing a project and dealing with people and resources in a way which allows to reach project goals.

Specific tasks would depend on project's size and complexity and also on a specific method chosen as project management approach.

  • Planning is about preparing some kind of plan for the project. Depending on the project size and approach you use it can be anything from just a general list of project goals to a very detailed list of tasks planned to be done by specific people. Also you can spread planning over a longer period of time, so you just take whatever is the most important/most urgent coarse-grained task at the moment and you plan in a detailed way only work related to the task and you repeat the process over and over again.

  • Organizing is about getting specific people to do specific tasks. Again, much depends on a project. In agile projects often you base on self organization which means the team makes many decisions, like who does what, on themselves. In more formalized project it can be responsibility of PM, or PM along with team manager, to make those decisions. Also when I think about organizing a project I see reacting for changing situation, which includes risk management for example.

  • Dealing with people and resources means getting enough of them to deliver project within constraints. Most of the time the problem is in people, too few or too incompetent, but it's PM's job to react whenever something is wrong and project can't be completed because of insufficient or inappropriate people and/or resources.

Every PM's activity should be aimed to help with the general goal which is delivering the project on time, on scope and on budget. Basically if anything helps to do that it's the part of PM's job.

  • +1. Dealing with people is a rather important factor which seems to be missing out from a lot of answers. Too few people, too many people, people mucking around aimlessly, people taking stupid decisions and too many people added on to projects are serious problems. I would saw most issues on projects are people issues and dealing with people is a very important role of a manager. – thousandtyone Apr 7 '11 at 16:39
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The PM is responsible for getting the project to successful completion on-time and on-budget. Anything else you can mention probably falls under that umbrella -- hiring, training, retaining, scheduling, cost-management, etc.

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    Well, not only time and budget. There are three mandatory constraints: time, cost, and scope. And a number of optional like quality, customer satisfaction, etc. – yegor256 Apr 5 '11 at 16:45
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    I don't consider those as optional. But if you want to ask a simplified question like "what are you ultimately responsible for," the answer is: getting it done on-time and on-budget. – ashes999 Apr 5 '11 at 16:57
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    If you don't consider them optional (I tend to agree with you here) why do you exclude them from the short answer? Why not just say instead: "getting it done to constraints"? – yegor256 Apr 5 '11 at 17:08
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    Because my perception is that the brevity of the question means the asker wants a short, concise, condensed answer -- hence my answer. Budget and schedule, in my mind, implicitly mention scope, and the other constraints. But maybe we're just arguing over semantics :) – ashes999 Apr 5 '11 at 17:14
  • Not to be confused with project leader, Look at this . I don't think everything you can mention falls under that umbrella, there is a concise difference between them and some of those responsibilities are project lead ones. – apacay Apr 5 '11 at 18:37

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